Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) Research

“Characteristics of BDD

BDD is a body-image disorder characterized by persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance.

People with BDD can dislike any part of their body, although they often find fault with their hair, skin, nose, chest, or stomach. In reality, a perceived defect may be only a slight imperfection or nonexistent. But for someone with BDD, the flaw is significant and prominent, often causing severe emotional distress and difficulties in daily functioning.

BDD most often develops in adolescents and teens, and research shows that it affects men and women almost equally. About one percent of the U.S. population has BDD.

The causes of BDD are unclear, but certain biological and environmental factors may contribute to its development, including genetic predisposition, neurobiological factors such as malfunctioning of serotonin in the brain, personality traits, and life experiences.”

“BDD sufferers may perform some type of compulsive or repetitive behavior to try to hide or improve their flaws although these behaviors usually give only temporary relief. Examples are listed below:

  • camouflaging (with body position, clothing, makeup, hair, hats, etc.)
  • comparing body part to others’ appearance
  • seeking surgery
  • checking in a mirror
  • avoiding mirrors
  • skin picking
  • excessive grooming
  • excessive exercise
  • changing clothes excessively

BDD and Other Mental Health Disorders

People with BDD commonly also suffer from the anxiety disorders obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or social anxiety disorder, as well as depression and eating disorders.”


Sourced by: Anxiety and Depression Association of America


Desirable Body Types Historically

1900s-1910s: The Gibson Girl

The Gibson Girl, a creation of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, was a synthesis of prevailing beauty ideals at the turn of the century. Rarely is a beauty standard so explicit and clearly defined, yet Gibson based the iconic illustrations on “thousands of American girls.”

This ideal of femininity was depicted as slender and tall, albeit with a “voluptuous” bust and wide hips. The incongruous and exaggerated look was achieved by way of corseting, pinching the torso and waist significantly. Gibson Girls were portrayed as up-to-date on fashion and style, as well as physically active and in good health.

While the ideal originally began as the invention of an illustrator, the look was soon brought to life by various models and actresses such as Camille Clifford – winner of a contest to find a real-life analogue of Gibson’s drawings – and Evelyn Nesbit. Following World War I, this idealized image gave way to that of the less prim and more informal flapper girl.

1920s: The Flapper

A product of the increasingly liberal “Roaring Twenties,” the flapper represented an idea of women that was far more casual than the formal, corseted Gibson Girls. The archetypal flapper was an immature young woman – a teenager or young adult – who was scantily-clad and had little regard for uptight behavioral norms.

They were often described as independent, wise-cracking and reckless. Their easygoing style represented a rejection of the Victorian style and also came to emblematize widespread disagreement with the Prohibition movement. Their appearance was one of boyishness and androgynous youth, with minimal breasts, a straight figure without any corseting, and shorter hair.

Flashing of the ankles, knees and legs was a common feature of flappers – dresses and skirts in the style were designed to be loose and reveal the legs when women would dance to jazz, popular among flappers. Bare arms were likewise nearly universal. Larger busts were frowned upon, and bras were made to tighten so as to flatten the chest. Blush, dark eye makeup, and substantial lips were in style, as well as tanning; a sporty and healthy appearance was prized.

The ideal of thinness and an enhanced appearance often drove women of the 1920s to diet and exercise in order to achieve this look, as well as buying cosmetics. The look to aspire to was increasingly depicted in advertisements. This freewheeling lifestyle came to an end with the onset of the Great Depression.

1930s-1940s: Fashion in Wartime

The impact of the Great Depression brought a more traditional style back to women’s fashion and body image. Though short hair remained commonplace, skirts once again became longer, and clothing that showed off a natural waist was in style.

Shoulder width was particularly emphasized, and the prevailing shape at the time became starker, highlighting the specific contours of the body rather than draping and disguising them in softness.

With America’s involvement in World War II came wartime requisitioning of fashion materials such as silk, nylon, and clothing dye. Women’s attire therefore trended toward practicality, with simple blouses and un-elaborate jackets becoming predominant. Women even received instructions on how to tailor the unused suits of men away in combat, remaking them into everyday women’s wear. And in contrast to the lean boyish flapper style, women now aspired to become more curvaceous and emphasize their feminine figure. In particular, advertisements now told women how they could avoid a too-skinny look.

In this era, the celebrity image was almost within reach of the average woman. While American women had an average BMI of 23.6, many celebs ranged from 18.5 (Barbara Stanwyck) to to 20.3 (Lena Horne) – a gap, to be sure, but not an extraordinary one.

1950s: Post-War

The ideal body image for women remained fuller-figured in the post-war period of the 1950s. A busty, voluptuous hourglass look was prized, as exhibited by models such as Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly.

The increasing popularity of Hollywood films helped propel glamour models like Monroe to widespread public consciousness, and combined with the increased freedom of material after the end of wartime rationing, women’s fashion options were once again extensive. However, this expansion in options now meant that women were expected to take full advantage of beauty products and never leave the home without looking their best. Along with a well-composed overall appearance, flawless skin was now expected as well.

During this period, the average woman’s BMI remained steady at 23.6, still well above that of Shirley MacLaine (18.8) or Elizabeth Taylor (20.5).

1960s: Twiggy

With the sexual revolution of the 1960s came a substantial reversal of the ’50s idealized image. Rather than curvaceous figures, thin and androgynous women were now prominent, somewhat recapitulating the flapper look of the 1920s.

Twiggy, a major supermodel of the 1960s, embodied many of these seismic shifts in idealized body types. In contrast to the full-figured and voluptuous Monroe and Kelly, the 112 lb Twiggy had a minimal chest, a slight frame, short hair, and a boyish look. This new form of beauty abandoned all curves and any hint of a mature look, instead appearing almost prepubescent.

However, a “hippie” look including long, straight hair also came to the fore in the latter half of the ’60s, and a more full-figured hourglass look persisted among several high-profile actresses such as Jane Fonda and Sophia Loren.

This decade, the average American woman’s BMI rose to 25.2 – taking her quite a distance from celebrities like Soledad Miranda (17.6) and Jessica Lange (20.4).

1970s: Thin Is In

The 1970s saw the continued dominance of a Twiggy-like thin ideal, which began to have a widespread impact on women’s health and eating habits. Anorexia nervosa first began to receive mainstream coverage in the ’70s, and singer Karen Carpenter was known to diet at starvation levels over the decade – a practice which would claim her life in 1983. The era also saw the rise of diet pills, which often used potentially dangerous amphetamines to suppress the appetite.

Actress Farrah Fawcett and her layered hair and one-piece swimsuits also rose to prominence as a sex symbol of the time. Hair was typically worn long, and makeup was now minimal to achieve a “natural look.” The cosmetics industry diversified to take advantage of these trends, with a wider range of offerings in terms of makeup looks.

American women’s BMI remained relatively steady at 24.9, making it difficult to match the body types of celebrities like Morgan Fairchild (18) or Joni Mitchell (20.5).

1980s: Supermodels and Hardbodies

While the 1970s thin ideal persisted, there was now also an increased emphasis on fitness. Toned but not overly muscular bodies were now prized, and aerobic exercise shows and videotapes became a widespread trend – dieting was no longer the only way that women were expected to keep a perfect figure.

Media depictions of women in the ’80s tended toward even more slenderness and greater height. The most popular fashions included headbands, tights, leggings, leg warmers, and short skirts made of spandex or other stretchy materials. This era also saw the rise of supermodels such as Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, and Claudia Schiffer. In the ’80s, 60% of Playboy magazine models weighed 15% less than a healthy average weight for their size.

For the average American woman, such a body shape proved difficult or impossible to achieve. While women had an average BMI of 25 in 1980, most female celebrities ranged from 17.6 (Cheryl Tiegs) to 20.4 (Bo Derek).

1990s: Heroin Chic and Baywatch

Throughout the ’90s, this ideal became even more exaggerated. Women were expected to maintain an increasingly thin look, yet with large breasts as well, as popularly depicted by Pamela Anderson on “Baywatch.”

Meanwhile, high fashion also began to emphasize the “waif look” and “heroin chic.” This movement stood opposed to the fit and healthy look of ’80s supermodels, instead focusing on thinness alone and a bony appearance. The look was epitomized by Calvin Klein advertisements featuring models such as Kate Moss.

Throughout the decade, American women continued to face an impossible standard. Celebrities like Tara Reid (17.5) and Penelope Cruz (19.6) showed off bodies that were far below the average of 26.3. By the year 2000, the situation was more dire than ever: Women with an average BMI of 27.5 were left to compare their bodies to Keira Knightley (17.2) and Natalie Portman (19.5).

The Shrinking Woman: Bodies in Media

The weight and proportion of popular female icons, as measured by BMI, has remained consistently below that of the average American woman for several decades. In the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe had a BMI of 20; Twiggy, the ’60s supermodel, had a BMI of merely 15. ’80s model Cindy Crawford had a BMI of 19, while Kate Moss’s BMI was only 16.

For comparison, the average American woman had a BMI of 25.2 in the ’60s, 24.9 in the ’70s, 25 in the ’80s, and 26.3 in the ’90s. As the size of the average woman continued to increase, growing to 27.5 in the 2000s, models and actresses maintained what is by comparison a super-thin look.

Who Defines “Plus Size”? Bodies in Business

Twenty years ago, models weighed, on average, 8% less than average American women. By now, they weigh 23% less. Most models now have a weight that’s considered clinically anorexic.

Even the definition of “plus size” has begun to shrink. Ten years ago, plus size models typically ranged between size 12 and 18, while they now span only sizes 6 through 14. Half of American women actually wear a size 14 or larger, meaning that even plus sizes no longer represent the average American woman. Most designer fashions now only range up to size 10 or 12.

Overall Trends

The American body ideal for women has fluctuated somewhat throughout the 20th century, with alternately stick-thin or voluptuous, busty figures being valued at times. But in recent decades, these two conflicting images appear to have merged into a modern synthesis of what is considered beautiful: an almost unhealthily thin and bony frame, combined with a substantial bust.

Meanwhile, the gap between the size and shape of models and that of the average American woman has only continued to widen. As the average BMI of women has increased, models have remained significantly below this average, often with BMIs of a mere 15 or 16 – considered clinically underweight. The BMIs of celebrity women are only slightly better, most commonly ranging from 17 to 20. The result is that, for a growing number of American women, the image of beauty portrayed in media is simply impossible for them to achieve and potentially unhealthy even if they did achieve it.





My additional research with body type and media:

FC Project 3 Final Research



1 Comment

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