TRIGGER WARNING: suicide, self-harm, depression, anxiety, eating disorders
Does beauty have a trigger warning? I’m asking for a friend.
They say the key to success and happiness is self-esteem and the confidence that follows. Self-esteem is only a concept, so the absence of it in my life doesn’t concern me much. The ritual of looking oneself in the mirror and repeating positive things is exhaustingly unsuccessful. As people reassure me it’s just a phase triggered by my hormonal instabilities and teenage angst, I quietly dictate to myself the realities of suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).
More often than not, those with life-threatening eating disorders find their roots in BDD — an obsession with an imperfection (or multiple imperfections) that may or may not exist. Patients with eating disorders either eat too much because they perceive themselves to be excessively underweight, eat too little because they woke up with gut they didn’t see hours before, or expel any (and sometimes, every) meal they intake just to fit into those pants. They—we—will continue to obsess over things perceived to be wrong, although most of the times, these imperfections happen to be non-existent and/or trivial to everyone other than the patient.
Once an individual loses the ability to resist these obsessive thoughts and behaviors, Body Dysmorphic Disorder intrudes by taking over the person’s thoughts. Confidence is eradicated. Behavior becomes slightly nihilistic. The endless fatigue you feel becomes crippling, and suddenly, you’re experiencing early symptoms of depression. Tired and uninspired, you resort to staying in bed on a Saturday night, surfing through Netflix but finding nothing to watch. As your friends unanimously beg you to join their fiesta, you politely decline and crawl back in bed. You repeat your unsuccessful Netflix browsing extravaganza as you think about how terrible you would look compared to all of your friends if you went out with them—how your hair just isn’t long enough or how your lower stomach is significantly emphasized when you wear a tight dress, wishing you could do something about the acne on your face, but finding no inspiration to do so. You make this a weekend routine, and in the course of a few weeks, it becomes a daily routine—insomnia is now not just a medical term, but rather an essential, monotonous part of your everyday.
What started as one imperfection becomes multiple imperfections. BDD means obsessing over things other people don’t see. However genuine they are, you resort to believing they’re lying when they say, “There’s nothing wrong with you.” You see your lower stomach as a bit bloated, so you wear a corset to prevent it from growing. You cry uncontrollably when you eat a slice of pizza because you fear becoming too overweight, but you’re too lazy to cook a “healthy” meal. You spend thousands of dollars at spas and dermatologists trying to rid yourself of the remnants of puberty, but nothing seems to make you happy. You burn through your paychecks to buy high end concealers and foundations that won’t accentuate your pores. You begin saving money at age thirteen for a breast augmentation. Nothing ever fits. You always find something wrong.
Like all mental illnesses, BDD should be taken seriously. As each patient has different experiences with the effects of BDD, doctors should use various methods for treatment. Unfortunately, the symptoms of BDD are appearing more frequently in adolescents and young adults. Constant societal beauty pressures and Anglo beauty standards make teenagers, especially those who don’t fit the standard of beauty, susceptible to Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Depression, anxiety, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and suicide can all be triggered by BDD’s undesired presence.
If you or someone you know may be suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or may have suicidal thoughts, take immediate action. Find or be a support system. Avoid using language that may be interpreted as dismissive of their feelings. Be aware.
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255