There’s a girl. She’s always checking her appearance. Her hair is long, blonde and wavy, her eyes big and blue. There can be little question that the girl is beautiful. That she seems to have it all . . .
Yet the girl thinks she is ugly.
The girl in question is all too real. She is 20-years-old, Alanah is her name.
She suffers from something called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), a condition that causes people to become obsessed with perceived defects in their appearance.
This might sound trivial, but make no mistake about it: the consequences can be severe.
That BDD is more common than most people think (around one in 50 people in the UK are believed to be affected by it) means this is a tale that needs to be told.
To that end, Alanah agreed to take part in a BBC Four series called No Body’s Perfect, the pertinent programme broadcast a little earlier this month and available to watch, for a limited period, via iPlayer.
That most are not so brave (or have such an opportunity) means BDD is something that, more often than not, tends to be suffered in silence. Isolation, anxiety and even (in extreme cases) suicide are amongst the associated risks. Young people, vulnerable and under ever-increasing pressure in the modern world, face the greatest dangers.
‘From being such a high achiever, confident, she just imploded,’ Alanah’s mum, Scarlett recalls. ‘She just couldn’t get out. I had to bath her, get her drinks, she just stayed in bed all day.’
Trivial? Far from it.
To hear the girl in question describe her face as disgusting and monstrous – ‘I thought it was cruel for other people to have to see it,’ she says – is to realise that she is fortunate to have gained such understanding and the help and support required.
Not all are so lucky, so great the pressure, be it from social media, advertising, peers or some other source, so crushing the condition. Unable to leave the house, becoming ever-more isolated, BDD being something that not enough people understand or that those suffering are able to articulate. Yet that doesn’t mean that help is not out there or that BDD cannot be tackled and treated.
Medication can help as can psychotherapy, or CBT, but as always, awareness and understanding are important first steps in tackling a problem that often begins in adolescence and is sometimes a response to common issues such as bullying, teasing and peer pressure.
‘This is one of the highest-risk problems of all psychiatric disorders,’ explains Rob Willson, chair of the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation. ‘[BDD is] one of the most extreme high risks of suicide, functional impairment and distress.’
It’s for this reason that we’ve decided to share this on our blog . . .
Because BDD does pose great risks. Because not enough people understand it. Because it is more common you might think. Because help is out there.
Like to find out more about Alanah’s story? Read this, via the BBC website, or watch No Body’s Perfect (for a limited time only) on iPlayer here. Need help, support or advice about BDD or the issues raised in our blog? You can always contact us here.