Adolescents Who Suffer With Distorted Body Image

Imagine, for a moment, that you are living inside the world of a teenager. A world that whenever you look in the mirror, what you see staring back at you is distorted and warped. As an adolescent struggling with a mental health disorder, that’s what is like for me. Back then, when I saw my reflection I was harassed with critical voices inside my own head. Voices telling me I was fat, ugly and severely flawed. I didn’t talk about this to anyone and as a result of my dirty-little-secret, I turned to alcohol and drugs to shut the voices out.

As it turns out I had Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) a condition that causes a preoccupation with perceived flaws, and statistics show about 1 in 50 people in our society suffer from this same disorder.

In today’s world, with the onslaught of photo-shopped images the media has trained our youth to strive for unrealistic goals. Sadly, many of these individuals are now turning to repeated plastic surgery procedures to help them feel all right. Although the term “body dysmorphia” usually relates to one’s own personal body image, it can also be related to anorexia, bulimia or compulsive overeating as well.

Marcela Rondani, Clinical Director of Polaris Adolescent Treatment Center, commented on this growing epidemic, “Unfortunately, we have been seeing an increase of this Body Dysmorphic Disorder among the adolescents we treat at Polaris. When they come to us, the family is often perplexed because they can’t see anything physically wrong with their child. But as these intrusive, obsessive thoughts persist, they can often prevent the teenager from going to school and socializing with their friends. At Polaris, we use a multiple disciplinary approach combined with family therapy to help these teens cope.”

According to the International OCD Foundation these are the common signs and symptoms of BDD:

▪ Frequent thoughts about appearance (at least an hour a day)

▪ Spending a lot of time staring in a mirror and/or reflective surface fixated on the flaw, or in some cases, a complete avoidance of mirrors/reflective surfaces

▪ Covering up the “affected area.” (for example, using hats, scarves, make-up)

▪ Repeatedly asking others to tell you that you look okay (also referred to as ‘reassurance seeking’).

▪ Frequent appointments with medical professionals/cosmetic surgeons

▪ Repeated plastic surgery

▪ Compulsive skin picking, which includes using fingernails and tweezers are to remove blemishes and/or hair.

▪ Avoiding social situations, public places, work, school, etc.

▪ Leaving the house less often or only going out at night to prevent others from seeing the “flaw.”

▪ Keeping your obsessions and compulsions secret due to feelings of shame.

▪ Emotional problems, such as feelings of disgust, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, etc.

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