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Biology 202
2004 First Web Paper
On Serendip

Body Dysmorphic Disorder- A Brain Disease?

Nicole Wood

Though Body Dysmorphic Disorder, commonly known as BDD, was first documented in nineteenth century, it is not a well known disorder. However, despite its lack of notoriety, BDD is not a rare disease, affecting two percent of the population (3). As scientists attempt to discover more about this illness to learn how to treat it, psychological and sociocultural factors have been considered to be possible causes for BDD

When discussing the origins of BDD, scientists and patients have been inclined to attribute BDD to psychological factors. Many have felt that BDD arises from childhood trauma, resulting in channeled feelings of conflict, shame, or guilt
(2). However, though psychological factors do not seem to be causal, it would be foolish to deny their influence on someone with a genetic predisposition towards BDD.

In addition to the psychological factors, sociocultural factors seem to influence BDD as well, mainly by exacerbating it. Many would be inclined to attribute the presence of BDD to the images that our modern society is constantly bombarded with, namely images of the ideal beauty. On every magazine cover and every television channel, the message of the ideal, for both men and women, is displayed constantly. How could these impossibly perfect images not affect how individual persons perceive themselves in comparison? There is no doubt that these images can increase the anxiety felt by anyone, particularly those with BDD, when compared to their own bodies. While images of ideal men and women could make anyone feel dissatisfied with their bodies, where does one draw the line between the desire to look more attractive and the obsession of those who suffer from BDD? While it is generally accepted that people like models and ballet dancers obsess over their bodies, there is another profession, though less well known for this preoccupation, that also has high rates of BDD; those who are involved in the arts (5). While no doubt these environments can increase the attention placed on the body, I would suggest that many dancers, models, and art historians are drawn to their respective professions because the focus is on appearance. While it may be unconsciously done, perhaps the people involved in these professions are already preoccupied with their bodies, thus an occupation which demands constant surveillance of appearances appeals to them. As an art history major, ballet dancer, and former model, I ask myself the question, "Is my involvement in these industries a suggestion that I am predisposed towards this disorder?" Though there may be an inclination on behalf of the twentieth century observer to claim that the media has caused an unnatural obsession with appearances, the fact that cases of BDD were documented as early as 1886 is evidence that BDD predates the era of the supermodel(2). In addition to cases like this, the causes of BDD originate can be seen in how patients response to treatment. Currently, there is evidence that BDD responds to medications known as serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, suggesting that BDD results from a dysregulation of serotonin


1)BDD Central, a helpful website discussing various aspects of BDD,including a forum where one can read the writings of those who suffer from BDD

2) Phillips, Katharine A. The Broken Mirror. New York:Oxford University Press, 1996.

3) Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a good resource for basic information on BDD

4) Facts Sheets: Realising Human Potential , a good source for statistics about BDD

5) Body of Work: art career linked to image , an article discussing occurrence of BDD among certain professions

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