Body Dysmorphic Disorder Has Reached Epidemic Proportions, Scientists Say


Researchers from the Moscow State University of Psychology and Pedagogy (MSUPE) have developed a diagnostic tool for physical appearance perfectionism, an overemphasis on beauty. It causes some young boys and girls to suffer from depression and eating disorders, an “epidemic” reported by Russian and foreign authors.

The development aims to create measures for mental hygiene and prevention of disorders that can help young people build a healthy and harmonious perception of their bodies and appearance, the researchers say. The paper was published in the journal Counselling Psychology and Psychotherapy.

Today’s world is facing an acute problem of mental disorders related to dissatisfaction with one’s appearance and body among young people, the MSUPE researchers said. The crucial factor in these problems is what is known as physical appearance perfectionism, a system of personal attitudes that places a very high value on a person’s achievement of beauty standards.

These have changed significantly over the past 20 years, especially in girls: from an unnaturally thin body at the turn of the century to an athletic figure with a thin waist, but pumped up abs and arm muscles now.

Depression and suicide

According to Lev Vygotsky’s cultural-historical theory of development, personal development occurs through the process of interiorisation of cultural norms, rules, customs, and standards, in other words, through socialisation and absorption of perceptions developed in society.

These perceptions are not always conducive to mental health. According to scientists, recent studies of the influence of culture on attitudes towards one’s own appearance show that negative attitudes towards the body result from internalising the ideal body image transmitted by modern mass culture and comparing one’s own body to that image.

The changing standards of beauty call for a revision of the diagnostic tools assessing the severity of such a trait as physical appearance perfectionism, researchers say. For this reason, the researchers have proposed a new tool, the “Three-Factor Physical Perfectionism Scale”.


The new tool represents a list of ten questions. It includes three subscales that assess the following: willingness to use plastic surgery to correct appearance imperfections; high standards of appearance and the degree of fixation on it; inclination to make unfavourable social comparisons of one’s appearance with that of others and anxiety about possible imperfections in one’s appearance.

The tool can be used to identify high-risk groups among young students, the researchers said. Moreover, it would be useful in the practice of psychological assistance to identify personal factors of maladaptive behaviour (intensified training, starvation diets, etc.), as well as dissatisfaction with one’s appearance and severe mental state.

A young woman

According to scientists, the new tool should serve as the basis for the development of mental hygiene measures and the prevention of eating disorders, as well as depressive and anxiety disorders, which have seen an alarming growth in the youth population in recent decades. Russian and foreign researchers believe that the scale of the problem is already epidemic in nature.

In the future, the scientific team plans to research the dynamics and structure of physical perfectionism in recent years, as well as to further investigate the connection between physical perfectionism and body dissatisfaction, various psychological disorders, and destructive practices of striving for an unattainable ideal body image standard among today’s youth.


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