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October 2017

Dysmorphophobia and the Wolf Man

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Dermatology, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA Dermatol. 2017;153(10):1031. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.3020

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is characterized by an impairing preoccupation with a perceived defect in appearance that is not observable or appears very slight to others. Although BDD was only recently formally recognized, dysmorphophobia has a long history in psychiatry, dating back to the 19th century. Dysmorphia is a Greek word meaning ugliness, specifically of the face, and first appeared in the Histories of Herodotus referring to the myth of the ugliest girl in Sparta. Although being commonly used for nearly a century, the term dysmorphophobia is actually a misnomer because BDD is not a truly phobic condition. Not just a reflection of modern-day preoccupation with beauty and appearance, BDD is a chronic and often severe psychiatric illness that lies along a spectrum, ranging from mild to life-threatening symptoms.