Chasing Impossible Perfection: A Descent into Body Dysmorphic Disorder

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By Octavia Sykes>Sophomore> Journalism and Womens Studies>University of Maryland

A healthier lifestyle and a better future are admirable goals that few people could argue against, but for many people that goal turns into a life consuming obsession called body dysmorphic disorder. 

In a 2009 Glamour magazine poll of more than 16,000 women, 40 percent indicated that they were dissatisfied with their body. For some men and women this dissatisfaction becomes a dramatic fixation on real or imaginary bodily flaws.

“Individuals with BDD often are concerned about acne, wrinkles, paleness, scars, thinning hair, or the shape or size of body parts such as the nose, lips, or face. Some people with BDD have concerns focusing on body symmetry,” according to BDDclinic.com.

For 21-year-old Athena Jomo, BDD’s symptoms became too much to bear. Jomo brought her concerns to her therapist and was soon diagnosed with the disorder.

“It just has a title now,” said Jomo.

After having her first child she had to put her education on hold, so she took a break from Baltimore City Community College. The dance classes she took at school kept her weight down, but once she withdrew from classes her weight slowly crept back up.

She knew something was wrong when weight and appearance became a daily obstacle. Jomo began cancelling evenings out with friends, eating less, taking dieting pills, and sporadically exercising to combat the fat that simply wasn’t there. She even put 2 full length mirrors in her room. When she began getting compliments Jomo’s obsessive practices increased.

Now, Jomo is attending therapy and just trying to keep the obsessive thoughts at bay through positive distractions.

“I’ll sew or write in my journal. A lot of people would just assume I am shallow. Of course, when you obsess about something it comes up in conversation.”

Women like Jomo are not the only ones susceptible to the disorder. Registered Dietician and Coordinator of Nutrition Services at the University of Maryland College Park, Jane Jakubczak, has seen a noticeable increase in male patients in the last 10 years.

Some of her male patients exhibiting signs of BDD would bring in men’s magazines with a body goal in mind. She has seen many male patients pinching imaginary fat on their midsection.  “Back in my day guys didn’t seem to care about that stuff at all,” said Jakubczak.

The stress of college, peer pressure to look good, and our age group are all risk factors for developing the disorder. BDD could also cause an increased desire for plastic surgery.

BDDclinc.com states that, “7-15 percent of cosmetic surgery and 12 percent of dermatological patients suffer from BDD. Left untreated, the torment of BDD can lead to hospitalization and suicide.”

Some of Jakubczak’s male patients would ditch time with friends to work out, spend money on health supplements, and eradicate essential carbohydrates and fats from their diet. Jakubczak sees a lot of men and women targeting their midsection even when there was no visible fat presence.

She suggests counseling to patients who exhibit signs of BDD and provides support to those who are already diagnosed.

“I definitely feel that going to the counselor could help and also learning in terms of exercise and supplement use.”

It is estimated that 1-2 percent of the general population may be affected with the disorder. Without treatment BDD can spiral into social isolation, depression, and many other serious health problems. Although the severity of BDD can vary it is important to seek help no matter how small an obsession may be. If you know someone struggling with body image or are grappling with your own body issues please visit BDDclinic.com and seek out professional help.

 

College Magazine Staff

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