What does "dysmorphophobia" mean?

What does

Publication date: 03-08-2023

Updated on: 03-08-2023

Topic: Mental health

Estimated reading time: 1 min

More and more people are asking the Plastic Surgeon to intervene to improve their aesthetics, partly because of the many applications that allow everyone to edit images directly from their cell phones, to correct defects or improve the physiognomy of their face.

Sometimes, however, this behavior can become a full-blown obsession, so much so that the American Psychiatric Association has considered selfie addiction to be a consequence of dysmorphophobia, the unwarranted impression of being ugly or deformed, and pointing out that 2/3 of patients suffering from this disorder are used to taking selfies. 

We discuss this with Dr. Marco Iera, a plastic surgeon from the Operative Unit of Breast Surgery and Senology, and Professor Anna Ogliari from the Unit of Clinical Psychology of the Developmental Age at IRCCS Ospedale San Raffaele in Milan.

What is selfie dysmorphophobia?

Selfie-dismorphophobia is a behavior that leads to modifying one's image with filters and applications, enhancing it, so much so that one becomes addicted to photographic retouching, no longer recognizing and accepting one's natural way of being.

The tendency for young people to request appearance-enhancing surgeries, whether in surgery or aesthetic medicine, based on their image as it is modified through the filters offered by social networks, is a growing demand from young people to the Plastic Surgeon, as the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery points out.

At what age does it occur?

The phenomenon, which mainly affects a large segment of persons under 25, is particularly prevalent among teenagers (15/18 years old), who are also beginning to use social media to share photos of themselves. 

Adolescents, in fact, experience a period when their bodies begin to change, becoming adults, and in parallel there is important personal, cognitive and emotional growth involving identity development and the acquisition of autonomy. These metamorphoses, particularly bodily accretion, are, at times, so sudden that those involved have difficulty accepting them and then recognizing themselves. 

It should be emphasized that difficulties related to the acceptance of body changes in adolescence are absolutely physiological, however, for some adolescents the difficulties of acceptance become a real obsession, hence sometimes lead the need to use a series of strategies and corrections of their own image that enable them to present themselves in a manner pleasing to others, in order to be socially acceptable and accepted.

Causes of dysmorphophobia

One of the possible causes of dysmorphophobia, which is a complex disorder with a multifactorial origin, is the permanence of children on social networks, which can foster a false representation of oneself, not necessarily corresponding to reality and altered with respect to one's essence, based on the principle that those who are more aesthetically acceptable are more successful. 

All this can translate for those who experience this situation into a condition of extreme loneliness, which leads the subject to no longer recognize themselves for who they really are, becoming accustomed to an altered body image, which can also translate into closure and isolation.

Once upon a time, those who went to the plastic surgeon brought along the photo of the star of the day: the lips of a star, the nose of a famous actress, the oval of one's idol were the role models. Now, however, more and more people are going to the plastic surgeon with their own selfie “enhanced” by the filters available on their cell phones.

As the plastic surgeon explains, it is important for the specialist to intercept what may be too high and incongruent expectations on the part of the patient, in order to reason together about how, but more importantly, whether to intervene, since real life does not coincide with virtual life.

How to tell if you have dysmorphophobia?

One of the distinctive psychological elements of dysmorphophobia is a marked preoccupation with physical appearance and in particular with one or more defects that are typically identified in the face. Such defects may be mild and real or imaginary defects. Usually, the concerns may relate to parts of the face such as, for example, asymmetries, disproportions, acne, scars, etc.

This worry can become so intense and disabling that it takes the form of a full-blown obsession that is difficult to control. The pervasiveness of dysmorphophobia is such that it prevents the individual from concentrating on work and school commitments, thus causing spillover effects on quality of life as well as a major increase in anxiety.

How is it treated and when is psychological support needed?

When body dysmorphism disorder becomes pervasive and disabling, it is necessary to seek help and support from mental health professionals. Dysmorphophobia therapy is a purely psychological/psychotherapeutic therapy that is based on mainly cognitive-behavioral techniques that aim to help the subject improve the pervasiveness aspect of the obsession thereby reducing its impact on the emotional and anxious aspects.

If it is necessary, let's disconnect!

When we enter the world of social media, even more so than in the real world, it is important to be able to have a positive and 'critical' attitude that helps us choose positive role models, promoting the right messages, to help people, especially in the developmental age, choose their role models carefully.

In this way we can make sure that we are following role models on social media who celebrate the beauty, diversity and uniqueness of real people, unfiltered. 

We must always keep in mind that no matter how fun and entertaining it may be to spend time on social networks, real life is inescapably lived off the screen. If we feel overwhelmed by social media and its content, we can choose to disconnect at any time.

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