Body Dysmorphic Disorder and the Fashion Industry

Mental Health Disorder in the Fashion Industry

            The fashion industry has led to instances of self-doubt in many people across the globe as they question their appearance. The fashion industry has managed to paint an unrealistic image regarding what entails the ideal body. Through its models who have professional trainers and nutritionists, the fashion industry has convinced many people that a certain type of body is the ideal one and the rest are flawed. Notably, this has led to a sense of disconnect or dissatisfaction among many people, which can trigger body dysmorphic disorder. This paper reviews body dysmorphic disorder and examine how the fashion industry has contributed to its increased prevalence.

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Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder refers to a mental health disorder whereby an individual cannot stop thinking about one or more perceived flaws or defects in their appearance. Notably, the perceived defect is minor or cannot be seen by others. However, the person feels so ashamed, embarrassed, and anxious to the point that they may avoid many social situations. When a person suffers from body dysmorphic disorder, they intensely focus on their appearance and body image characterized by behaviors such as spending relatively long periods on grooming, constantly seeking reassurance, repeatedly checking the mirror, et cetera. The perceived flaw and repetitive behavior cause the person suffering from the disorder significant distress and impact the individual’s ability to effectively function in their daily life. Besides the distress, a person suffering from body dysmorphic disorder may seek various cosmetic procedures in an attempt to fix the perceived defect (“Body dysmorphic disorder”, 2019). According to Wei (2022), after cosmetic procedures, a person may experience temporary satisfaction or a reduction in their distress. However, the anxiety often returns and the individual tends to resume searching for other ways to fix the perceived flaw.

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Signs and Symptoms

            Signs and symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder include a person having a strong belief that they have a body defect that makes them ugly. Second, being extremely preoccupied with the perceived flaw in appearance. Third, believing that other people take special notice of the flaw negatively. Fourth, engaging in behaviors sought to fix or hide the perceived defect. Notably, the said behaviors are usually difficult to resist or control, such as skin picking or regularly checking the mirror. Five, attempting to hide the perceived defect with makeup, clothes, or styling. Six, constantly comparing self’s appearance with others. Seven, constantly seeking reassurance about one’s appearance from others. Eight, having perfectionist tendencies. Nine, avoid social situations. Last but not least, seeking cosmetic procedures to fix the perceived flaw but with little satisfaction (“Body dysmorphic disorder”, 2019). Thus, preoccupation with one’s appearance as a result of body dysmorphic disorder can cause major distress and negatively affect an individual’s social life. The more convinced a person is regarding the existence of their perceived flaw, the more distress and disruption they experience in their life.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder in the Fashion Industry

Research works focusing on the causes of body dysmorphic disorder have identified the fashion industry as one of the key factors contributing to the continuously increasing prevalence of the disorder. According to Shah (2021), for over five decades now, body image and the fashion industry has been a heated struggle. Shah elucidates that the fashion industry has been a leading cause of body dysmorphic disorder. The fashion industry has been using highly edited images to promote various products in the market. Additionally, the industry has been using models who look a certain way. This has affected many people’s confidence regarding their body image. For instance, the average American woman weighs about 140 pounds and stands at 5’4”. On the other hand, the average American fashion model weighs 110 pounds and stands at 5’11” (“Statistics | Body image and eating disorders in the fashion industry”, n.d.). Using these models as a representation of the American woman can cause many women who do not physically compare to the models to view themselves as flawed hence contributing to body dysmorphic disorder.

The increasing reach of fashion advertisements in this era of social media has only aggravated the situation. According to Wei (2022), one in fifty Americans suffers from body dysmorphic disorder. The highest percentage of the disorder is in young people and adolescents. Wei elucidates that typically the disorder begins at around the age of 12 or 13 when these teenagers start accessing social media. Social media has allowed people to follow celebrities including fashion models such as Victoria’s Secret Angels, who have a body that the fashion industry has marketed as the perfect body. Notably, these models have personal trainers and nutritionists who ensure that they maintain their bodies the way the apparel companies want them when promoting their clothing and merchandise in advertisements, runway fashion shows, and in trade shows or other events (“Statistics | Body image and eating disorders in the fashion industry”, n.d.). When people compare themselves to these models, especially adolescents and young people, they may end up becoming preoccupied with perceived flaws that they believe make them ugly.

Additionally, technology has allowed the fashion industry to use photo and video editing tools so that they are able to publish or post the unrealistic images and videos they perceive as a representation of the perfect body. Individuals with low self-esteem or overly focused on their appearance, especially adolescents whose minds are susceptible to idealistic images, are likely to develop a strong belief that they have a defect since their bodies do not match with those of the fashion models (McLean, 2021). According to McLean, time spent on social media pages of fashion models or companies directly correlates with body dysmorphic disorder. Wei (2022) elucidates that while the fashion industry does not directly cause body dysmorphic disorder, it perpetuates the thin and tall ideal, hence triggering the preoccupation with one’s appearance. Hence, the fashion industry is a major contributor to the increasing prevalence of body dysmorphic disorder.

Steps Being Taken to Decrease the Prevalence of Body Dysmorphic Disorder in the Fashion Industry

            There have not been any steps by the fashion industry to decrease the prevalence of body dysmorphic disorder. However, treatment of the disorder often entails a combination of medications and cognitive behavioral therapy. Notably, cognitive behavioral therapy for the disorder focuses on helping the patient learn how their negative thoughts or emotional reactions maintain problems over time. Additionally, it challenges automatic negative thoughts about one’s body image and teaches more flexible ways of thinking. Moreover, it entails teaching the patient alternative ways to handle urges related to mirror checking and reassurance seeking. Furthermore, it focuses on teaching the patient other behaviors to improve mental health, such as how to address social avoidance. Notably, the Food and Drug Administration is yet to approve medication specifically manufactured for treating body dysmorphic disorder. However, medications approved for treating other mental conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression have been proved to be effective in treating body dysmorphic disorder. Some of the medications that can be used alongside cognitive behavioral therapy include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (“Body dysmorphic disorder”, 2019). It is worth mentioning that the fashion industry needs to take responsibility for its contribution to the increasing prevalence of cognitive-behavioral therapy and take active measures to remedy the situation.


            To sum up, how a person thinks and feels about him/herself physically, and how one believes others see them influence self-confidence. Over the decades, the fashion industry through its models has managed to paint an unrealistic image regarding what is the perfect body. For people with low self-confidence or overly concerned with their appearance, the fashion industry is causing them to develop cognitive-behavioral therapy due to the unrealistic image it has achieved to pain regarding the perfect body. Fortunately, there exist treatment for the disorder which entails a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and medications.

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