Can you recognise an employee suffering from body dysmorphia?

Body image disorders are on the rise. A recent poll by the Mental Health Foundation, found one in eight people aged 18 and above have been so distressed about their body image they have had suicidal thoughts.

Dysmorphia, bulimia and anorexia are reported more and more—not just among young people, these disorders are common across all age groups. People are bombarded constantly with ‘perfect’ images. Reality TV like Love Island, while incredibly popular, presents an ironically ‘unreal’ view, where everyone is chiselled, tanned and toned.

It’s similar with social media. People post a curated ‘best face’ of their entire life—and apps like Snow and Facetune allow them to edit their images at the press of a button, to look smoother, thinner and more like that ‘perfect’ image.

Even if you shun TV and social media, you can’t escape. Out-of-home advertising is full of edited images that wouldn’t look out of place on an influencer’s Instagram page. So, when everyone and everything around you seems perfect—when you’re not—what effect can that have?

Poor body image affects mental health drastically. It’s not about vanity, or wanting to look the best—being exposed to this sort of imagery 24 hours a day causes anxiety about your own body. There’s a pressure to be perfect, especially when even the social feeds of your friends are edited to look amazing.

Dysmorphia is serious, and is far more than simply feeling insecure about your body. It can cause depression, lead to self-harm, manifest in serious eating disorders and even cause suicide. And it’s possible that someone you know suffers from it. Do any of your employees show the signs listed below?

  • A preoccupation with appearance—more than just wanting to look good, someone suffering this issue will obsess.
  • A belief that they have some defect that makes them ugly, or ‘unlovable’.
  • Frequently checking mirrors, or looking at selfies—or avoiding these altogether.
  • Refusing to appear in photos, or at least demanding photos be edited.
  • Wearing excessive makeup, or using clothing to hide their body shape.
  • Constantly comparing their appearance with that of others, favourably or unfavourably.
  • Excessive grooming, hair plucking or picking at skin


If so, they’re possibly suffering from serious self-image issues.

How can employers help?
  • Acceptance—while you might not agree with them, the feelings of someone with body image issues are very real to them. Telling someone that they’re ‘pretty the way they are’ or that it’s ‘all in their head’ is the wrong way to help—in fact, that could be harmful. Don’t judge them, do accept them, and you can begin to help them.
  • Listening—offer to listen. Sometimes, talking about these issues can help shine a light on how to cope with them. Be kind, gentle, and sincere, and your employees will trust you to open up.
  • Practical support—using an EAP is perfect for this. Access to non-judgmental, structured counselling over the phone is a great way to talk through image issues and find a resolution.
  • Celebrate success—don’t make a big song and dance about it, but when someone with body image issues begins to turn themselves around, acknowledging it can help. Carry on offering the space to talk.


Interested in wellbeing in the workplace? We recommend the Workplace Wellbeing and Stress Forum 2019.





David Price is CEO for Health Assured: the UK and Ireland’s most trusted health and wellbeing network. He advises employers daily on how to encourage and develop a healthy workplace, whilst outlining best practice guidance on how to combat and control workplace stress. David also speaks regularly to the press and media on mental health issues with his commentary profiled on SKY News, BBC and a regular contributor to Financial Adviser from the Financial Times.

David’s career has always centred on the development and wellbeing of employees. Before joining Peninsula, David spent several years in the senior management team at a leading national training provider, which helped more than 78,000 UK businesses start up. He has also worked for the Department for Work and Pensions and is a long standing member of the UK Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).