An exploration of the experience of living with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) using multimodal hermeneutic phenomenological approaches and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Body Dysmorphic Disorder (Body Dysmorphia; BDD) is a debilitating mental health condition
characterised by experiencing impairing preoccupations with one or more perceived defects in one’s
physical appearance. BDD affects approximately 2% of the general population but has a suicidal
ideation rate of 80%. BDD is under-researched, and the majority of research published on the disorder
focuses on risk factors, comorbidities and interventions, meaning there is very little understanding of
the personal and idiographic experiences of those living with it. This research took a qualitative,
phenomenological approach to explore the disorder using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
(IPA; Smith, 1996) and multimodal hermeneutic phenomenological approaches in order to offer
participants an array of modes in which they could make sense of their experiences of BDD. In a
hermeneutic-autoethnographic piece, I explored my own BDD experience regarding difficulties with
experiencing childhood appearance-related bullying, race-related bullying, rejection, and
psychological abuse. In a study exploring people’s self-identified origins of BDD, some of the key
themes generated from participant data included experiencing a sense of entrapment with a distorted
view of the world; being a prisoner in one’s own skin; having an exposed and vulnerable relational
self; experiencing loss and ‘stolenness’. Additionally, I explored the psychological process of coping
with BDD, through artwork and semi-structured interviews. Participants highlighted the fusion
between BDD and their lifeworld; attempting to detach from their perceived selves; experiencing a
fragmented self, and moving towards a reconciliation of the self and body. The research findings in
this thesis demonstrate that using qualitative and creative methods can help to gain a deeper
understanding of what it is like to live with BDD from the perspective of those who experience it. My
research indicates that professionals should consider individuals’ perceived BDD origins in treatment,
implement peer-to-peer support and explore the embodied experience of the disorder.
Date of Award2020
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMichael Larkin (Supervisor) & Rachel Shaw (Supervisor)


  • Body Dysmorphia
  • Hermeneutic Phenomenology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Autoethnography
  • visual data

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