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Obsessing On Body Image

womanA nose that’s too big, hair that’s too curly or a beauty mark in the wrong place – who hasn’t focused on a small detail of their appearance while staring at a mirror?

However, when these imperfections take over our thoughts, or exist only in our heads, it’s a sign that such obsessing is a disorder, according to Université de Montréal psychiatry professor Kieron O’Connor.

About 350,000 Canadians suffer such a phobia, while the prevalence is higher among those already experiencing some type of anxiety.

“Sufferers are convinced that part of their body is abnormal, which is not the case,” says the psychologist who also works at the Fernand-Seguin Research Centre. “They have difficulty separating what is real from what is not.”

And it has nothing to do with vanity, he insists. It’s a bit like hypochondria, where people are convinced they are sick or may get sick, or anorexia, which comes from poor body image, he adds.

People suffering from this phobia will focus on the physical attribute they consider flawed, constantly viewing it in a mirror or asking the opinions of others. They may go to obsessive lengths to “fix” the problem by wearing too much make-up, going to a tanning salon or getting plastic surgery.

“It’s as if these people are looking at themselves in a mirror that deforms their image,” says O’Connor, who completed his clinical training in England.

“They’ll carry on an internal conversation and convince themselves that there’s a problem with their bodies, although it’s not based in reality. I’ve seen people who have flagrant physical flaws, yet are preoccupied by a completely different aspect of their appearance.”

Skin receives the most attention from sufferers (73 percent), while the chest gets the least (21 percent). The hair, nose and stomach are also popular objects of obsession.

O’Connor’s approach to treatment is to look at the reasons a person starts criticizing a part of his or her body in the first place. The source is difficult to pin down – whether genetic, parental influence or stress – but the consequences can be serious, including suicide.

“This problem can affect all aspects of life, work, studies and love and family relationships,” says O’Connor. “It can stop someone from going out, or at least hiding the body part about which he or she is obsessing.”

Source: University of Montreal

Obsessing On Body Image

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2016). Obsessing On Body Image. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 17, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2008/09/09/obsessing-on-body-image/2898.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Jun 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 29 Jun 2016
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.