Rebecca's Final Paper

In a society ruled by the beautiful, it is no surprise that most spend hours contemplating and improving their own physical presentation. For some though, it is more than just a simple part of the morning routine. A growing number of people are overly concerned with their stature and characteristics. These people have contorted body images and are compelled to obsess over it constantly. Two men, Steve and Robert, are plagued by two different disorders, yet their experiences are not that opposite. Steve is enthralled with physical appearance to the point that tiny details no one else notices disrupt his daily life. Robert believes that his left leg is not his own and desperately wishes to be one legged. These bizarre takes on body image reveal that both disorders are crazy and that there is an important link between body image, cosmetic cures, and society’s standards of beauty.
Steve Erhardt suffers from Body Dysmorphic Disorder or BDD, a body image disorder (Cooper & Osman, 2007). BDD is defined as a preoccupation with an imagined defect or slight physical imperfection (da Costa, 2007). Often the patient is the only one aware of this defect. This obsession causes the patient great distress and emotional turmoil. This extreme concern interferes in allowing most to have a normal life. Many victims state that they cannot maintain healthy relationships or careers (Adato & Harrington, 2007). And still others rarely leave their own homes. To be diagnosed with BDD, a person must meet three main requirements. First the patient must have excessive concern with a minor anomaly, next this obsession must impair social or other daily functions, and lastly the person is not more correctly diagnosed with another mental illness (BDD Central Staff, 2007). The final part of identification helps eliminate wrongful diagnoses because OCD, anorexia nervosa, and other disorders can have similar symptoms (Didie & Pinto, 2007). Some experts actually consider BDD “an atypical and more malignant form of OCD” (Phillips, 2007).
BBD is believed to appear in youths especially during stages of development (da Costa, 2007). It affects both sexes, though it occurs slightly more often in females. Nevertheless, Muscle Dysmorphia, a preoccupation specifically with muscles and increasing body mass, is an escalating phenomenon in males (Grieve, 2007). This is only a subset of BDD, but is growing in awareness as well. Currently, BDD is suffered from by only two percent of the United States population (da Costa, 2007). An accurate number is hard to know because many do not share their symptoms out of embarrassment (Conroy, 2008). Many are ashamed of their superficial obsessions. But many psychologist claim that this disorder is not merely vanity; it is a serious illness (Adato & Harrington, 2007). These victims are not aware that BDD is common, but just little known and under diagnosed (Conroy, 2008).
Typical behaviors of an individual suffering from BDD vary from person to person, especially in their area of most scrutiny, but most have common tendencies. All patients display a mirror checking habit, and some go a step further to mirror avoidance (BDD Central Staff, 2007). This can range from purse mirrors, glass windows, or other reflective surfaces. In addition, cameras and photographs cause tremendous agony. These permanent snapshots stir up more self loathing and can even bring on a long and harmful BDD attack (BDD Central Staff, 2007). These BDD attacks force the person to remain in seclusion, avoiding public gatherings. BBD makes one prone to substance abuse, psychiatric hospitalizations, and missed days at work or school (Phillips & Menard, 2006). BDD patients are also known to endure severe depression. Their suicide risk is 45 times higher than the general public (Phillips & Menard, 2006).
The cause of BDD is still debated, but there are several strong theories. One study believes that such a twisted body image stems from a deeper root than solely societies demanding expectations. It is possible that it is caused by “a visual brain glitch that literally makes people see the world differently” (Choi, 2008). Scientists at the University of California conducted a study with BDD and non-BDD individuals and discovered that they used their brains differently. Imaging showed that BDD patients used the left side more, the part attuned to complex detail (Choi, 2008). Treatments for BDD are currently poor. Medications are used to control the depression tendencies and cognitive-behavior therapies are employed to alter a patient’s body image. But BDD is difficult to treat, and most individuals are hesitant and troublesome in participating (Cooper & Osman, 2007).
Robert suffers from another body image disorder, Body Identity Integrity Disorder or BIID. BIID is a “bizarre psychological condition in which people fixate on amputating healthy limbs to achieve their ideal body image” (Adams, 2007). Those who suffer from BIID believe that one or more of their appendages are not their own and not part of their self image. Individuals want their bodies to match their ideal self image and experience intense pressure because they feel imperfect (What is BIID, 2008). Most BIID victims will paradoxically claim to only be complete with the removal of the offensive limbs (Bayne & Levy, 2005). As strange as these beliefs and statements are, BIID is a valid mental disorder. It is often compared to BDD and Gender Identity Disorder (What is BIID, 2008).
It is believed that BIID is established and developed in early childhood. Most patients recall an experience in their youth in which they encountered someone with a disability and the impact that it had on them. This does not seem to affect which limb is unwanted; this develops for no understood reason. It varies from person to person, as the does the number of limbs deemed extraneous. BIID affects a higher number of males than females, but affects a total of several thousand worldwide (Mueller, 2008). They start off as “pretenders” by faking a disability (Bayne & Levy, 2005). Some wrap the limb of disgust or rent a wheel chair for the weekend. A small number take it a step further and attempt amputation by themselves. They employ unsafe methods such as a chainsaw, shot gun, wood chipper, or placing the limb on train tracks. These radical actions are taken because of the belief that their “true identity” cannot be achieved unless an amputation has taken place (Mueller, 2008). One victim, Oliver Sacks, describes his feelings on his condition as such:
“In that instant, that very first encounter, I knew not my leg. It was utterly strange, not-mine, unfamiliar. I gazed upon it with absolute non-recognition. The more I gazed at that cylinder of chalk, the more alien and incomprehensible it appeared to me. I could no longer feel it as mine, as part of me. It seemed to bear no relation whatever to me. It was absolutely not-me— and yet, impossibly, it was attached to me— and even more impossibly, continuous with me.” (Bayne & Levy, 2005)
The distressing and pestering impulses of the illness cause many issues in a person’s daily life. Many can stay busy and push it behind them, but studies show that 44 percent felt that BIID interfered with social functioning and other activities (Bayne & Levy, 2005). BIID truly is an “anatomical identity crisis” that leaves the sufferer greatly distressed (Mueller, 2008). It is often described as mismatch between the person’s body and how they experience their body (Bayne & Levy, 2005). Some researchers believe that BIID is neurologically based similar to BDD. One theory states that the disorder is caused by a “distortion or deletion in one of the map-like representations of the body in the cerebral cortex” (Mueller, 2008). Other claims with much less evidence think that BIID is related to BDD or that BIID is the result of a sexual fetish (Bayne & Levy, 2005). Neuroscientists from the University of California suggest that the parietal lobe may be damaged because of the patient’s denial of a part of their own body and the radical actions it provokes (Mueller, 2008). Despite these varying viewpoints, no cure, medications, or treatment has been found successful in BIID. Whether it is counseling, movement therapy, or cognitive behavior therapy, BIID maintains some hold on the patient. Ironically, no hospital will perform amputations on healthy limbs, despite that fact that all BIID patients thus far have been happy with the results of self-imposed amputations (Bayne & Levy, 2005). This leaves desperate patients searching for a willing surgeon or possibly taking matters into their own hands.
Similarly, BDD patients are found to take radical measures to satisfy inner body image cravings as well. While BIID sufferers covet amputees, BDD has been linked with people addicted to cosmetic surgery. Over fifteen percent of cosmetic surgery patients have been diagnosed with BDD and countless more may be undiscovered (Adato & Harrington, 2007). BDD sufferers use plastic surgery and cosmetic enhancements to attempt to appease their body image anxieties. Nearly all come back seriously disappointed with the results or develop a new area of concern. These cosmetic procedures rule many people’s lives and cause them to make decisions with poor judgment. This increasing phenomenon of beauty and the acceptance of multiple invasive procedures to fix the slightest detail is apparent elsewhere in the community as well. Dermatology and plastic surgery are among the most competitive for medical student residencies (Singer, 2008). This field has become increasingly popular with the growing acceptance of altering one’s body for beauty. Doctors in this field have better hours and substantially higher salaries. There are only 320 positions available around the country; there are only six open at Harvard which had 383 applicants (Singer, 2008).
The growing acceptance of the medical fields in appearance health is due to our culture’s weighted importance of physical presentation. And just because one has not been diagnosed with BDD doesn’t mean one isn’t unhealthily affected by these various influences. A twenty year old Australian woman underwent ten days of hospital treatments and therapy after severe complications and infections resulting from a Brazilian Bikini Wax (Dendle, 2007). She experienced fever, swelling, redness, a rash, and excruciating pain which prevented her from returning to work for twenty-one days. Six months later she attempted more hair removal and was again hospitalized. She recovered and despite her overwhelming ordeal, she was willing to carry out further hair removal (Dendle, 2007). The young woman her is only one of thousands that will stop at nothing to meet standards of attractiveness. This insistence on continued cosmetic procedures clearly illustrates society’s attitude that beauty must be obtained and at any cost. What makes it even more intriguing is the fact that she was never diagnosed with any sort of body image disorder. Opting for more cosmetic altercations regardless of the serious complications she faced is crazy. She had this self-destructive mind set without a mental condition or brain glitch.
The image disorders of BDD and BIID both deal with a mismatch between body and body image (Bayne & Levy, 2005). They each have similarities, yet only BIID is raises concern within the community. The amputee wannabe tendencies of BIID patients are considered to be crazy and a deep psychological issue. But BDD patients and their cosmetic altercations are an accepted part of society. These obsessions with beauty and imagined defects should be regarded as seriously as BIID. The causes of both of these body image disorders may still be uncertain, but even the potential of a “brain glitch” is not the sole culprit. These mental conditions only predispose a person to have severe tribulations in our egocentric culture, where even those of sound mind fall victim. The recent appearance and research of these body image disorders is steady warning, a forecast of a future storm. The dangers that this presents to our society could be disastrous. What is thought of as beautiful or a desirable body image and acceptable means to achieve these standards should be reevaluated.
The tyrant hold that beauty standards have now regulate more than just what shoes you wear or whether you make time for mascara in the morning. A new fashion slave has developed, and those imprisoned by its mindset are tortured through countless hours of mirror checking, self loathing, and fantasies of dramatic changes. The amount of time, money, and effort focused on societal beauty is ridiculous. The BDD afflicted Steve underwent thirty-seven cosmetic procedures in the course of twenty years costing him $250,000 (Adato & Harrington, 2007). This included seven liposuctions and ten mouth implants. BDD should be considered a serious disorder and be a wakeup call for radical changes in how beauty is portrayed and valued. Robert’s sixty plus year fight with BIID should be seen as a similar battle in the body image world. BIID and BDD have many similarities and associations. The view that BIID is crazy reinforces the point that BDD is just as bizarre and not normal. Opting for 37 cosmetic procedures should be seen in the same category as the belief that one’s arm is not your own. The American beauty has become a being suffering from a mental issue that prevents him or her from living the original American dream. This dream lifestyle is not possible if one is unable to leave the house or overcome with thoughts of surgery. These beauty standards have made us blind to crazy driven people who seriously need help.

Works Cited
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