Body Dysmorphia & You

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Body Dysmorphia: More Than A Bad Hair Day

Let’s face it – most of us have something about our appearance that we don’t like.  Sometimes we can be awfully unkind to ourselves when we look in the mirror – maybe you’ve wished for a flatter stomach, longer legs, or clearer skin.

While it’s super common to have hang-ups like these, for some people, these feelings latch on; to the point where body image concerns become all-consuming, making daily life a struggle.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a very real mental illness that makes people focus on real or perceived flaws for hours everyday. Your negative thoughts and emotions are through the roof, and severe emotional distress often interrupts the flow of daily life. Never heard of BDD? We’re here to help you understand it.


Body Dysmorphia vs. Feeling Insecure

Similar to feeling sad versus depression, the key difference between occasionally not liking your appearance and suffering from Body Dysmorphia is that it is relentless.

People who go through Body Dysmorphia cannot escape its chronic and persistent nature. It’s also extremely difficult for those with Body Dysmorphia to recognise the severity of their symptoms or seek help.

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Body Dysmorphia: A girl covered in paint lays back on a canvas

What is BDD?

Touted as a body-image disorder, BDD (or Body Dysmorphia) is a mental health condition that shows up in persistent, intrusive thoughts surrounding an imagined or real ‘flaw’ in one’s appearance. It can hone in on any part of the body, but the most common areas include the hair, skin, nose, chest and stomach. 

To the rest of the world, a perceived ‘defect’ is typically non-existent. But to a person with BDD, the ‘flaw’ can flip their life upside down. It can lead to severe emotional distress, difficulties in daily functioning and even suicidal thoughts. It can alter your thinking patterns so fiercely that you may feel too anxious, ashamed or embarrassed to even go out in public. 

Body dysmorphia is characterised by obsessive thoughts and behaviours related to one’s appearance. People with body dysmorphia often experience significant distress and anxiety about perceived flaws or defects in their appearance, even if others don’t notice them. 

Some of the behaviours related to Body Dysmorphia include frequent mirror-checking, constantly comparing your appearance to others, seeking reassurance from others, and – while we’re all guilty of spending too much time getting ready to go out – spending disproportionate amounts of time trying to enhance your appearance can also be tied to Body Dysmorphia.

An abstract black and white image of a body and shadow

Who is affected by it?

Just like most mental illnesses, BDD can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender, race and sexuality. It’s important to note that there are certainly physical, psychological and cultural factors that can contribute to the way it shows up. These can include:

  • A genetic predisposition to mental illness
  • Anxiety 
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder 
  • Personality traits like perfectionism and competitiveness
  • Life experiences that have caused trauma, like abuse and bullyin
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What Causes Body Dysmorphia?

Like any mental illness, Body Dysmorphia is complex and multifaceted; it can be attributed to a variety of factors, including biological, environmental, and psychological influences.

Some research suggests that people with body dysmorphia may have altered brain activity related to processing visual information, which could contribute to distorted perceptions of their appearance. Genetics may also play a role in body dysmorphia, as the disorder tends to run in families.

Environmental factors, such as societal pressure to conform to certain beauty standards, can also contribute to the development of body dysmorphia – and yes, we’re looking at you, social media. Being flooded with images of “perfect” bodies day in and day out, does not help. 

Trauma or abuse can also contribute to body dysmorphia, particularly if experiences of shame or self-loathing are associated with the body.

A close up of a hand gripping its own body
A lady with half her pace fainted white and half painted black, wiping her fingers through the paint

What are the symptoms?

Body Dysmorphia Disorder can show up in a number of ways, but it generally looks like:

  • Worrying or thinking a lot about how you look
  • Believing you have a physical abnormality or flaw that makes you ugly or unloveable 
  • Frequently looking in the mirror or avoiding the mirror, checking your body or skin picking
  • Excessively grooming and signing up for cosmetic procedures that don’t seem to make a difference
  • Wearing excessive make-up or using clothing to hide perceived flaws
  • Avoiding social situations or avoiding appearing in photographs 
  • Feeling insecure and self-conscious 
  • Obsessing over the way people might take notice of your appearance
  • Negatively comparing your appearance to others
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The Importance of Self-Care and Self-Compassion

Self-care and self-compassion are crucial for individuals with body dysmorphia, as they can help reduce stress, improve mood and well-being. It’s important to prioritise activities that make you feel good about yourself and your body, whether that’s taking a yoga class, painting, or spending time with friends who uplift and support you.

Practising self-compassion can also help reduce negative self-talk and self-criticism, allowing you to develop a more positive relationship with your body and self-image.

A figure stares into the distance

Body Dysmorphia and Social Media

Social media can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to body dysmorphia. On one hand, it can provide a sense of community and support for individuals with the disorder.

But it can also exacerbate body image concerns and lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. 

Research has shown a clear link between social media use and body dysmorphia. A published study found that higher levels of social media use were associated with greater body dissatisfaction and lower self-esteem.

Social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok create an idealised version of beauty that is unattainable – particularly due to filters and editing tools. Exposing yourself regularly to manipulated renditions of people can distort your sense of self image, leading to feelings of inadequacy and low self-worth. Those edited images are not reality.

 

How to Use Social Media in a Healthy Way While Managing Body Dysmorphia

While social media can be challenging for individuals with body dysmorphia, it can also be a source of support and community.

It’s important to curate your social media feed to include accounts that promote body positivity and diversity, and to limit exposure to accounts that trigger negative body image thoughts.

It can also be helpful to take breaks from social media when needed, and to engage in self-care and self-compassion practices when using social media triggers body dysmorphia symptoms.

A woman with tattoos stares into the distance in an art warehouse

Do Zoom and Facetime contribute to Body Dysmorphia?

Indigo therapist Georgie says yes:

“Facetime, Zoom, and video conferencing tools create an opportunity to not only be preoccupied with your own reflection, but it also gives people the chance to engage in what we call ‘upward or downward comparisons.

Someone might observe a perceived flaw and go ‘okay how do I feel about myself versus that person?’”

“It’s not a true reflection of what’s going on. Even with a front-facing camera, that in itself is a warped perception of self when you look back at your reflection.

First and foremost, it’s about being able to notice if this is something that’s creating a great amount of distress: Am I becoming increasingly occupied by my self-image? Reach out and find a healthcare professional to speak to someone about this”

How can you seek help?

It can feel overwhelming to realise you might need help with BDD. You may feel embarrassed, ashamed or hesitant – but it’s important to remember that you are not alone. 

To begin with, your local general practitioner can lead you in the right direction when it comes to seeking help. They can support you in taking the first steps to treat Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and be a helping hand when it comes to evaluating how you feel about yourself and your appearance and what kind of impact it has on your day-to-day life. 

Afterwards, you may be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist who can support you with further treatment. Treatments can include:

  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which can help you to shift the negative narratives and underlying attitudes you hold in your head.
  • Medication 
  • Learning coping skills, which can help you to manage early symptoms of anxiety 

If you’re dealing with BDD,  it’s also important to avoid engaging in conversations surrounding body images, as well as researching and comparing yourself to everything and everyone in your feed.

Healing is just around the corner, and the support of a therapist can work wonders for reframing your mindset when it comes to body image, and dealing with the underlying factors. 

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Meet Our Therapists

PhotoDR NAVIT GOHAR-KADAR

dr navit gohar-kadar, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoMAJA CZERNIAWSKA

maja czerniawska, Senior Psychologist

PhotoEUNICE CHEUNG

eunice cheung, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

PhotoAYANTHI DE SILVA

ayanthi de silva, Registered Psychologist

PhotoTAYLA GARDNER

tayla gardner, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

PhotoKATIE ODONOGHUE

katie odonoghue, Relationship Coach & Couples Therapist

PhotoLORNA MACAULAY

lorna macaulay, Senior Psychologist

PhotoANNIA BARON

annia baron, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoSHUKTIKA BOSE

shuktika bose, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoDEEPIKA GUPTA

deepika gupta, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoEVA FRITZ

eva fritz, Senior Psychologist

PhotoDR EMER MCDERMOTT

dr emer mcdermott, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoNICOLE BURLING

nicole burling, Senior Psychologist

PhotoNATASHA KASSELIS

natasha kasselis, Senior Psychologist

PhotoDR PERRY MORRISON

dr perry morrison, Senior Psychologist

PhotoGAYNOR CONNOR

gaynor connor, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

PhotoSHAUNTELLE BENJAMIN

shauntelle benjamin, Registered Psychologist

PhotoLIZ KIRBY

liz kirby, Psychotherapist & Counsellor

PhotoSAM BARR

sam barr, Clinical Psychologist

PhotoDARREN EVERETT

darren everett, Senior Psychologist

PhotoJAMIE DE BRUYN

jamie de bruyn, Senior Psychologist

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is The Indigo Project?

We are a progressive online counselling practice, providing telehealth services in Australia. Our passionate and experienced local team includes psychologists, psychotherapists & counsellors, coaches and therapists that are trained to deliver online therapy to you in a safe and convenient way.

Whether you are looking for short or long term support through a challenging time, or looking to discover your potential, we want you to feel comfortable on every step of the journey.

Read more about Our Story 

Telehealth: About Therapy and Online Counselling

What can I expect from therapy? What is therapy like?

Every therapist is different and their therapeutic style and personalities are all unique. However, all of our Indigo practitioners will hold a compassionate and non-judgmental space for you, where you are free to be who you are. Your therapist is there to listen to you, guide you, and help you overcome life’s challenges.

Generally, you’ll spend the first session getting to know each other, talking about your history and what it is you’d like to work through. From your second session onwards, you’ll get to go deeper, peeling back the layers and all the while learning practical strategies to help you transform and grow.

At Indigo we encourage our clients to have at least 10-20 sessions, because we believe that therapy is a long-term journey of commitment, growth and investment in yourself. After seeing your therapist for a while, you may continue to book occasional check-in sessions as you feel more confident doing life with the knowledge and tools you have gained.

Who is online therapy for?

Everyone is welcome to attend online counselling or therapy with one of our practitioners at The Indigo Project.

Online counselling or therapy via Zoom is an accessible, safe and convenient option for those who are unable to attend face-to-face appointments, or simply prefer to meet online. Whether it be a busy schedule due to work and family, health-related reasons or distance, online counselling can help you.

What issues are suited for online therapy?

Our team of trained clinical psychologists, psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors attend to a range of common mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, grief and loss, life transitions, relationship issues and more.

A number of practitioners also specialise in areas such as sexuality, gender and identity, addiction, sports and performance, personality disorders and therapy for children and adolescents.

Several therapists also provide services in marriage counselling and couples therapy.

Finding the best psychologist or counsellor for me - where do I start?

We highly encourage you to view our practitioners and use the filtering options to find a psychologist or counsellor who can help you with the issues you are seeking help for.

Meet our therapists and what they can help you with here.

If you need help, our Therapy Matchmakers team will be able to match you with a practitioner. Give us a call on (02) 9212 5469 or email us at [email protected] so we can support you on your journey.

What if I can’t see the therapist I had in mind?

Our therapists typically have capacity to see several new clients each month. However these openings can get filled up fast from those who have been on a waitlist. If there is someone that you particularly want to see but is currently unavailable, we can place you on a waitlist until there is an opening.

If you prefer to attend an online counselling session sooner, our Therapy Matchmakers can help you find an alternative practitioner based on your needs and what you are looking to achieve in therapy.

Meeting a therapist for the first time can feel like a first date. If you don’t connect with your therapist on your first or second session, we’ll pair you with a new practitioner and your next session will be on the house* as part of our Perfect Match Promise.

*Terms and conditions apply.

Can I make an appointment for my child or dependent?

If you are the parent or legal guardian of a minor, you will need to make an appointment online or via the phone.

We have many psychologists, psychotherapists & counsellors who have experience dealing with children and adolescents in therapy. See who can help here.

Someone I know needs counselling. Can I book an appointment for them?

Those who require online counselling or therapy will have to make an appointment directly with The Indigo Project via our online booking form or on the phone. We do not accept bookings on behalf of an individual or couple from a third party unless as part of an insurance plan, support scheme or similar arrangement.

We want marriage or couples counselling. Can we see a couples counsellor together?

Couples are welcome to attend online therapy sessions together with one of our couples therapists.

Do I need to do anything before my first session?

We recommend setting up for your online therapy session 5-10 minutes before it commences. Make sure your computer or phone microphone and video is working, and that you are comfortable and ready to sit through your session uninterrupted.

There’s zero pressure to prepare anything for your first session but if you find it helpful, you can jot down some points about specific things you’d like to work on or discuss with your therapist.

Are my therapy sessions confidential?

Everything you discuss with your therapist here at Indigo is absolutely confidential, and will not be shared unless you or someone else is at risk of serious harm.

How do I pay for my online therapy session?

For first time clients, payment is made via debit or credit card at the time of booking. For returning clients, there are a number of payment methods available such as authorised direct debit or online via the payments link on your invoice.

Who to contact if you are in crisis

The Indigo Project is not a crisis service.

  • If you are in a crisis, if you are experiencing suicidal or homicidal thoughts, or somebody else is in danger, DO NOT use this service.
  • Call 000 or use these contacts for immediate crisis support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:

Lifeline 13 11 14 - A crisis support and suicide prevention service for all Australians.

Mental Health Line 1800 011 511 - The Mental Health Line offers professional help and advice for everyone. Operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 - Beyond Blue provide support to address issues related to depression, suicide, anxiety disorders and other related mental illnesses.

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 - A free service for people who are suicidal, caring for someone who is suicidal, bereaved by suicide or are health professionals supporting people affected by suicide.

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 - A counselling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25.

Parentline 1300 1300 52 - Parent Line is a free telephone counselling and support service for parents and carers with children aged 0 to 18 who live in NSW.

What else does The Indigo Project do?

Our courses, workshops and events are designed to transform the way you think, feel and live.

Not ready to commit to therapy? Indigo founder Mary Hoang has created Get Your Sh*t Together, a self-directed digital course for those who want to develop greater self-awareness, tackle stress and anxiety, and learn practical skills to help heal, grow and thrive in life.

Mary has also written a book Darkness is Golden: A Guide to Personal Transformation and Dealing with Life's Messiness that combines her experience in the therapy room with unique audio experiences framed by her research in music psychology.

Available for free download are a number of toolkits to help you combat your depression, deal with your anxiety or transform your relationships.

Although an online counselling practice, The Indigo Project believes in the power of community, and we often host events throughout the year. Keep an eye out for events such as Listen Up, a contemporary digital sound bath some describe as a “soundtracked therapy session”.

We are also available for corporate events, workshops and related projects. Please contact us at [email protected] if you’d like to know more.

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