Ask the Doc: What should I do if I think someone has body dysmorphia?


What should I do if I think someone has body dysmorphia?


It’s completely normal for people to be concerned about how they look. Some people take pride in their appearance and might spend ages getting ready before they go out. They might be embarrassed about a scar or a pimple and want to cover it up. They might brush or comb their hair forward to hide a receding hairline. These sorts of concerns and behaviours in relation to someone’s appearance aren’t usually anything to worry about.

If you know someone who fixates on a problem they see with their appearance, which might be difficult or impossible for you to see, and if it really upsets them or gets in the way of them living their life normally, there’s a possibility that they may have body dysmorphia.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a psychological problem that affects about one in 50 people. It’s usually first diagnosed in someone’s teenage years, although less severe signs of the disorder might have been around for years. BDD is equally likely to affect males and females.

BDD can range from minor to severe. In severe cases, relationships with friends, family and partners can break down, or the person with BDD may harm themselves.

With the right help, people with BDD can learn to manage their concerns about their appearance. The right treatment can stop the feelings and behaviours of BDD that can take over their lives.

There are screening questionnaires that can be used to find out if a person might have BDD (they do not diagnose BDD; only a specialised health professional can do that). A useful online questionnaire is available from the UK-based Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation.

What to do if you think someone might have BDD?

People with BDD might continually seek reassurance that they look OK but giving them that reassurance is unlikely to be helpful. What will help is for them to receive appropriate treatment. A form of psychological treatment called ‘cognitive-behavioural therapy’ usually helps, sometimes in combination with medication.

The best way to help someone with BDD is to encourage and support them to get appropriate treatment, to help them stick to it and to praise their success when their thoughts and behaviours improve.

Your conversations with someone who has BDD should focus on the distress that it causes, and the impact it has on day-to-day function, rather than the problems with appearance that the person has.

Providing reassurance to someone BDD about their concerns with their appearance can be counterproductive and actually reinforce the person’s beliefs. It’s best not to engage in the rituals performed by someone with BDD. This includes not responding to requests for reassurance, not helping the person examine the problem (for example by holding a mirror or light), and not paying for cosmetic treatments or clothes that might hide the supposed problem. You’re better off reminding the person that their behaviours and need for reassurance are symptoms of BDD, and that engaging with them about their concerns with how they look won’t help.

It can be difficult to share your life with someone who has BDD. It’s difficult not to get angry and upset at times. Just like the person with BDD, you should try not to let it rule your life. Take time for yourself, don’t feel guilty, and ask for support from friends, family or your doctor if you need it.

The advice in this article is based on a book called Understanding Body Dysmorphic Disorder, written by Katherine Phillips, who is an expert on BDD.

A/Prof Tim Moss

Tim Moss

Biomedical research scientist

Associate Professor Tim Moss has PhD in physiology and more than 20 years’ experience as a biomedical research scientist. Tim stepped away from his successful academic career at the end of 2019, to apply his skills in turning complicated scientific and medical knowledge into information that all people can use to improve their health and wellbeing. Tim has written for and Scientific American’s Observations blog, which is far more interesting than his authorship of over 150 academic publications. He has studied science communication at the Alan Alda Centre for Communicating Science in New York, and at the Department of Biological Engineering Communication Lab at MIT in Boston.


Body dysmorphia
Body dysmorphic disorder

Did you find this page helpful?

Information provided on this website is not a substitute for medical advice

Call 000 for emergency services

If you or someone you know needs urgent medical attention.

Call MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78 for 24/7 support

MensLine Australia is a telephone and online counselling service for men with emotional health and relationship concerns.

Sign up to our newsletter

We release two monthly newsletters – one written for men, family and friends, and another for health practitioners.

Your preferred mailing list

Your name

Your email

Stay up to date


Healthy Male acknowledges the traditional owners of the land. We pay our respects to elders past, present and future. We are committed to providing respectful, inclusive services and work environments where all individuals feel accepted, safe, affirmed and celebrated.


Healthy Male is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. This website does not host any form of advertisement. Information provided on this website is not a substitute for medical advice.

Trusted information partner of