Mirrors can be the worst enemy of a teen suffering from body-image distortion.

Distorted Body Image in Teenagers

by Leigh Bennett

According to a study conducted by Michael Peterson, University of Delaware's associate professor of health and exercise sciences, teenage girls typically view themselves as being an average of 11 pounds heavier than they actually are. While body-image issues are viewed as primarily a female problem, 10 percent of people who struggling with anorexia and bulimia are male according to Children's Hospital Colorado. Distorted body image is thought to be a primary cause of eating disorders in teen girls and boys.

Distorted Body Image and Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body-image distortion is when a person views themselves as heavier than they actually are. In serious cases, this distortion is known as body dysmorphic disorder. KidsHealth.org defines body dysmorphic disorder as an obsessive disorder where the sufferer is constantly plagued with troubling thoughts centering around these imagined imperfections and flaws. For a teen dealing with BDD, every physical flaw is magnified and seems obvious to whole world.


KidsHealth.org reports that there are several factors that could potentially lead to distorted body image or BDD. Teens who were bullied or teased as children are more likely to develop body image issues. Messages in the media often reinforce insecurities that teens may already have about their appearances. Experts have linked BDD to problems with the brain's ability to regulate the neurotransmitter serotonin -- also thought to be the cause of conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression.


Body-image distortion is thought to be one of the leading causes of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. A study conducted by Janet M. Liechty, professor of social work of medicine at the University of Illinois, found that body-image distortion screening may be the best indicator of risk of developing an eating disorder. Teens who suffer from BDD often exhibit avoidance behaviors -- missing school, avoiding social functions, avoiding mirrors and even closing themselves off from family and friends. Teens may begin performing certain compulsions such as constantly checking mirrors or reapplying makeup as a way of coping with their image obsessions. Left untreated, this kind of body distortion can lead to depression and in some cases, suicide.


The challenge with treating body-image distortion is convincing the teen that the problem lies in their thinking and not their appearance. If you suspect that your teen may be having issues with body distortion or is suffering from BDD, seek help from a medical professional immediately. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be beneficial in treating body distortion problems. In more serious cases, prescription medication may be necessary as well.

About the Author

Leigh Bennett is a youth services librarian in Southeast Louisiana. In addition to managing the library's young adult and teen book collections, she develops and plans educational and recreational library programming for children, teens and adults. She has been writing for online publications for more than 5 years.

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