Are Social Media And Porn To Blame For Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Are Social Media And Porn To Blame For Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

By: Maria Isabel Carrasco -

Is there something about your body you’d love to change? I bet there is. We all do. No matter how confident we are, there will always be a part of us we don’t really like or wish were different. No one is perfect, and I bet there’s no one in the entire world who is a hundred percent satisfied with themselves. We’ve all heard the statement about how the perception of our body image is shaped by the beauty standards we see in fashion, television, films, social media, and of course, pornography. Somehow we’ve been trained to see the people featured in these mediums as examples to follow. Whenever our bodies don’t resemble or match those standards, we feel ashamed, inferior, or even unworthy. Oh, because we’ve also been told that in order to find love (again, another social idea that tells us that being in a formal relationship is some sort of life goal) we have to fulfill those ridiculous standards.

Now, as I mentioned, it’s a normal thing to hate something about our body, or even feel the need to follow those standards we see every day. However, there’s a point where dissatisfaction can turn into a serious mental problem known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) that’s affecting about one in 100 people in the world. Although it’s become a more common affliction, there isn’t a clear or determined cause. It can be caused by biological, genetic, environmental, or neurobiological conditions in each individual, so there isn’t a way to know what is the main reason behind it. But, to what extent are social media and porn to be blamed for this anxiety disorder?

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According to Stephen Cranney Ph.D. (University of Pennsylvania), there’s evidence showing a close relationship between body dissatisfaction and pornography. Pornography causes a huge impression on viewers, especially in teenagers that tend to see these images as the ideals of sexuality, and therefore of how perfect bodies should look like. A study conducted by the University of Florence in Italy showed that out of 67 male subjects who believed their penis size was below the average, only 25 reported that their dissatisfaction began after watching pornography. In the same way, according to a survey made by the team of Virginia Braun Ph.D. (University of Auckland, NZ), they found out that a considerable number of women who undergo a plastic surgery use pornographic images to illustrate what they want. This doesn't mean that pornography is entirely to blame for BDD. These studies show that the relationship between this medium and body dissatisfaction could turn into BDD, but not precisely. As with other mental disorders, there’s a huge misinterpretation and many think it’s a generalized personality characteristic. So, what exactly is body dysmorphic disorder?

BDD is considered an anxiety disorder that consists in persisting concerns or preoccupations regarding a determined physical defect or flaw, that in most cases is slight or nonexistent. Moreover, it creates an emotional distress that can affect the individual’s daily functions, such as skipping school or their jobs out of fear of being judged for how they look. This disorder affects both men and women in similar numbers, being teenagers the ones with higher rates.

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BDD is characterized by intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors regarding the individual looks that can involve obsessive attitudes towards grooming or changing clothes, a constant comparison to those around them, serious fear or attachment to mirrors, low self-esteem, isolation, and problems at work or school. The latter is related to the fact that this particular disorder generally comes together with other anxiety disorders such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, depression, and eating disorders. In other words, BDD is the core of the problem that can develop the others or the other way around. For that reason, it’s quite common to be misdiagnosed or confused with the others.

Naturally, there’s a strong relationship between body discomfort and beauty ideals, and it might be the core problem or subject of concern for those afflicted with this condition. However, according to BDD specialist Dr. David Veale, not all cases respond to this rule. Some don’t like their bodies, not because they don’t look like magazine models or any other figure we would consider beautiful according to social norms. They just dislike how they look. So, yes, in many cases social media or pornography can be to blame, but it’s not a rule nor the cause of this mental disorder. In recent times several individuals, organizations, and activists have raised awareness about this problem that has afflicted many throughout the years. Now it’s become common to see or listen about campaigns fighting against body shaming in popular medias, so perhaps this is the first step to let people know that there’s not one beautiful body shape, but thousands.


Images by Claire Hart



Anxiety and Depression Association of America
US National Library of Medicine