'Imagined ugliness syndrome' affecting teens, says expert
The condition usually develops in adolescence, a time when people are generally most sensitive about their appearance, and can affect both men and women, making sufferers excessively self-conscious.
Many people feel unhappy or insecure about their physical appearance at some point in their lives. However, individuals can become obsessed with the way that they look and worry excessively about small, or imagined, flaws in their appearance leading to a little-known illness called Body Dysmorphia.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is estimated to affect one in 50 people and is a disabling preoccupation with perceived defects. The condition usually develops in adolescence, a time when people are generally most sensitive about their appearance, and can affect both men and women, making sufferers excessively self-conscious.
Imane Bougueffa, a counsellor at The Priory Wellbeing Centre in Dubai, specialises in eating and behavioural disorders. She recognises BDD is a relatively new phenomenon in the UAE. "For many with BDD, their appearance is the only currency in which they can judge their value or worth. Obvious symptoms can include patients obsessively checking their appearance in the mirror, or constantly applying make-up and grooming themselves," she said.
"Overly focusing on perceived flaws such as facial features, skin, hair, height and weight can often lead patients to undergo needless cosmetic procedures."
Imane said that the impact of BDD on a patient's quality of life can be severe. "With a tendency to withdraw from social situations and events, and suffering from extremely low self-esteem, some individuals end up with lives so limited that they effectively become housebound."
She also said that many patients are single or divorced because they find it difficult to form or maintain relationships. Feelings of jealousy and anxiety are rife, and with an almost constant need for reassurance and approval from others, they are unable to focus on anything except their perceived imperfections.
"The nature of BDD means family and friends can often feel ill-equipped to support the patient, as they see nothing out of the ordinary and so often fail to provide adequate support or fully grasp the extent of distress. It's therefore crucial that patients seek professional help as early as possible, to prevent such thoughts and anxieties becoming deep-rooted."
BDD is commonly referred to as "Imagined Ugliness Syndrome" which isn't particularly helpful as "ugliness" is very real to the individual concerned and does not reflect the stress and anxiety that BDD can cause.
"Many people with BBD fail to seek help, or do so at a much later stage because they are worried how others will pass judgement and do not want to be labelled as simply vain or narcissistic," she said.
"The condition is incredibly misunderstood, and more funding is needed for research, not just in the UAE but globally. Figures show that one in 330 people commit suicide each year because of their BDD, so it is important to raise awareness of the condition and highlight the potential for successful treatment," Imane adds.
Social media and bullying have frequently been cited as a contributory factor in influencing body image. A recent survey showed that teenagers spend over an hour a day using social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
In recent years, the "selfie" has become a social media phenomenon with smartphones making it easier to take daily snaps of yourself. A survey showed that 16-25 year olds spend on average 16 minutes and seven attempts to take the perfect selfie.
Imane added: "There is a fine line between being unhappy with a certain aspect of your appearance and developing BDD. But, I strongly believe social media, in particular Instagram, has a huge part to play in projecting and 'normalising' unrealistic body images and the perception that social acceptance is dependent on this. BDD patients just want to fit in with what they see, which is hugely dangerous."
Many people who suffer from BDD try to alter perceived defects with frequent and repetitive cosmetic surgery. However, fewer than 10 per cent of BDD patients will be satisfied with the results of the surgery, and their anxieties are often transferred to another aspect of their appearance. It is thought that around 15 per cent of people seeking plastic surgery have BDD
"BDD and cosmetic surgery are intrinsically linked. Many of the patients I see with BDD have undergone cosmetic procedures, as they view it as a way of 'fixing' adverse feelings of self-evaluation and distress. Yet, it's clear that one body fixation is nearly always replaced by another, and so develops a never-ending cycle of short-lived relief followed by more unnecessary procedures."
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