I wrote a post the other day about 5 mental health issues that can be associated with acne. I wanted to touch a little bit more on Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and its subset, Acne Dysmorphic Disorder.

In my previous article, this is how I described the condition:

“It is characterized by a serious preoccupation with a real or imaginary physical flaw. There is excessive anxiety and stress over the perceived flaw and the person with BDD spends an unreasonable amount of time focusing on it, picking at it, excessively checking their appearance in a mirror, hiding the imperfection, comparing it with others, grooming, constantly seeking reassurance from others about it, and even getting repeated cosmetic surgery. With acne dysmorphic disorder, the perceived flaw is acne, blemishes, and scarring. Often the sufferer has mild acne but when they look at themselves in the mirror, the acne appears to them to be a hundred times worse than the reality.”

I’m willing to bet most acne sufferers display some of these tendencies when it comes to their skin. I mean, most people check the mirror way too many times and spend more time than usual grooming and picking. We also tend to imagine our skin flaws are a lot more obvious to others than they really are.

We need to be aware though that these practices are not healthy.

No, they aren’t as serious as when things go to the point of excess and a BDD diagnosis…. but they aren’t healthy.

I highly suggest you check out this short BBC documentary about three people in England living with severe cases of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. No, it’s not specifically about acne, but I consider myself fairly well adjusted and I still saw disturbing similarities between me and the behaviours of these three people. It’s a real eye opener.

For example, the second person featured in the film (I think his name was Julian) is fixated on the dark circles under his eyes, which he feels make him appear absolutely grotesque. Of course, to everyone else, he’s just a normal looking guy and the dark circles under his eyes are hardly noticeable. However, he has become so fixated on them that he is mostly a recluse and has let all his friends fall away. If he needs to leave the house, he always, always wears a pair of dark sunglasses to insulate himself from “staring” eyes.

This reminded me quite distinctly of last spring and summer when I had my bad acne – the way I used to wear big dark sunglasses as a means of shielding my heart from others. Obviously I knew that everyone could still plainly see my skin whether I wore sunglasses or not, but after some time, I realized that I just didn’t feel comfortable without them. Don’t get me wrong – I love sunglasses for fashion and practical purposes – but I suppose that I subconsciously felt that if people could not see my eyes, they couldn’t detect all the pain I was feeling inside.

The third person featured in the film was a beautiful girl named Ruth.

She saw herself as a monster – with a nose that’s too big, sallow skin, ugly eyes. To everyone else, she’s gorgeous, but she just couldn’t see it. She hid behind her hair and pounds of makeup – most people would assume this girl is vain, but she is actually suffering inside. The BBC camera crew asked her to perform the simple task of going to the corner store without mascara on and they later asked her to go bare faced to the makeup counter at a department store to get help with picking out a lighter foundation. Both tasks were an enormous effort, and she even ended up crying at the makeup counter.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve now become much more comfortable about not wearing makeup, but I recall even when my acne used to be mild that I would never dare leave the house without my couple of spots covered up, the redness under my eyes concealed, and mascara on to darken up my blonde eyelashes. Yes, I can say that going to the corner store without makeup, let alone being around people I knew, would have been fairly traumatic for me. It seems silly to me now, but it really did feel like a huge deal.

The biggest lesson here is that the unhappiness is not coming from the “flaw” and fixing the flaw will not bring happiness.

There is something deeper that needs to be addressed… this seems plain to all except for the sufferer. So be aware of these behaviours if you are displaying any of them, and make sure to get professional help if you think you may be dealing with full blown Body Dysmorphia or Acne Dysmorphia ♥

photo by bottleleaf