Self image child
Body Dysmorphic Disorder affects about 1 in 50 people. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Has your child recently begun to criticise and obsess over one or more aspects of their appearance? It may be a case of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), which affects about 1 in 50 people.

Ross Addison, Managing Director and Consultant Child and Adolescent Cognitive Behavioural Therapist at UAE-based Reverse Psychology, says: “As such, the individual will likely be consumed with thoughts regarding their appearance, and will often engage in certain behaviours to check or avoid their perceived flaws,” he adds. The disorder tends to manifest during adolescence.


While the reasons for the disorder can’t be sieved down to one thing, research explains that factors such as genetic predisposition and neurocognitive differences play a role.

People with BDD commonly also suffer from anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder, as well as other disorders such as depression, eating disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), says the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website. BDD can also be misdiagnosed as one of these disorders because they share similar symptoms.

What affects a person’s self-image?

The seeds of the disorder can be sown in a number of seemingly innocuous ways, including by being exposed to factors that take a bite out of a person’s self-esteem. Nadia Brooker, Counselling Psychologist at Priory Wellbeing Centre in Dubai, says: “Kids can be influenced by a whole range of things, such as culture, media, parents, peers and past experiences - all of which can impact how they feel they should look or present themselves to others.”

Parental impact: “Parents can influence their children’s thoughts and opinions through their own expectations. For example, children whose parents often criticise their appearance and weight, or have strict rules regarding food, can significantly – and negatively - impact their child’s relationship with food, their peers and self-esteem,” she says.

Kids, whose parents have body image issues themselves, may also find themselves more conscious about comments.

The inheritance
If you have Body Dysmorphic Disorder here’s some good news: It doesn’t mean your child has to have it too. “The children will be more greatly predisposed to developing the condition, but it's a risk factor rather than a certainty. As a parent, shielding your child from any obsessive or ritualised behaviours such as mirror checking can help and also limit what you say regarding appearance in front of your child. If they observe that appearance is critical to the parent, they could adopt the principle that it should be critical to them,” explains Ross Addison, Managing Director and Consultant Child and Adolescent Cognitive Behavioural Therapist at UAE-based Reverse Psychology.

Peer pressure: In the teenage years, one is also more susceptible to peer behaviour. “Peers who focus heavily on dieting, weight or engage in talking negatively about their appearance can potentially lead children to negatively evaluate their own body image as well,” she explains.

Bullying, which is also a playground staple, can cause a person to have a skewed view about themselves.

Ambition: Plus, if you have a child who is looking to excel in a certain field, they will be more critical about that activity’s requirements. “Activities such as gymnastics, dance or modelling can cause children to have a heightened focus and awareness of their body size, which may increase unhelpful behaviours to try and control their weight and shape,” adds Brooker.

Signs of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Do these behaviours sound familiar? If yes, you might be looking at a case of BDD.

  • Avoiding social events
  • Constant mirror checking or avoiding reflections
  • Hiding perceived flaws: “Hiding or covering the perceived flaw with certain clothing or sitting in certain ways to hide the flaw from observers,” explains Addison.
  • Repetitive exercise or grooming behaviours
  • Seeking reassurance from others regarding their appearance
  • Difficulty in believing what others say about their appearance
  • Self-harming behaviours
  • Constant discussions about appearance, which may include diet and food choices
  • Researching or discussions regarding having surgery to fix the perceived flaw/flaws
  • Anxiety and low mood

Do this, not that

Addison suggests the following:

  • Provide a non-judgmental space for your child to speak to you about their worries.
  • Try to avoid providing too many solutions, and instead listen and be inquisitive, asking questions about what they're saying.
  • The Socratic Questioning Method can be very helpful in further understanding and challenging unhelpful thinking processes.
  • Try not to show your frustration about their concerns, this may lead to the child feeling invalidated.
What is the Socratic Questioning Method?
This method, devised by the Greek philosopher Socrates, uses six type of questions to challenge a thought. These are, as listed by US-based University Of Nebraska–Lincoln:
Clarifying concepts: The reason for the argument.
Probing assumptions.
Probing rationale, reasons and evidence.
Questioning viewpoints and perspectives.
Probing implications and consequences.
Questioning the question.

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