People who have body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) think
about their real or perceived flaws for hours each day. They don’t have
the ability to control their negative thoughts and don’t believe people
who tell them that they look fine. Their thoughts may cause severe
emotional distress and interfere with their daily functioning. They may
miss work or school, avoid social situations and isolate themselves,
even from family and friends, because they fear others will notice their
flaws. They may even undergo unnecessary plastic surgeries to correct
perceived imperfections, never finding satisfaction with the results.
The characteristics of BDD include:
“persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance.”
BDD most often develops in adolescents and teens, and research shows
that it affects men and women almost equally. About one percent of the
U.S. population has BDD.
The causes of BDD are unclear, but certain biological and
environmental factors may contribute to its development, including
genetic predisposition, neurobiological factors such as malfunctioning
of serotonin in the brain, personality traits, and life experiences.
BDD sufferers may perform some type of compulsive or repetitive
behavior to try to hide or improve their flaws although these behaviors
usually give only temporary relief. Examples are listed below:
Symptoms of BDD can vary, including:
camouflaging (with body position, clothing, makeup, hair, hats, etc.)
comparing body part to others’ appearance
checking in a mirror
changing clothes excessively
People with BDD suffer from obsessions about their appearance that
can last for hours or up to an entire day. Hard to resist or control,
these obsessions make it difficult for people with BDD to focus on
anything but their imperfections. This can lead to low self-esteem,
avoidance of social situations, and problems at work or school.
People with BDD commonly also suffer from the anxiety disorders
obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or social anxiety disorder, as well
as depression and eating disorders.
This is a photograph of Raymond Robinson, a horribly disfigured Pennsylvania man born in 1910. Since he felt ostracized and shunned upon as he took his regular walks, and did not want to stir a public scene due to his appearance, he started walking at night instead. This sparked, sadly but interestingly enough, the local urban legend of the Green Man.
His disfigurement resulted from a childhood electricity accident at age 9.
A boy suffering from congenital syphilis. The suffering this illness caused in pre-penicillin eras was completely excruciating. Approximately 15 percent of the entire population of Paris was believed to carry the disease by the end of the 19th century. Syphilis was shameful in these times, as many men got it from prostitutes working at brothels and whorehouses - symbols of decadence and debauchery in the public eyes - where it roamed free and untamed. Many people suffered in silence for whole lifetimes, subjecting themselves to treatments as horrible, prolonged and dehumanizing as the sickness itself.
See, syphilis does not necessarily kill you right away; many lived with their horrible syphilitic terror for 40 years or more. A most sinister, detailed account for it in can be found in the diary later published as La doulou: extraits du journal d'Edmond de Goncourt, describing french writers Alphonse Daudet’s gruesome ordeal in late 1800’s France.