In Pursuit Of Perfection: Living With Body Dysmorphic Disorder


Around my 17th birthday, I had rhinoplasty and genioplasty, cosmetic adjustments of my nose and chin. Having hated my aquiline nose since it began to grow disproportionately after my thirteenth birthday, I believed this surgery would make me happy. And to some extent, it did, giving me an illusion of confidence and the ability to smile — something I never did because I hated how smiling made my nose curve downwards.

But still I remained on a quest for physical improvement. At 20, I had my first Juvederm injections in the nasolabial folds of my face, a practice which I continued for three years, experimenting with Restylane and later Radiesse directly into my cheeks. At 23, I had cosmetic dentistry to reshape my teeth. Around the same time, I started a series of laser hair removal sessions.

This is not vanity, it’s insecurity.

Since puberty, I have been unhappy with my appearance and have spent innumerable hours thinking about and trying to improve my exterior through all measures possible.

One day last week, I was researching plastic surgeons in Los Angeles that specialized in revision rhinoplasty (second nose jobs) and become engrossed in seeing what else I could have done — maybe cheek implants, a mid-face lift, or sculpting injections to make my jaw appear wider. Sadly the only thing that stopped me from scheduling an appointment was not a dawn of rationality, but a lack of finances.

I did not need to visit a psychiatrist to admit to myself that I suffer from body dysmorphia. In my case, it is not that I look in the mirror and think that I’m ugly, but I look in the mirror and obsess over my imperfections: I will stare at my nose which is slightly askew from my first rhinoplasty, peer into the depths of my pores or pull back my face to see what I would look like with tighter skin, at 25.

Objectively I know that I am not unattractive. I recently uploaded a photo to a website that measures one’s facial symmetry to determine attractiveness, and my face rated a 7.5 out of 10 (Emma Watson is an 8.6). Nonetheless, similar to when one gives me a compliment, I don’t believe it. My instinct is to think that the test is faulty or the person who says I’m handsome is lying, blind or my grandmother.

Living in Hollywood has exacerbated my insecurities. At the gym, everyone is six foot something. The person making me a smoothie is a body double for Brad Pitt. I can’t even go to Whole Foods without leaving feeling like a dwarf.

If I search to self-analyze, I believe that the root of my psychological disorder comes from not fitting in during adolescence because of my slight frame and diminutive stature, in obvious addition to latent homosexuality. I continued to over-compensate for this shortfall during my early adult years by turning to clothes and makeup as a way to bolster my confidence.

I know I am not alone in this. There are many people (mostly female) around my age are suffering from varying degrees of BDD, in no small way victim to the overwhelming objectification of women in the media. Several of my girl friends are fixated on their weight, going through extreme lengths in pursuit of an unhealthy ideal. I have one friend who takes Adderall to suppress her appetite so she can fit into size 0 clothes, another who has been addicted to laxatives for years, and another who spends thousands of dollars a month with a personal trainer.

None of this addresses the root of the issue, which is a chronic lack of self-esteem. I know this because despite nearly 20 thousand dollars worth of cosmetic enhancements, a steadfast dedication to the gym, and an antioxidant-rich diet designed to boost my skin’s luminosity, all it takes is seeing a male model to send me down a spiral of self-consciousness.

There have been moments of clarity in my adult life when I did not feel like a loser in nature’s looks lottery. For almost two years after my first trip to India when I was practicing yoga, meditation, and daily prayer, I felt a divine appreciation for what I had been given rather than focusing on that which I did not have. Instead of bemoaning the imperfect symmetry of my nose, I was thankful that I could breathe. Rather than regret my lack of height, I was thankful for having a healthy body that allowed me free motion.

But recently I have been focused on the lack of romantic relationship in my life and my neuroses have once again come to surface. Maybe that’s because it’s easier to blame being single on being five foot six or having a nose that’s not quite right than to address underlying psychological issues.

I will probably always have a desire to look my best and I don’t doubt that as soon as the wrinkles in my forehead begin to deepen, I will run to the dermatologist to have them smoothed into oblivion. My hope for recovery is that I can detach my sense of self worth from my appearance and feel an innate confidence that has nothing to do with the reflection in the mirror.

With that in mind, last week I quit the gym with the resolution to return to practicing ashtanga five days a week and taking up tennis, activities that encourage spiritual or athletic betterment as opposed to vanity and aesthetic emptiness.

For others who are suffering in silence, there is hope. Take time to see a therapist who can diagnose BDD and prescribe medication or cognitive restructuring.

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