Tallulah Willis, daughter of actor Bruce Willis has gone public with her battle with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) reportedly diagnosed at age thirteen. She is not the first celebrity to go public but unlike some other celebs who throw “body dysmorphia” around like a new pair of Jimmy Choos, Tallulah seem to understand what BDD is and what the ramifications are. That is not to say that people who do not get diagnosed with BDD don’t have it, but there seems to be a confusion among some with an actual DSM5 diagnosis and the normative discontent that both men and women goes through at some point in their lives. While the societal fascination with perfect body images may have certainly lowered the set point for us to all have self-image issues and hate various aspects of our body at one time or another, that in itself does not constitute body dysmorphic disorder.
Contrary to the opinions of some other celebrities such as Chelsea Handler and Sarah Michelle Gellar, every woman (or man, it affects men and women equally) does not have body dysmorphic disorder simply because he or she is experiencing some form of body dissatisfaction
Chelsea recent stated:
“I mean, people who aren’t fat think they’re fat — myself included,” she observes. “I have body dysmorphia… we all have it.”
Sarah Michelle Gellar echoed those sentiments:
“I totally have body Dysmorphic disorder, I think most women do”
Chelsea and Sarah may very well have BDD, I am not a doctor. They are however, also spreading falsehoods that trivialize a dangerous and often devastating problem. How do we know this? Studies show that BDD affects approximately 2-4 percent of the pollution men and woman equally. Not an insignificant number in the general population but certainly not “everybody”.
I have body dysmorphic disorder. I have been in treatment for it for years. Fat shaming at home and bullying over my weight played into a middle child syndrome overwhelming desire for acceptance. This caused me to see only a monstrous fat stomach when I looked in the mirror, checked myself in a store window, my car window. I cycled through practically every destructive behavior out there to change that monstrous image in the mirror that never changed no matter what I did. Twenty-seven years of anorexia the bulimia. Drug Addiction. Alcoholism, Steroid addiction, numerous failed marriages and finally becoming suicidal fortunately to be rescued by my family and finally starting recovery with the help of medication and intensive therapy.
What is the solution to this brutal and sometimes deadly disorder? That is still being sorted out. Like eating disorders, for me it was a complicated mix of psychological predisposition, childhood trauma and maybe even genetics. Efforts to understand it have only in recent years escalated with some groundbreaking research by BDD pioneers such as Dr. Katherine Phillips.
What I can tell you is that the answer is not to minimize it and treat it like a bad hair day. If you think you have it, don’t focus on the definitions of laypeople. As there was no awareness of this issue when it hit me, I was force to evaluate my own baseline behavior in making a treatment decision. Some questions I asked myself, Has my lifestyle changed for the worse? What was my quality of life? Was I engaging in in obsessive and destructive behaviors? The answer to all of those was yes and I sought help. Those are not the only questions but that’s why I don’t tell anyone else whether they have BDD. It’s a decision for a treatment professional, not a celebrity diagnosing his or her own lifestyle and behaviors-, which will probably be different from yours.
If you are answering yes to your own questions and are worried, let a qualified treatment provider help you. That’s how you get better! If you don’t really know what BDD is, ask a qualified professional who does. Otherwise, please do not use a public platform to spread misinformation and make the problem worse.
Brian Cuban is a an author whose best-selling book “Shattered Image: My Triumph Over Body Dysmorphic Disorder” chronicles his first-hand experiences living with, and recovering from clinical depression, twenty-seven years of eating disorders and Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD),drug and alcohol addiction. Brian speaks regularly about his recovery and empowering adults and teens to turn their worst moments into their greatest achievement.
The answer is no one. Current science tells us that Eating disorders are biologically based, influenced by numerous complex environmental factors coming together as they did for me to create a perfect storm of anorexia and bulimia that lasted twenty-seven years.
For many years however, it was a blame game for me. I blamed my mother for the harsh, fat shaming and other belittling words she inflicted at an already programmed, middle child syndrome personality looking for acceptance as the all self-defining persona. Acceptance from my mother. Acceptance from the kids who bullied me over my weight. Acceptance from the high school girls who I wanted to badly to connect with and go to the prom. Go on a date. Hold a hand. Get that first kiss.
When none of that happened, and I descended into eating disorders, addiction and suicidal thoughts, blame was the other easy self-medication. As I moved into recovery and slowly became self-aware of where I was and how I got there, it no longer became about blame. It became about forgiveness. When It became about education and awareness, it was clear that parents, bullies and the girls who rejected me were not the cause. It was about the tornado combination of already programmed genetic and psychological predispositions plus environment. Which one is more important than the other? We still don’t know that. A reason I recently participated in a genetic study that will explore this issue. Hopefully one day, science will identify a gene that will without question tell us who is pre-disposed to eating disorders.
Will that eliminate environmental factors? Of course not. But it will be a groundbreaking step towards treating those suffering and also determining how influential a pre-disposition is absent all other environmental factors. Until that time, it is important to maintain a balanced approach to education and awareness. Blaming home environment is not the answer. The most freeing and profound moment in my eating disorder recovery was when I stopped blaming. Denying that home environment however could be a factor in my disorders in order to deflect emotional guilt and blame is also not the answer. Acknowledging that environment matters is not blame. It understanding. Truth and truth will educate and change views. It’s not a blame game. It’s not a game at all. It’s a deadly situation. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychological illness. Let’s stay balanced on facts and science when we educate. That will raise awareness. That will help save lives.
Brian Cuban is a an author whose best-selling book “Shattered Image: My Triumph Over Body Dysmorphic Disorder” chronicles his first-hand experiences living with, and recovering from childhood bullying, eating disorders and Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD) and drug addiction. Brian speaks regularly about his recovery and empowering adults and teens to turn their worst moments into their greatest achievement.
July 2005. Sitting in a dimly lit room of Green Oaks Psychiatric Facility in Dallas, Texas. Dragged there kicking and screaming by my two brothers. Questions being fired at me by the intake shrink. Did I want to hurt myself? Was I suicidal? The lawyer in me knew what to say so that they could not commit me against my will
Thirty minutes before, my brothers had come into my house uninvited, interrupting my suicidal stupor, a .45 automatic cued up on the nightstand next to my bed. The three days before I had been dry firing it into my mouth to practice for that final leap into the pain relieving darkens. My pain. The pain I blamed everyone for. I blamed the shrink for trying to take my freedom away. I blamed my mother for the verbal abuse and fat shaming. In my mind she had driven me to this moment. She had created the monster I saw in the mirror every day. I blamed my brothers for not allowing me to take the path of least resistance into oblivion. I blamed the childhood bullies who has fat-teased me and physically assaulted me as a teen, ripping off my pants and throwing them into the street.
In this particular moment, the laser focus of my blame was my two brothers. Shouting. All coming from me. Finger pointing, all coming from me, as an intake shrink took notes. Never once mindful self-awareness of the fact that I was an untreated bulimic, drug addict and an alcoholic steeped in clinical depression. That was my identity. Blame was a warm blanket. So much easier then self-awareness, accountability and the terrifying fear of a new kind of pain. Recovery.
I never really realized how powerful that blame was in keeping me stagnant in my recovery until I finally hit that ultimate low point in my life standing the parking lot of the same psychiatric facility almost two years later for a second time after a two day, drug and alcohol induced blackout. Thinking to myself that I was close to losing the family that I blamed for all my woes. Not because of the blame but because those who love you may love unconditionally but there will be limits on their willingness to watch you destroy your life if you wont at least make an effort to take charge of your recovery even its it’s the tiniest step forward. That never made sense to me until that moment. It was not about blame. It was about understanding how I got to that point. Understanding that thirteen-year-old shy, bullied little boy. Understanding my mother.
I was very lucky. I have a mother who was willing to explore that with me. Many families do not have that. They have denial, continued blame and withdrawal from the pain of so many years ago. Mot wanting to open old wounds. I found that I could not explore who I was without taking a deep breath and ripping that old wound wide open. We talked. My mother explained how she was raised. Fat shaming. Excruciating verbal abuse by her mother. These were the tools she was given as a young mother of the early nineteen sixties. Her words penetrated the blame. Blame because about understanding. Understanding became about Forgiveness. Forgiveness of my mother. Forgiveness of the bullies. There was no fault. There was only life as it happens in the moment. I was no longer that thirteen-year-old boy. I was ready for the next step.
Added on 21 August 2014