Expert warns of dangers of body dysmorphic disorder as we gear up to look good this summer

With summer upon us it's not uncommon to become more aware of your body image and physical appearance, but body dysmorphic disorder turns one person's passing thought about a flaw into an all consuming nightmare.

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Dougal Sutherland talks to TVNZ1’s Breakfast about how crippling the condition can be. Source: Breakfast

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a type of anxiety disorder, related to how we think about our bodies.

Today psychologist Dougal Sutherland spoke with TVNZ's Breakfast about the dangers of the condition.

"Everybody has those moments and thinks do I look alright, but people with body dysmorphic disorder, this becomes a preoccupation," he says.

People with the disorder stay focused on their negative thoughts, and think that even a small or invisible body imperfection is bigger than what it is, causing emotional distress.

People with body dysmorphic disorder can spend three to five hours a day in the mirror looking and comparing themselves to others and trying to do something about their appearance.

Mr Sutherland says about two per cent of people are affected by this disorder.

"In extreme cases they even do DIY plastic surgery.  Things like stapling their skin, filing their own teeth and deliberately getting into a car accident to break a bone so that they can reset the bone in their face.

"They see themselves as being grossly deformed, they really do see themselves as different," Dr Sutherland says.

There is also a specific disorder in men called muscle dysmorphic disorder which is where men find themselves too skinny and not muscley enough.

"They take steroids and do excessive weight lifting.  Then they become massively buff, but still perceive themselves as skinny and scrawny."

Dr Sutherland says with the access to social media the disorder is becoming more common because it is much easier to compare yourself to other people and go, "Oh I wish I looked like that".

The psychologist says if you or someone you know thinks they have this disorder they should see a doctor.