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Kim Kardashian Mentions Body Dysmorphia Concern – Here’s What It is and How to Get Help

Ilene V. Fishman, LCSW

This week on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kim Kardashian opened up about her own body insecurities when she stated, “You take pictures and people just body shame you. It’s like literally giving me body dysmorphia.” 

We got in touch with NEDA clinical advisor Ilene V. Fishman, LCSW, who explained what body dysmorphia is and how to get help.

Content note: includes the mention of physical descriptions and behaviors

Body dysmorphia is a term that is heard increasingly in our vernacular but actually refers to a clinical diagnosis called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). It is characterized by a preoccupation with perceived bodily defects and flaws. This is technically different than an eating disorder as the intense worry and focus is about the appearance of any body part, not just body fat or weight preoccupation that typically accompanies eating disorders.  

It can be confusing because distorted body image is a consistent experience for those with eating disorders but not everyone who “sees something else” in the mirror is, in fact, eating disordered or has body dysmorphic disorder. Those who do struggle with body dysmorphia suffer a great deal and it can be extremely debilitating and intrusive in someone’s daily existence. 

Once someone zeroes in on what they have determined is their problem area or a particular body part, repetitive behaviors including constant comparing can take over. In our current culture of rapid response from personal interactions by text or email and of course, over many forms of social media photo sharing, someone who is questioning a perceived “defect” can ask for an opinion – from a friend or a total stranger – and get immediate feedback. The feedback is often negative and sometimes shaming which only serves to escalate the person’s distress and helps convince them that this “problem” needs outside intervention to fix.

That intervention can be relatively benign (clothes that conceal more, make-up that covers a blemish or line) or radically severe (over-exercising, over attention to muscles for both men and women, excessive plastic surgery). A perceived “flaw” is barely noticeable to someone else and a glaring, flashing neon beacon to the person who thinks it is the first thing you notice when they walk in a room. This is a dangerous and painful road for a person suffering from the disorder. 

This self-questioning, when it intensifies and becomes the almost sole focus of someone’s thoughts, can lead to other destructive symptoms and issues from anxiety to depression and even suicidal ideation. It can be particularly acute with vulnerable and impressionable adolescents. With the saturation of social media in the lives of young people, someone who is only starting to question some personal body issue can ramp up to a much more serious problem quickly – as quickly as a viral photo can make its way around the internet.

Body positive, self-esteem work in a therapeutic setting can address this complicated issue before it morphs – literally – into a much bigger problem for those susceptible to it. Confronting body shaming advertising campaigns and keeping a watchful eye on those who are easily influenced by others’ opinions (i.e., young people) is also extremely important to help stop this trend from spreading further and growing deeper for people in all socioeconomic strata, age groups, sexes, genders, and races. As with eating disorders, we suggest that meeting with a health care professional who specializes is the best way to make a formal diagnosis and then figure out best treatment.

Header photo: Wikimedia Commons, David Shankbone

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