What Is Body Image Distortion?

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  • Written By: Eugene P.
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 19 January 2020
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Body image distortion is a psychological condition in which a person compulsively focuses on some aspect of his or her appearance as being imperfect. The imperfection is usually only seen by the person suffering from body image distortion. This skewed self-image can lead to detrimental behaviors such as avoiding social and intimate situations or excessive dieting. In chronic cases, suffers could attempt to modify their bodies to try to bring their actual physical appearance in line with how they believe they should look. Treatment of body image distortion can involve counseling, psychotherapy and medication.

Body image is the term used to describe how people see themselves. It not only means what a person sees in a mirror, but also the mental image that the person has constructed. When this image is distorted, the person is suddenly unable to see his or her own true appearance and replaces it with the mental image that has been constructed. This could be a perception of being overweight when the person is not, or it could be specific to a body part, such as the shape of the nose.

Body image distortion, which is very similar to body dysmorphic disorder, can lead to a number of harmful actions. A person suffering from the disorder usually lives in a state of anxiety and depression. This can lead to the avoidance of social situations as a result of shame or embarrassment. It also can affect personal relationships. In some cases, it can cause substance abuse.


There are severe cases of body image distortion in which the person suffering from it will take drastic measures to try to change his or her physical appearance. This can include eating disorders such as bulimia or cutting parts of the body to change the shape. Extreme exercise to lose weight also can occur, as can attempts at suicide. These behaviors are often hidden from friends and family, making the condition difficult to diagnose.

The exact cause of body image distortion is unknown. There are theories that it is a combination of a poor environment, biological factors and psychological distress. Some believe the actual condition is not truly about body image but is instead a symptom of some other underlying problem, such as abuse or an organic brain damage.

The cause of body image distortion is not known, so there is no single treatment for it. Common treatments include counseling with a social worker if the home environment is suspected of causing the disorder. Psychotherapy can be used in an attempt to understand and remove the underlying reasons for the actions. There also are treatment paths for body image distortion that involve medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).



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