at some point you wished your waist were a bit smaller like Barbie’s, or your
muscles were bulkier like Superman’s.
those fleeting thoughts most likely passed.
for some people those thoughts are constant, and lead to serious actions such
as major plastic surgeries.
Chavez, a 37-year-old man from the Philippines. He has spent 18
years trying to look like Clark Kent, Superman’s alternate identity.
has undergone liposuction, nose jobs, skin bleaching, and has gotten fillers.
He has even tried to get doctors to give him “abs of steel.”
also in the Guinness World Records for having the biggest Superman memorabilia collection.
Then there are seven women who are considered celebrities
in the social media world for transforming themselves into Barbie look-alikes.
This includes Valeria Lukyanova, the Russian-born, self-proclaimed “Human Barbie.”
There’s also blogger Kamilla
Osman, who has gained attention for her uncanny resemblance to Kim
A Mask for Mental Illness
these drastic attempts to be famous more than they seem?
experts believe Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) may be to blame. According to
the Anxiety and Depression
Association of America, people with BDD think about
their physical flaws, whether they’re real or imagined, for hours each day.
have a general disgust for an aspect of their appearance that others may or may
not see. Because of the distortion and fixation, they will do a number of
things to try to counteract what they perceive,” Sari Shepphird, Ph.D., a Los
Angeles psychologist, told Healthline.
of BDD include engaging in social withdrawal or trying to change their
surgery becomes the BDD ritual that one can do repetitively. People with BDD
often times will get some kind of body altering surgery done because they’re
not happy with the way they look,” Jenifer Cullen, Ph.D., a Massachusetts clinical
psychologist, told Healthline.
they’re never happy with the surgery and they go back for more and more,” adds
Jackson is a classic case,” she said.
fact, that’s what makes a person with BDD different than someone who undergoes
a nose job or breast implants and then stops.
who don’t have BDD and get plastic surgery are usually happy with the outcome.
They may say, ‘I like my nose. It looks great. I’m going to get my breasts done
now,’’’ Cullen explained. “Those with BDD are never happy with the outcome.
They go back and get another nose job, and another, or they’ll be happy with
the nose and switch to obsessing about another part of their body, and the cycle
BDD is on the spectrum of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Cullen notes
that it needs to be properly diagnosed. Those with BDD may also have coexisting
conditions, such as OCD, major depression, social anxiety disorder, and eating
“If someone is altering themselves to look like a Barbie doll,
I’d ask why they are altering themselves to look like her. If they say they
like her breasts, or hair, or a particular body part and then do what they can
to look like that part, then I’d say it could be BDD,” said Cullen.
The same goes for Superman wannabes.
“If someone said, ‘I changed my eyes to blue cause they’re
brown and I hate them, they’re disgusting’ then that could be BDD,” Cullen
said. “But if he’s just obsessed in wanting to look like Superman, then that
sounds like it’s an obsession.”
For the illness to be OCD, Cullen said the change in appearance
would be driven by fear.
“It would be based on the notion that if the person doesn’t
change the way they look, something bad will happen. So they might say, ‘I am
obsessed with Superman because if I don’t look like him, I’m afraid no one will
talk to me, or love me, or marry me,’” said Cullen.
While there are many reasons people may develop BDD,
Shepphird says the following are common risk factors:
- genetic predisposition
- anxiety issues
- history of being teased or bullied about appearance
- drive for perfectionism
- social environment with pressures to conform to a certain image
Though it’s common for BDD to occur during the teenage and
young adult years as a person’s identity is developing, Shepphird notes that
BDD can occur at any age and equally between genders.
“Especially now since there’s an emphasis on maintaining the
perfect ideal image across the lifespan rather than just during our youth,” she
Social Media Feeds the Flame
While it’s natural for humans to compare themselves to
others in order to understand what’s socially acceptable, or where they stand
in their culture, Shepphird says that the Western culture pushes the
comparisons to unhealthy levels.
“We can look at changes in certain kinds of disorders over
time, and we know that media in general, and Western media in particular,
contribute to certain kinds of disorders, including eating disorders and BDD
because we have a cultural ideal that we are confronted with and that we
increasingly feel we need to conform to,” she said.
In developing countries that don’t have access to the kinds
of media Western countries do, Shepphird says studies show rates of certain
mental disorders, including BDD and eating disorders, are lower.
“That doesn’t mean that media causes BDD or other mental
health concerns, but we do know it’s a risk factor. The more someone is exposed
to certain kinds of media the greater that risk factor is. When combined with
other risk factors, it’s a contributing issue,” she said.
Especially if the information that media presents is skewed.
“Studies show that reading one magazine for an hour for
teens and adults tends to make them feel worse about their lives for a short
period of time. So you can extrapolate that that’s the truth when it comes to
having a constant bombardment of ideals and images on social media,” Shepphird
Plus, posting images on social media brings about wanted or
unwanted comments about one’s appearance.
“We have a culture now that people feel they can say
whatever they want about someone’s appearance whether it’s about someone they
know or have never met. Many people tend to dismiss those comments and think
they don’t have an impact, but they can, especially on someone who has risk
factors for BDD,” Shepphird said.
Cullen agrees, and says even positive feedback can be
disastrous for those with BDD.
“For someone who is trying to actually look like Superman,
getting attention on social media perpetuates the behavior and even strengthens
their obsession,” she said. “Even if they post a photo of their latest surgery
and they get 200 responses, they might think ‘I only got 200, why didn’t I get
300?’ or they’ll feel better for a day and then the next day they’ll go back to
feeling like nobody likes them.”
stresses that social media is so harmful for those with BDD that during
treatment she suggests patients do not put any images of themselves on social
to both Shepphird and Cullen, the best form of treatment involves cognitive
behavioral therapy (CBT) combined with antidepressant medication.
addresses distorted thoughts and uncomfortable feelings and how those affect
your behavior. If you can address the distorted thoughts that someone has with
their appearance, then you can make an impact on how they feel and the behavior
that results from that,” said Shepphird.
adds, “Because those with BDD often respond well to antidepressants, we know
brain chemicals are involved. Incorporating both forms of therapy can really
help treat BDD.”