“I hate my calves, my pores are huge, my nail beds suck, I have man shoulders”—do these lines (taken from the movie Mean Girls), or its related terms, often reverberate in your head as you glance at your reflection? Or worse, have you become a jigsaw puzzle of someone else’s body parts? Take heed—you might be suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
Defined as a psychiatric illness or condition where a subjective feeling of ugliness or repulsiveness despite the person’s normal appearance exists, BDD causes the person to be occupied with the imagined defect which is blown out of proportion. This, in turn, starts to affect the person’s physical, emotional, mental, relational, and occupational wellbeing.
“Basically the person would be pre-occupied with one defect which might really be a defect, but the loathing and the repulsion is not proportional to the actual defect.” explained Dr. Randy Dellosa, psychiatrist and doctor of psychology. “There is also an exaggerated repulsiveness towards that body part.”
If you think you’re ugly, say aye!
Although not all people who think they’re ugly or are sometimes dissatisfied with how they look are sufferers of BDD. But those who obsessively regard themselves as a huge pile of crap despite their normal, and even appear beautiful which results to numerous mild to reconstructive surgeries might do.
This holds true because according to Dr. Anna Marie Lansangan of Shimmian Manila, there are patients who will seek the help of a cosmetic surgeon before that of a psychiatrist.
“Once they have their surgery, their self loathing’s supposed to end but there are some who are never satisfied,” said Dr. Dellosa. “Another indication is how they treat the feedback from others. Most people will say that there’s nothing wrong and then the person would feel that there really is something wrong. There’s now a mismatch between what’s real and the perceived ugliness where it’s about self perception more than what is real.”
Dr. Lansangan said that even in a cosmetic surgery clinic, they can easily spot a person who might be suffering from BDD as the key symptom is the person’s strong delusional belief that a body part is defective or deformed in some way which is objectively unremarkable.
Other signs and symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, include frequent trips in front of the mirror or avoiding it conversely; being self-conscious; avoidance of public; use of too much makeup or clothes to camouflage the self-inflicted imperfections.
The evolution of insecurity
Ages ago, women with love handles and voluptuous physiques were deemed attractive, almost-perfect, and beautiful. Take a look at old paintings of women and find that chubbiness equates to attractiveness and beauty. And, FYI, men in those times found those kinds of women sexy and suitable for motherhood because, according to Dr. Dellosa, being fleshy and plump gives the impression that you can be a good mother. The reason is that plumpness is associated with good mothering because if you’re a kid, who would you like to embrace more? Of course the mother with a plumper figure.
Now, scour the metro for a chubby woman sporting the latest fashion statement up in a billboard today and you’ll find close to nothing. No thanks to Kate Moss for the waif-like body mania, almost all women followed suit. And because Kate Moss is a model, one budding designer justified the want and need for this kind of physique and said that clothes look and fit perfectly on models with 36-24-36 or lesser vital stats.
That may hold true for models, but not for the common women who have different needs and who don’t work for the catwalk. So another angle looked into is the involvement and the influence of the media.
Considered another insecurity purveyor, Dr. Dellosa explained that advertisements in radio, print, or televisions are always meant to make people feel bad about themselves and to buy the product thereafter. And for you to buy the product, they have to ingrain subconsciously that there’s something wrong with you or that there’s something lacking or there’s something ugly about you.
Dr. Lansangan believes otherwise.
“Media may play a great role in portraying a “must be figure” or a must be look” to be recognized as beautiful but I must say that it’s not the cause,” she said. “But it may somehow intensify the BDD patient’s over-concern on their flawed body part.”
If it’s not entirely the media’s doing, then who else’s?
“Parents might inflict low self esteem on their kids,” said Dr. Dellosa. “If parents tell the kid that he or she is ugly or ridiculed or made fun of some body part of the kid. Intentional or otherwise, it can contribute to the emotional wound or trauma and this lessens the kid’s self esteem. If the kid feels bad, of course he or she’ll assume higher and even unreachable standards.”
Other than the physical factors, Dr. Dellosa added that there is also an internal aspect that has to be considered. BDD can be genetic. There might be a passed gene that has the BDD gene. It may be a biochemical imbalance in the brain because it has been found that people who have BDD sometimes have serotonin imbalance which is also seen in people with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD.
The guys feel it, too
Contrary to the popular belief, men feel insecure, too which might lead to the onset of BDD. Dr. Dellosa knew this guy who was so preoccupied with his pimples and pock marks which were very negligible and totally forgettable. In fact when I saw him I didn’t even notice it until he pointed my attention to it.
Because of it, he started to become socially withdrawn and became very timid. He wouldn’t go out of the house, eventually suffered from agoraphobia and affected his schooling.
The right side of the mirror
If you think you are under BDD’s wicked spell, break loose from its bonds by submitting yourself to anti-psychotic medications and anti-depressants if no amount of reconstructive surgery can alleviate your concerns, suggested Dr. Lansangan. The onset of BDD is insidious and the concern about one’s appearance develops gradually. Indeed, patients often brood about their imagined defect for several years before consulting a physician.
Also, you should get an evaluation from a professional if it’s a holistic evaluation where there will be a triad of treatment which includes the serotonin balancers that are actually anti-depressants; psychotherapy to enhance your self-esteem and tweak your standards of beauty and handsomeness; and wellness therapies so that you will feel good even when the medications and psychotherapies have ended, Dr. Dellosa proposed.
Dr. Randy Dellosa (http://randydellosa.blogspot.com) shares these tips on how to battle BDD:
- Accept that you cannot please everyone. The moment you set yourself to pleasing everyone is the moment you succumb to loneliness, remorse, and dissatisfaction.
- Choose what you read, hear or watch because not all of them are real.
- Rather that having a high standard of beauty, find a person partner who will accept you for your flaws and strengths. If you think you’re ugly and you find somebody who loves you then consider it true love
- Choose friends who love themselves and who inspire you to live healthily and gratefully.