Disorder distorts body image

By Mallory Terrence
October 18, 2007


Appearance has become so critical in American culture. Having your makeup smear on your clothing or having a bad hair day can often affect your mood.

Imagine waking up each morning a beautiful and healthy woman but when you look in the mirror all you see are flaws and defects.

Some women would be considered vain if they spent an average of three to eights hours a day staring at their reflection.

Women who become obsessive about their appearance are often mistaken as loving themselves so much they cannot stop looking in the mirror.

People who look at themselves and see unrealistic features suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). A condition that is much more than a bad hair day; people who have BDD see their features as ugly and monstrous.

The disorder can become so serious that people avoid social interaction, attending school or work and undergo unnecessary plastic surgeries.

BDD can impair one’s self image and creates distance between them and others around them.

“The disorder seems really sad. I personally cannot relate but I know a lot of people are self conscious, so it’s not surprising. I don’t spend a lot of time getting ready in the morning, 20 minutes tops, I couldn’t imagine taking three to eight hours in front of the mirror,” Kathleen Flynn, a freshman communications major, said.

BDD affects an estimated 2 to 5 million Americans, both men and women, according to Dr. Katharine A. Phillips, author of “The Broken Mirror: Understanding and Treating Body Dysmorphic Disorder.”

The book reaches out to people suffering and others trying to find an answer to why they are so unhappy with their appearances.

Phillips is also the director of The Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Body Image Program at Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I.

Individuals who suffer from depression and other mental health issues are more likely to acquire BDD.

People who experience BDD find it crucial to try and fix their physical problems. Cosmetic surgery, dermatologic or other medical treatments is a route 75 percent of sufferers take.

Phillips said in an MSNBC online article with Diane Mapes, that in the majority of cases, cosmetic surgery has no impact whatsoever on how patients feel about their appearance, and oftentimes, they’ll come away feeling worse.

BDD has the tendency to be chronic: symptoms do not subside but worsen over time.

This gives sufferers the feeling there is no way out and their problems will never end.

63 percent of people with BDD have thought about suicide at some point since the disorder began.

Hours spent looking in front of the mirror is a characteristic of many average young women; this is why BDD is often unrecognized and undiagnosed.

Doctors and researchers are working to shine light to the mysterious disorder.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder was first documented in 1886 but not formally recognized until 1997.

As a fairly new mental disorder there had not been much success in finding a treatment to help with the symptoms.

Some sufferers found help in anti-depression medicine while others prefer selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and undergoing cognitive-behavioral therapy.

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Mallory Terrence

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