i’ve been a fan of mtv’s true life since day one. sure, there have been instances where the show has come across as a softcore exploitation of the subjects involved, but it’s no doubt one of the realest reality shows the channel has ever produced. sometimes the episodes are tough for me to sit through, especially when the topic deals with body image issues, decaying relationships, jealousy, and/or insecurity — it just hits too close to home. but, even though i lack the emotional capacity to get through some of the topics, i always get sucked in. as fun as the scripted fuckery is, nothing is quite as fascinating as reality, and as a true voyeur, i live for these types of shows.
if you’ve never watched (or even heard of) true life, it’s an hour-long documentary series that follows the lives of 2 or 3 young people per episode. each episode focuses on a particular topic, i.e. true life: i’m broke, true life: i live in a brothel, true life: i’m in an interracial relationship, etc. anyway, i was channel surfing the other day, and there was a true life marathon on mtv. the episode i happened upon was true life: i hate my face. though i had seen the episode when it premiered a few months ago, my interest was piqued enough to continue watching. this particular episode focused on two girls who suffer from a condition called body dysmorphic disorder, which essentially means (and i’m putting this very simply) that sufferers have a negative obsession over a part (or parts) of their body. in the cases of the two girls, neither could stand their faces — more specifically, their nose and chin. i remember the first time i watched the episode, i was at a friend’s house. throughout the entire episode, he was absolutely beside himself.
she’s so hot, how could she say that about herself?
but she’s rich and cute! what does she have to complain about?
this girl is a model?! she’s got to be shitting me.
if you haven’t noticed, this post marked the first and only time i posted a photo of myself on this blog (an adult photo, anyway). there’s honestly no real reason for that outside of my never-ending self-image issues.
i can remember disliking my appearance as young as five or six years old. i would cry to my mom, telling her that i wasn’t cute enough to go to school. that everyone would either shriek in horror or laugh at my ugly face. i even told her — at six years old! — that i “needed” a nosejob in order to be presentable. i would often watch both william dieterle and disney’s interpretations of the hunchback of notre dame, because i identified with quasimodo — the sensitive, isolated soul with a grossly disfigured face. there was even a period in elementary school that lasted about a year or so where i convinced myself i was a special little martian monster sent down on a mission from from mars (whoa, check out that alliteration), and that was the reason my face was so different and distorted compared to everyone else’s (imagine my surprise when i saw martian child for the first time). it was silly, but the thought gave me comfort at the time.
i know some of you instantly thought, dude, you’ve hated your looks since you were five?! the people around you must’ve done some serious emotional damage when you were a child. but in all honesty, i was called cute, adorable, and beautiful fairly regularly, especially by my parents and brothers. if my self-esteem was a true and honest representation of what they thought of me, i’d have the confidence of kanye west! bdd isn’t always the result of an external influence, though. i don’t believe anyone has ever insulted my face (at least not to my face… my body, though, is a whole other story entirely). i guess whatever wires in my brain that cause self-confidence were criss-crossed at birth or during my early years. later on in life, i think the lack of representation of people who looked like me in the media really toyed with my self-perception.
in 10th grade, i discovered the world of fashion and used my personal style as a form of artillery against my disorder. i would put together elaborate outfits, especially outfits that emphasized the waist on down (as far from my head as possible, please!), to draw atttention away from my face. of course people assumed i was superficial and really into myself because i cared so much about what i wore. oh, how little they knew. you’d be surprised by how many people who are absorbed in fashion and personal aesthetics have some form of body dysmorphia, whether severe or acute. it’s the perfect outlet — not only does it make for a good distraction, but it also gives off a phony yet convincing sense of self-confidence.
sadly, bdd is a condition that’s often horribly misunderstood and the severity is usually undermined and dismissed as glorified narcissism. countless times i’ve been accused of simply seeking attention and “fishing for compliments” by criticizing and being deeply self-concious of parts of my face and body. that couldn’t be farther from the truth! take it from someone who lives with it every single day: it can definitely be mentally crippling and emotionally exhausting — and it’s a lot more complicated than a simple behavioral or ego issue. honestly, no matter how often someone calls me “cute” or “beautiful,” i don’t see it myself. body dysmorphia has nothing to do with how other people see you — it’s about how those affected see themselves. i couldn’t care less if joe the plumber thinks i’m hot. and to be honest with you, most of the time, compliments hurt more than they help. i can’t tell you how many times i’ve gone to bed crying or how many temper tantrums i’ve thrown because of how impossible it seems for me to view myself through the same lenses as the people who think i’m attractive. it makes me feel like a total loon. the accusations of attention-seeking only add salt (and hot sauce. and chipotle peppers. and acid.) to the wound. i’m learning to keep my negative thoughts to myself, though, because not only do i hate the way i feel, i hate the way i make the people around me feel. at my worst, i’m a neurotic and paranoid, walking, talking bundle of self-deprecation.
after watching the premiere of true life: i hate my face, i confided in that friend about my bdd. part of his response was, “omg, but you’re so cute, though. if you think you look monstrous, i wonder what you think of me!” don’t worry, non-sufferers, we hardly think about your looks. something a lot of folks don’t realize is that suffering from bdd leads to an existence that’s not only isolated (i’m naturally a shrinking violet, but this condition makes my bashful/socially anxious disposition a million times worse), but very self-centered. of course there are several incarnations and manifestations of bdd, but i think it would be safe for me to say that for the most part, people living with bdd don’t care about anyone else’s looks. i live in my own little world that’s so meticulously controlled by my mental and emotional imbalances that i don’t have the energy or motivation to hyperfocus on certain people, yet i feel that the world is hyperfocused on me and my self-imposed imperfections.
i realize that for people suffering from intense, physical illnesses, like cancer and aids, that some middle-class girl in los angeles crying about how ugly she is seems like a steaming fart in the face. but, imagine going through life denying an integral part of who you are (sure, some people say we shouldn’t give a fuck about what we look like, but face it — your face, your body, your physical presence, whether you’ve decided to accept/change it or not, is a part of your identity) and having to come to terms with the amount of patience and effort it takes to stop the debilitating cycle of negative thoughts, all the while feeling like it will never end. it’s one thing to have a medical issue that’s completely out of your hands (not that i’m minimizing the trauma of physical illness!!), but to suffer from a condition that you know you have the ability to control with the right tools and frame of mind is really a blow to the head. i can’t even begin to tell you guys how difficult it is to get to the nucleus of deep-rooted shit like this.
fortunately, thanks to healthy doses of therapy, exhaustion (aka being too tired to care), and just plain growing up, my body dysmorphia has lessened to a more manageable degree. growing up means more responsibilities and more responsiblities means constant focus on matters outside of my face and body. i’m relieved to say that i can now walk outside without impulsively reaching for a brimmed cap in an attempt to shield my mug. i’ve stopped spending so much time pinching at my nose and belly fat. i no longer obsessively research plastic surgeons and the procedures involved in cosmetic reconstruction. and i can’t wait for the day where i can publicly post a photo of myself without having to huff and puff into a proverbial paper bag to ease my anxiety. it’s not easy, but i’m getting there.
…okay, very slowly!
if you’re interested in watching the full episode of true life: i hate my face, i’ve embedded it below. be warned, though — one of the girls is not very likeable and tends to blame her laziness and selfish behavior on her body dysmorphia (it’s not likely for bdd to hinder you from performing household chores, pamela!). check it out, and be sure to watch with an open mind!