Why BDD is the Next Generation’s Anorexia
Everybody has something they don’t like about their appearance, but when does it go too far?
Everybody has something they don’t like about their appearance and this is perfectly normal. Humans by nature are insatiable so we tend to always want something more, something different, or something new. Vanity is a widely accepted and even commercial trait. However, when the obsession toward the way you look has turned serious, disabling you from getting things done at work or interacting with other people, you might be suffering from a mental condition called body dysmorphic disorder.
What is BDD?
It stands for body dysmorphic disorder. Mental health experts define BDD as a chronic type of mental condition where one cannot stop thinking about a flaw in one’s appearance. Most of the time, this flaw is imagined or so very minor that it’s almost unnoticeable. However, for the person who has BDD, the most minute physical inconsistencies are hyperbolized and magnified, making it all that the person sees and everything he or she thinks about. Worse, the person will think of himself or herself as so shameful and grotesque that he or she will refuse to interact with other people and submit to reclusion.
Do You Suffer From BDD?
You or someone you know might be suffering from BDD if you are experiencing the following:
1. Excessively concerned or troubled by flaws in your appearance that family members, friends and even health staff say are either very minor or non-existent. They try to convince you that the problem is not a problem, but you don’t believe them.
2. Your obsession with your appearance interferes with your work, ability to socialize and maintain relationships in and out of the home. You refuse to go to parties or get your photo taken.
3. You examine yourself in the mirror all the time, pluck your hair, pick your skin, and never go out of the house without makeup or clothes that camouflage your body.
4. You think others are always staring or talking about your flaws.
5. You think that plastic surgery is the solution to all your image problems.
6. You have undergone several cosmetic procedures and still feel your appearance is severely flawed.
Understanding People with BDD
BDD is not always about the physical traits that are seen by others. The intense dissatisfaction and fear can also be related to “hidden” parts, such as breasts and genitalia. Women are known to ask for breast implants for that coveted cleavage, while men with extreme BDD even go as far as having steel balls inserted into the skins of their penis to make it look larger.
At this point, it is important to note that individuals who seriously suffer from body dysmorphic disorder will not acknowledge they have BDD because to them, their flaws are huge and very real. This is why psychiatrists treat BDD not with drugs but with perception and behavior therapy. In short, it’s all in the mind. However, it’s the sort of mind disorder that if left unaddressed can eventually make one go delusional and suicidal.
Dealing with people with BDD is very tricky because they often have other underlying disorders, such as depression or anxiety, which exacerbate this kind of thinking. People with BDD have very low self-esteem, so tread carefully.
According to studies, around 5 million women and men in the US suffer from various degrees of body dysmorphic disorder.
Hollywood and BDD
With the world of celebrities being a market for appearances, it is not a surprise that many of the hottest Hollywood actors and actresses may suffer from this condition. Celebs who have actually been diagnosed with BDD are not known, but based on their behavior, the likes of Michael Jackson and Heidi Montag may be part of this group. Jackson had been so unhapy with his looks that he underwent so many surgeries and attempts at skin alteration that he eventually turned from being dark skinned to very very white. Heidi Montag, star of The Hills, made the news recently for reportedly having undergone 10 cosmetic surgeries in one day.
They’re not the only celebs with admitted BDD. Sarah Michelle Gellar said in interview that she had BDD and, in the past, was obsessed with how she looked. She attributes her change to a more positive attitude to motherhood and a healthy family life. Conversely, Uma Thurman said she suffered briefly from BDD shortly after she gave birth to her first child.
Of course, with celebrity injecting a new, rather topical idea about BDD, people often dismiss the condition as a nothing serious and totally livable. It isn’t.
Body dysmorphic disorder is a real mental illness that is debilitating and potentially harmful if no intervention is offered. Sadly, it is also under-reported and not always recognized. Coping with BDD is a huge challenge and more so if its presence is trivialized by others as just extreme vanity.
What To Do
If you suspect that you or a loved one may be suffering from this condition, don’t fret. BDD is mostly a reversible condition and can be addressed with the right behavioral intervention and conditioning strategies.
Behavioral and Cognitive Therapy: This is a psychiatric method that aims to alter the patient’s way of thinking by exposing him or her to sources of distress. For instance, the therapist may ask you to mingle socially without effort to hide the “defect.” The therapist then helps you to control compulsions to cover up the defect. It is through this direct exposure and intervention that one realizes that there is nothing to worry about and that your beliefs about how you look are not true.
Medications: SSRIs or antidepressants are the medications of choice for people with BDD as they help calm the anxiety and reduce the incidence of compulsive and obsessive behaviors.
A Solid Support System: Family and friends are very important to assisting a person with BDD get back to normal functioning. Without the help of the people around you, coping with fears will become twice the challenge, so make sure to open up and enlist help. After all, that’s what friends are for!