How Going Virtual Has Contributed to Body Dysmorphia

How Going Virtual Has Contributed to Body Dysmorphia

By Jacquelyn Buffo, MS, LPC, CAADC

December 11, 2020

Body Dysmorphia

The use of virtual applications and electronics is nothing new. For the last 20 years, we have seen a substantial increase in the use of electronics, social media, and other applications. The emergence of COVID-19 has led to even greater use, and even dependency, on virtual platforms to help us function and even survive. We use the virtual world to do our grocery shopping, attend doctor’s appointments, and perform our job duties. While virtual has its permanent place in our lives and has brought with it many benefits, the extensive use of virtual platforms has created challenges for us as individuals and even as a society.

Virtual Reality by the Numbers

COVID-19 inevitably caused many countries across the world to lockdown; citizens have been forced to stay within the confines of their homes and practice safe social distancing habits. The lockdown has led to a difference in the way we conduct ourselves on a day-to-day basis. The use of technology has become the way of life for many of us as we adjust to working, socializing, and learning from home. The use of internet has risen from 40% to 100% since lockdown first appeared in mainstream society, and the use of video conferencing platforms like Zoom has experienced a tenfold increase in usage.

What Is Body Dysmorphia?

Individuals who struggle with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) obsess over their physical appearance and may engage in ritualistic or compulsive behaviors that change the way they look. Excessive grooming, skin picking, and surgical procedures are common compulsive behaviors that occur with people who struggle with BDD. People with BDD have a hard time either accepting a physical flaw and not letting it control their thoughts and behaviors or accepting that the physical flaw doesn’t exist.

COVID-19 and the subsequent self-quarantine and social isolation can increase the symptoms of BDD. Obsessions and compulsions can increase in frequency and severity due to the increase in anxiety symptoms that are a result of fear, uncertainty, and social isolation.

How Our Virtual Worlds May Be Contributing to Body Dysmorphia

Doctors are reporting that, since the emergence of COVID, they have seen an increase in the number of cosmetic surgeries and other cosmetic procedures to enhance physical appearance. This likely is due to a number of factors. The first is that many people are now working from home and are regularly being exposed to their own faces via platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet. These platforms force people to their own appearance on a daily basis, which wasn’t the case when they were working at an office. The constant exposure to your own appearance is thought to contribute to the desire to change your appearance.

In addition, people can comfortably heal at home from surgeries and procedures, given the mask mandate and social distancing practices. Wearing a mask, staying indoors, and social distancing are all factors that make recovery from surgeries more appealing and comfortable. These factors provide natural downtime to recover discreetly from cosmetic surgery.

Since 2000, invasive cosmetic procedures have declined as people have chosen less invasive procedures, such as Botox and fillers. However, because of COVID-19, we are seeing a rise in different types of procedures. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that 55% of plastic surgeons reported that Botox injections were requested the most, and 40% of surgeons reported that breast augmentations were the most commonly requested procedure during the stay-at-home order.

BDD Help

It is easy to see how the symptoms of BDD can be exacerbated by the use of conferencing platforms such as Zoom as well as the increase in anxiety and depression that is caused by social isolation and fear regarding the global pandemic. If you struggle with BDD, you are not alone. With the use of technology, receiving professional help for your BDD symptoms has never been easier. Therapists, clinicians, and other mental health professionals are available with the touch of your keypad. You don’t have to suffer alone, and there is hope to treat the symptoms of BDD.

That being said, if you have considered having a cosmetic procedure done, you also are not alone. Many people are jumping on the self-improvement train. COVID-19 has brought with it many negatives and single-handedly changed the course of 2020. Many people are taking the extra time they have and working on improving themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Jacquelyn Buffo is a licensed professional counselor with experience and expertise in substance abuse and mental health issues. She received her MS in mental health counseling from Capella University and is a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the state of Michigan. She is also in the process of receiving her certification in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Jacquelyn has experience working with clients suffering from addiction and mental health issues on an in-home, residential, and outpatient basis. Currently, she works with adolescents and adults with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder through Henry Ford Health System.

Resources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7280123/
  2. https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/professional/body-dysmorphic-disorder-and-impact-covid-19
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/13/health/coronavirus-cosmetic-surgery.html
  4. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/demand-plastic-surgery-coronavirus/story?id=71773172
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