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.