A reader asks: I am a 29-year-old woman; recently married. I have an issue, I am obsessed with my looks. Not in a positive way. I feel that I am unattractive and yearn to have model-like or actor-like looks. Although friends and family say I’m reasonably attractive.
I read a lot and do realize that more than half of these pictures are modified, yet I find myself juxtaposing my pictures alongside these celebrities to compare my features, which then results in me attempting facial exercises, along with other tricks to modify my features (I do not wish to undergo plastic surgery). The other day, I took an online test for Body Dysmorphic Disorder and the results were positive. Please help me get over this strange obsession as I find myself staring at my own pictures (and taking selfies) to find flaws in my facial features.
Carey Kirk (M.Ed, Counseling Psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia, Dubai) replies: Body Dysmorphic Ddisorder (BDD) is a disorder that can significantly impact the quality of a person’s life. If you believe you have body dysmorphic disorder, the best course of action I can recommend is for you to work with a licensed counselor or psychologist. The most effective treatments for BDD have been shown to be cognitive behavioral therapy, often in conjunction with medication.
Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder include:
• A preoccupation with one or more perceived flaws in physical appearance that are not observable or appear slight to others
• Constantly seeking assurance about your appearance
• Constantly trying to hide a perceived flaw under makeup or clothing
• Spending hours in front of a mirror, or avoiding mirrors altogether
• Constant grooming or exercising
• Changing clothes over and over again in an attempt to hide perceived defects
• Obsessively comparing our appearance with that of others
While it is quite common for people to experience self-image issues, people with BDD become preoccupied with their perceived flaws to the point where their behaviors negatively impact their ability to live the life they want. On average, an individual with BDD may spend 3-8 hours a day obsessing over or engaging in repetitive behaviors related to their appearance. These behaviors often feel difficult to resist or control.
For people with BDD, cognitive behavior therapy works by aiming to decrease obsessive thoughts and teaching individuals to think about their appearance in a healthier and more balanced way. It also helps people learn how to prevent body inspection rituals and reassurance seeking that can drive feelings of anxiety and depression experienced by many people with BDD. Medications can be useful by helping to alleviate these feelings of anxiety and depression.
Some people with BDD can become so distressed by their perceived flaws that they experience thoughts of wanting to die or wishing to kill themselves. If you ever experience symptoms, it is important to contact a psychologist or psychiatrist immediately so that you can receive the help and support you need.
I am glad you noted in your letter that you do not wish to undergo plastic surgery. While this is a very common desire for people with BDD, research has shown that plastic surgery is not effective at managing how people with Body Dysmorphic Disorder feel about their appearance. More than 90% of BDD patients report symptoms that are unchanged and often feel worse after surgical procedures. It also sounds as though you have a good level of insight into your behavior, which is also a very positive indicator that you can – with the right interventions – recover from this obsession. In general, people with BDD who receive appropriate treatment have good rates of recovery.
Again, my main recommendation if you believe you have Body Dysmorphic Disorder is to contact a licensed counselor or psychologist for treatment. In the meantime, I encourage you to focus on:
• Maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regime
• Getting an adequate amount of sleep (sleep can greatly impact our perception of our self, our tolerance for frustration, and feelings of anxiety and depression)
• Maintain contact with or seek out a good support system
• Doing your best to stop taking selfies and looking at photos of yourself (this can sometimes be hard without professional treatment)
By maintaining a healthy lifestyle and trying to break the cycle of obsessive behavior, you can begin your journey towards a life free from BDD.
I wish you all the best in this process.
Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of psychiatrists are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.