By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Can someone be too ugly to get a job or be loved?
There is a group of people in our society who believe very deeply that there is something wrong with their body which makes them so ugly that no employer will hire them and no other person could stand to be in a relationship with them. They often seek medical help to change their appearance but that help rarely results in them feeling acceptable.
There is a range of appearances. Some people are frankly better looking than others. We value celebrities based on their looks. So how far from that ideal level of beauty do you need to fall before you conclude that you are ugly and no one can possibly love or accept you?
Some people believe that they are ugly even when others around them cannot see the “flaw” that makes them believe they are undesirable. This belief that your body is flawed in some way, while others do not see the flaw is called Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder can center on beliefs that any part of your body is defective but the most common things that are the focus of this belief are the skin, hair, and nose. Stomach, weight, breasts, or chest and eyes also cause significant numbers of people to feel bad about themselves.
Researchers believe that the prevalence of Body Dysmorphic Disorder is greatly underestimated. The number of people who suffer from this emotional problem is probably far greater than our statistics are reporting. Estimates of the number of people in the United States with Body Dysmorphic Disorder range from 2 million to in excess of 15 million people. The number of cases you see depends on where you look.
Most people with Body Dysmorphic Disorder do not come to mental health systems because of their excessive focus on their appearance. They often first present at a plastic surgeons office requesting an operation to change that part of them that they feel is making them ugly.
Annual expenditures for plastic surgery surpassed 10 billion dollars in 2008. This was an almost 900% increase over 1992 and this figure continues to grow. Unfortunately, people with Body Dysmorphic Disorder are most likely to feel that their operation was “botched” and as a result, sue the doctor or request a second or third operation. One study reported that 44% of plastic surgery patients were repeat clients. Some clearly were happy with the results and having more done but those with Body Dysmorphic Disorder are likely to undergo repeated operations because the problem lies in their thinking that they are ugly rather than in any particular objective problem with their looks.
So how does this Body Dysmorphic Disorder manifest in those who have the disorder? Suffers typically spend 3 to 5 hours per day looking at themselves in the mirror. They are highly sensitive to minor flaws in people and can spot defects in others readily. Many become housebound, afraid to go out and socialize because they believe that they are so ugly no one will like them. A deficit in social skills predisposes them to believe that their lack of friends and romantic partners is the result of their appearance rather than their lack of social skills.
Since those with Body Dysmorphic Disorder blame their lack of friends and jobs on their appearance they are unlikely to present for counseling or therapy. One way they enter treatment with a mental health professional is when their depression, anxiety, or other emotional problem brings them to the notice of the mental health system.
Almost half of those with Body Dysmorphic Disorder have been hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital. As many as 82% have had thoughts of suicide and one in four is likely to have attempted suicide. Most are young, single, and unemployed. They frequently have eating disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or another psychiatric problem in addition to the Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Skin picking and religious or sexual preoccupation are also common. Many go on to develop Avoidant Personality Disorder.
They are also at risk to miss many days of work or school and many social events as a result of their feelings that they are physically ugly. Many of those with Body Dysmorphic Disorder drop out of school to avoid being seen by others.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder frequently begins in the early teen years and gets progressively worse. The mean age of onset of the Body Dysmorphic Disorder is between 14 and 16. Those with the disorder will cover their faces in various ways, spend excessive amounts on clothing or cosmetics or resort to extreme methods to try to alter their appearance. Frequently those with Body Dysmorphic Disorder have been teased or bullied.
The mean age of onset of the Body Dysmorphic Disorder is between 14 and 16. The DSM-5 tells us that the most common age for onset of Body Dysmorphic Disorder is 12 to 13 years old.
This disorder is not restricted to females. Many young men develop the notion that they need to have huge bulging muscles to be acceptable and develop a related condition called Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder. Males are also at risk to believe that their genitals are too small resulting in avoiding dating and sexual relationships.
Those with Body Dysmorphic Disorder may also show up in weight loss groups where despite their low to normal body weight they will be focused on changing the shape of one part of their body that they see as defective.
Our understanding of Body Dysmorphic Disorder continues to change. In the DSM-4 Body Dysmorphic Disorder was included in the section on somatoform disorders, those disorders where emotions make you sick or make your illness worse. In the new DSM-5 Body Dysmorphic Disorder is included in the Obsessive-Compulsive disorders because of the time people with this disorder spend on concerns about their appearance.
There are effective treatments for Body Dysmorphic Disorder. The difficult part is getting those with the disorder to come for treatment. Since they firmly believe that their problems are the result of some physical defect they do not see how counseling can help them, and will often insist that they are not “crazy” or “mental.”
Treatment of other issues, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and actions are often the first step in engaging those with Body Dysmorphic Disorder in treatment. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Antidepressant medications, Narrative therapy, and skills training are all thought to be effective in treating Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
So if you or someone you know has no friends, no romantic partner, or no job and you think this may be because of looks, consider working with a counselor on your social skills, career counseling, and self-esteem before you conclude that the problem is your looks.
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What I don’t understand why is the nose always a call for scorn or mockery? If I recount the amount of times I’ve been put down for my nose, it would easily be in the 50’s. Is a masculine nose considered ugly on a man? It definitely added character to my face and made me look warrior-like; women smiled at me a lot but I was too blind-sided by my BDD that I had to get rid of it.
Sounds like you have had a very difficult time. You comment got me thinking about how people who are different – stand out- often get teased and bullied. A post about this topic will publish on 4-17-15. Hope you are doing well.
I have this disorder, however I only realized it after I destroyed my face with plastic surgery as is common in those with this disorder. All the symptoms present I had; lack of a social life, very little to no dating, isolated life, fear of positing photographs online, being teased by family and those considered close – however I had no problems going to school or work. I just had a problem with feeling ugly and worthless all the time. It’s a shame this disorder is not well known or publicized; a lot of people need answers but they cannot find them. And often VERY wrongly resort to PS which makes their condition N times worse and suicidal thoughts become very real.
Thanks for sharing that comment. I would suggest you see a professional for help with this problem. Hopefully others will read your comment and look for help also.
I did, however she told me my nose looks fine. This is before I got a revision; when people would either look at me in disgust or laugh at me. The problem is not too many therapists know or understand what BDD is. It needs to be made aware to the public so that they can be treated from a young age so that sufferers can understand that they do not equate to their flaw nor does it define or make them an ugly/unwanted person. Because the solution they resort to will make them look worse or freakish, hence worsening their disorder as now they feel disfigured.
Thanks for sharing.
I love this. This is very well written and informative on a topic that gets overlooked for the more common Eating Disorder diagnosis.
Thanks for that nice comment. My hope is that this post or one of the others helps someone to see that recovery is possible.
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FANTASTIC – well researched, eye-opening, honest, timely and vitally important. I hope you reach the millions with this one. Thank you, David, for this!