Photo by Umar ben on Unsplash

Body dysmorphia, often known as BDD, is a mental health problem in which a person spends a lot of time thinking about imperfections in their appearance. Although these defects are often unnoticed by others, they can have a significant influence on an individual’s life. Being a young girl is never easy but being a young brown girl with limited access to mental health services while having BDD made things considerably tougher.

What are some of the symptoms?

Body dysmorphic disorder symptoms and indicators can vary greatly from person to person. The emphasis is frequently on a single body area or perceived imperfection, such as moles or freckles that are believed to be overly large or conspicuous. Minor scars, acne, facial, head, or body hair, the size and form of your genitalia or breasts, muscle size, or the size, shape, or symmetry of your face or other body part are all examples of typical obsessions.

Body dysmorphia is something that has impacted me for the bulk of my life. In a society that harbours ever-changing beauty standards, there’s nothing quite like the brown beauty standard of “you were so beautiful before”. You see, I grew up fat (though my parents deny this ever being a thing) and the thing about the South Asian beauty standard of being fair and thin is that I was the anomaly – a tan, fat but somewhat happy kid. But growing older, I’ve realised that body dysmorphia is something that I have always dealt with, even as a kid that didn’t have a care in the world.

I don’t know what my body looks like even now but one thing is for sure, my body has never been good enough. I always compared myself to other people, especially girls I believed were perfect – a habit I really should have unlearned by now but alas.  ‘How come I don’t look like them?’ My friends and family constantly tell me how gorgeous I am, but it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t measure up. I am stuck inside my own mind, with no way out.

I continually see little imperfections in my appearance and stress about how I can fix them. I do a lot (emphasis on a lot) of research to discover how much different surgeries might cost. Tummy tucks, facelifts, liposuction, nasolabial fold filler, whatever. You name it, I’ve researched it. I remember looking at a photo of myself and noticing that one of my eyes was smaller than the other, which I loathed. What I would give to change my smile, which is sad in itself because why would you want to change a feature that conveys happiness?

What Causes Body Dysmorphia?
BDD, like many other mental illnesses, is most likely caused by a mix of neurological, biochemical, environmental, and hereditary factors. If you have close biological relatives with BDD, have experienced negative childhood situations such as bullying or teasing, have certain personality traits such as low self-esteem, feel societal pressure to meet certain standards for “good-looking,” or suffer from another psychiatric disorder such as anxiety or depression, your risk of developing BDD is increased.

The Effects of BDD on Your Health and Well-Being
BDD arises from and can cause, a number of emotional, physical, and psychological disorders that can impair the quality of your daily life. You can often find yourself in the following situations:

  • Seeking comfort by asking people for their opinions on how you look, but not believing them when they say you look good
  • Picking at one’s skin obsessively, using one’s fingernails or a tweezer to remove unsightly hair or blemishes
  • Avoiding social events, leaving the house less frequently, or just going out at night to attempt to blend in with the darkness
  • Obsessions and compulsions are kept hidden for fear of social censure.
  • Suffering from emotional issues such as despair, disgust, poor self-esteem, and anxiety.
  • Believing that others are particularly sensitive to your apparent defect
  • Keeping away from mirrors
  • Refusing your photograph to be taken
  • Combing your hair, shaving, or indulging in other grooming chores on a regular basis
  • Touching, examining, or measuring the imagined fault repeatedly
  • Wearing a lot of makeup or growing a beard is a good way to hide a fault.
  • Wearing particular types of clothes, such as caps and scarves, to conceal the imperfection
  • Overexercising
  • Changing your clothing all the time
  • Multiple doctor appointments, particularly to dermatologists
  • Multiple medical procedures (e.g., plastic surgeries) are used to try to eliminate or decrease the perceived fault (small or imagined) – typically with unsatisfying results.
  • Constantly monitoring your appearance

Exhausting list, right? I can assure you it is as equally exhausting, if not more, to have to live with body dysmorphia.

Consider this an open letter to myself. I want to be on the road to healing and its sad that I have had to wait this long to find myself the adequate resources to do. Though I am on my own journey, I know I’m not alone – with the culture that a lot of us in the BAME community are subjected to, we all mount too much pressure onto ourselves to look and be the best at all times. Simply put, it’s not sustainable in any way, shape, or form.