Hair Loss and Body Dysmorphic Disorder

My first blog for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 is on my experiences of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and hair loss.

In 2013 researchers found hair loss could even lead to exaggerated feelings of ugliness and, in the worst cases, trigger BDD, where sufferers experience acute anxiety about their looks. Doctors found that the ‘enormous emotional burden’ of going bald could lead in some cases to low self-confidence, mental disorders and even impaired quality of life. In fact some have said those with BDD, hair loss second most common issue, with further suggestion that it affects men more than women, but I am uncertain how true this is as I felt devoid of any femininity for many years due to my own hair loss. Much of the media reporting has been on men too, but to me this just adds to the taboo of female hair loss.

With all the twisted images and lies that the media (printed and social), it is no wonder we all feel bad about our appearances , and judge them against them. Many think of eating disorders with regard to BDD, but in my case it was loosing my hair completely over twenty five years ago. Hair loss is not just a cosmetic issue, hair transplants are neither cheap or for everyone, and can have far reaching consequences – and an underlying impact on well-being.

As well as hair loss, I struggled with self identity, bullying and abuse adding to the deadly cocktail that left me feeling like a freak and ogre. I was offered no psychological help at any stage with the trauma of dealing with being 13 (I am almost 41 now) and having no hair left on my body made me wish I actually had cancer as perhaps people might understand more, or I would have had offers of such help. My hair will probably never fully grow back, it did once but fell out again a year later, and almost twice but stress kicked in. I will always remember one little boy pointing at me, and asking if I had holes in my head when he saw patches, all I could do was run away and cry.

Being laughed at by my peers at school made me petrified to spend a few days away on a school trip with them…would they try to steal my wig in the night as some would find it funny? I would not have put it past them, but I kept it on all the time and cried myself to sleep each day. I did not want to be there; I even claimed home sickness to my teachers, when in reality home wasn’t where I wanted to be either. I was suicidal and rather be dead. By the time I did escape to university, I was so scared to be social as thought it might come off, and be laughed at anew by those I lived or studied with.

I have never had sexual attraction or a sex drive, I identify as asexual, which in turn was maybe a blessing in disguise. Nobody was attracted to me, or so I felt, so perhaps it was a good thing as how would I explain my hair loss. I struggled with every day life in terms of knowing who I was, self love, and identity as to me I was always in my narcissistic mother’s shadow and hair loss robbed me of any chance to fight back with individuality. I was so sure everyone knew I was wearing a wig, pointing and laughing at me in the street, or gossiping behind my back.

It took my love of photography to start the fight back, and win the war against my BDD. Photographs as I said at the start can be manipulated, but start off by someone taking them, and as someone who hated others taking my image I think taking them myself was equally about having that control of the image. Every time a family member took one of me my eyes are shut, I am blind in one eye and highly sensitive to light, so my eyes shut with sunshine to flashes, but he would routinely humiliate me having my eyes shut to laughing at me refusing to have him take any pictures of me. When your mind already says you’re a freakish ogre, you do not need this added to the cocktail. So turning the camera on me allowed me to see me, the raw bare faced image that the camera took. Over years, and selfies became a thing, I saw myself develop like an old film photograph. Now images of me by me are like the others I take, they are snapshots in time, which I do not manipulate as would not be truly me. Recently a student at work, who was working of self esteem, had to write something positive about everyone – her’s to me was ‘different and talented’ (I had to resist giving her a big hug).

I have learnt that my body is a shell; people see an outer layer but only as we let them closer do they see the different layers that make us who we are, with very few seeing our skeleton being. I may have very judgemental people in my family, but I have never been one except of my own self. BDD can still try crawl back, but like the black dog that is my depression, this dog’s begging will not result in treats! Ignoring those, or removing them completely, that bring us harm is just as important to do with ourselves – cutting out the toxicity we have for ourselves.

© Fi S. J. Brown

 

 

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Will you join me?

In a world that the visual image has been heavily manipulated and spun almost as much as the written word how do we know what we see is real and the people in them actually exist in the form we see them in any shape or form? Praising those that exemplify the fake a la Kim Kardashian to Cheryl (whatever her surname is right now) and putting them on pedestals of what 21st century beauty should aspire to be. In contrast calling someone brave for their attempts to step away from it as though they are being daring for to go without make up to choosing not to have Botox in their lips by the age of 22. Personally I find it ridiculous that we let someone’s manipulated image show us what we should look like and aspire to be as in reality nobody can look as they’re shown to be without deception to surgery. Some may say it is not their fault but sadly the golden carrot of money is often enough to make many follow blindly like a sheep or dance like a puppet on stage.

We do not need designer clothing but clothing that is made fairly for those making them under often horrific conditions to the consumer that will wear them. Fashion magazines and websites are built on insecurities that we all naturally feel and urge us to change with the seasons and years but as we all realise soon enough they come round again at least twice or thrice in our lifetimes! Fake tans to skin bleaching almost make us feel bad for our natural skin tone and heritage yet why should it, just look how stupid racism is and judging another based on their physical form of family history. Instagram or Snapchat filters for a bit of fun or help us hide behind masks as feel we fit in better so won’t be judged or laughed at…and even worse perhaps encourage more likes on social media. These likes that eat in to our self esteem that we must have so many likes in order to feel pretty or approved of by others; we are sugar coating our lives with unnecessary filters.

How can we learn that the imperfections we see in the mirror or talk to us in our heads are not things to air brush or filter away? Differences are seen as flaws not part of what makes us the unique person we are and the word ‘normal’ used for humans when there is no normal or average human being! There is no life Photoshop to change what we do not like about ourselves and lives, although I am sure we have all seen others try rewrite their history. Our individualism is under attack as now rather look and act like our favourite celebrities than the real us. However, as I said before these people are paid to edited to look the way they do to us, and make us feel bad over the slightest of things. Can we keep living in a world so fake and ultimately lose our individualism? I do not think so. So it is time to start the fight back, I refuse to bow down to someone’s manipulated idea of how a human being should be. Will you join me?

© Fi S. J. Brown

I am what I am (a.k.a Self Portrait 2018)

Five years ago I posted the photograph below with the words written upon it describing my journey recovering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), self-hate, and low self-esteem. Today things are very different and this entry describes how things are today. If I am honest I still did not think I could ever reach the point of body and self positivism as the negative hung around like a bad smell I could not get rid of. Looking at old photographs I can see and feel my pain with part of me wishing I had the keys to a time machine to reassure myself but know I probably would not believe myself or recognise the person as me. The ogre that once lived in my head has been truly vanquished, such are the incredible healing properties of self-acceptance and happiness. Actually, I thought I was not allowed to be happy as was meant for others and not for me. Now I realise happiness takes many forms, and I have the right to that as much as anyone else on this planet.

In an age when judgement is made so much on our physical form it makes me still at question if I fit in. Judging on physical form deeply saddens me as know there is so much to us than our shell of many colours. To those that think looks are everything consider the following: when you see an iceberg you only ever see the top of it not what it actually looks like in physical form (this is like judging someone from the clothes you see them in and only desiring the slimmest of figures); equally consider a swan that as a child looks very ordinary but becomes a beautiful and majestic bird (this is akin to judging someone based on their past alone, not who they are in the present and what they may have overcome); and finally consider if the music remained only oral and never visual with those you judge their music based on their sex appeal you could never see (this is like basing your attraction on a walking puppet controlled by someone unseen where nothing is actually real).

I know I am not an ogre but I am equally not a Hollywood A-list celebrity, but then again I would rather be the ogre than the Hollywood star! Accepting me as me has been far harder than academic study; although on saying that my PhD was one of the greatest stresses of my life to date. I am me, not the love child of Frankenstein’s monster and the Hunchback of Notre Dame as I used to think. Which was replaced with Pablo Picasso’s ‘Woman in Hat and Fur Collar’ for a bit as I attempted to readjust the mental image in my head. This was followed by a patchwork doll made up of patches that represented all the different things that make me, me, and stitched together with love from those that are special in my life. However, now I see the same image others see in my photographs and smile like I never thought I could, it used to physically hurt my face for starters. If I was to have any other visual of me it is of a Matryoshka doll, because there is more to learn about me even when you think you know me well I will always surprise you with another layer to what makes me the uniquely beautiful human being I am.

© Fi S. J. Brown

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