Dr. Phil’s Distorted Beauty

Perhaps my pleas have finally been heard. I have contacted the Dr. Phil show on numerous occasions: through YouTube over 5 years ago, through the show’s website, and even in a recent blog post asking for them to bring awareness to Dermatillomania. While my direct requests have never been answered, I would like to think that my messages along with the messages of other skin pickers gave the Dr. Phil show a push to bring this issue to light.

Yesterday I turned on the tube to see what Dr. Phil was about and was interested, so I kept the channel on and did my usual surfing around the net simultaneously. Once commercial time hit, I saw a preview for today’s episode about Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)… but it was left very ambiguous in its description of a young woman who hates what she looks like because of what she has done to her face…

Immediately I went on a crusade to find out if my wishes have come true, and I was pleasantly surprised. But then came the severe anxiety that lasted for the 24 hours up until this episode, “Distorted Beauty“, aired. Then, I braced myself to see if all of the work that TLC, myself, and many others have done to raise awareness about compulsive skin picking has been negated by one episode of exploitation or if it contributed to the cause tactfully.

This episode consisted of two young women who have Body Dysmorphia- April, 21, and Meghan, 15. April is the one who “says that for the last 11 years, she’s spent countless hours every day compulsively picking at her skin – so much so that she believes she’s developed scoliosis from sitting hunched forward on her bathroom sink. She says her appearance causes her endless shame and embarrassment, and she admits to going to great lengths to hide the blemishes and scars that she says now cover her face.

I understand this all too well, as I’ve suffered chronic back problems since I was a young teen… a little before my picking “got out of control”. This past October my back finally gave in to the years of pain and I am now unable to get a job because I need to be able to relieve my back pain to some degree; more about this an upcoming entry. I have been known to sit on my own bathroom sink for 8 hours at a time picking, as seen in the trailer for Scars of Shame.

As I type this, I am haunted by the first segment of the show in particular. The show took a peculiar turn from its typical format by not showing a video clip- instead Dr. Phil spoke of April’s extensive 5 page letter to the show pleading for help for what she does to herself. She is me at my worst, hearing everything she struggled with because of the appearance of her skin from picking. Instead of taking the opportunity to address Dermatillomania or any other terms describing what she does to her skin, Dr. Phil called it Body Dysmorphia (usually named Body Dysmorphic Disorder or BDD, in short). I don’t quite know if she has BDD because she seems alright with herself minus the skin picking… me, to a tea. When the flaws are real, created by us, the shame is what prevents us from seeing our true selves.

Not all people who pick their skin have BDD as skin picking is seen as a symptom of BDD because of how people who pick may do so because of “perceived flaws”. At one point I was given this diagnosis but it didn’t make sense to me because I hated the scars, yet didn’t know what I looked like beneath them. Perhaps that is a trait of BDD because I couldn’t see myself past my scars- all I saw was a monster and it was ultimately what lead me to a serious suicide attempt. If I technically had BDD, it was caused by the skin picking and was not just a symptom of it.

I’m still shell-shocked by her answers to his questions, her demeanor… she is me, and you can see the striking parallels of thoughts by reading  FOREVER MARKED. I can’t stress it enough- April is me and I am completely shaken to the core. I just want to reach out and tell her that there is a lot of hope and that there are more specific resources to address her skin picking. When I thought of suicide to end the pain, I couldn’t imagine being asked to take off my makeup on national television (while having suicidal ideations) so I hope there aren’t fatal repercussions from her doing this. This part of her segment concerned me and seemed to be an over-dramatic tactic. I would LOVE to have the brain navigation that was offered to her… apparently with the highest remission state for this condition? Never have I heard of this in my research on the disorder nor have I heard TLC suggest it- nowhere was it mentioned, to my knowledge, at their 2011 conference at any workshop. Today, January 23rd, my picking has caused my face a lot of damage and I have been “in hiding” in days until it clears up but this is no different than when it gets bad… I’ve just gotten used to it as something I have to do.

This episode is a great start to creating awareness, to get the word out… but sadly it wasn’t addressed as an issue of its own. Maybe she has OCD that fueled the disorder, an anxiety disorder… it’s not cut and dry and I believe research will develop in time to expose the types of Dermatillomania that are out there. If this entry is scattered, not completely coherent, forgive me because I have NEVER seen anyone on television open and candid about picking at their skin. It’s inspiring because I need someone to represent it, carry that awareness for me in a national forum; I still need the help, I need someone to look up to for our current struggle.

Overall, the episode was done with class, despite a few disappointments- but our awareness hasn’t been thrown backward. This episode successfully showed the despairing nature of this disorder; and I do appreciate how Dr. Phil says something at the end along the lines of, “It doesn’t matter how you label it- OCD, anxiety, depression- it still is a vicious cycle”. Seeing his Facebook fan page comments is appalling because of the ignorance about this disorder and people’s inability to experience empathy; however, I AM pleased that the show got the message across that her skin picking was beyond her control and no one has commented saying that she can stop at any time. It’s time to “Make Some Noise” and educate others on the issue at hand in the first segment.

Her skin may not be as damaged as many of ours is, but something as seemingly minor as the imperfect skin tones that were created by her own hands is something anyone would exaggerate in their minds- eye. We also do not know what marks she has left on her body since she was covered up well with her attire and the lighting could have easily white-washed the imperfections she had. Maybe she has BDD but Dr. Phil never said who clinically diagnosed her; it’s very possible that she has the combination of Dermatillomania with BDD, but I believe from her reactions that she will not find relief if the brain mapping treatment is used only for her BDD because she is stuck in the skin picking cycle that is increasing all other issues. The show’s main focus was that she picked her skin, but it wasn’t much of a problem because it only made her feel ugly… and we know it’s a little more complicated than that.

Giving people the awareness today that they aren’t alone is important, but I do wish the condition was addressed correctly to give viewers the opportunity to learn and connect with the rest of us; perhaps it wasn’t because the DSM 5 has yet to announce the official diagnostic name for our condition? Awareness isn’t enough, but it’s a start. Acceptance and proper help is the next step in creating avenues for healing.

Thank you, Dr. Phil. It’s a start.

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  • Kellie

    What can I do to help?

  • Nora

    Unfortunately, this show isn’t running in Croatia. When you start analyzing the differences between those disorders you realize how complex the psychology is. This disorder is quite new to the world but I’m sure someday it will be properly addressed.
    You mentioned scoliosis. Unfortunately (even though, luckily for me), I suffered scoliosis for 9 years until I went to operation when I was 11. It was quite a big one and my spine isn’t still completely right but at least it’s all tighten with a metal rod. My hours of skin picking are being spent standing in front of the mirror so I don’t have backaches. But, having those too makes dermatillomania more serious problem.
    Thanks for the review! =)

    • Thank you, Nora. I will be uploading the clip from episode about April’s skin picking and linking it in this very blog post for people who haven’t had the chance to watch it and make their own conclusions. I would love to hear your input on the episode when it’s done! 🙂

  • Heather

    As a psych student, with a Masters degree, I would agree that this girl has BDD as well as CSP. When they took her make-up off, I, as everyone else, saw no severe scarring or dark spots on her face, but she honestly believes her scars are hideous, obvious, and that they cover he whole face. Notice she had difficulty pinpointing scars when asked. She seemed to point in general areas. I do not want to discount her struggle with CSP, she obviously struggles with that as well, but the BDD makes her see herself as much more damaged than she actually is in reality.
    I am glad the topic was introduced to the general public, but I am also glad they featured this young woman as a BDD sufferer, rather than a CSP sufferer, because I fear that people would get the wrong idea about CSP from seeing someone who does not appear to be scarred from it. The damage she thinks she has is what many with CSP actually have, and live with, and try to hide daily. While I think the two can go together, as April demonstrates, someone who has severely damaged themselves through CSP can also have a fully realistic view of the scarring resulting from it, and have the same feelings April does. Thank you for sharing this.

    • I’m not quite sure I agree anymore, based on April’s statement after the show aired. It is problematic to be picking 15 hours a week to the point that sitting on the counter creates issues in the spine. Along with her interpretation on the video, it’s bang on to feelings I had (and still have at times)… even if her scars aren’t as prominent as many of ours. It’s difficult to tell with extreme lighting that is meant to blow out imperfections. I guess hearing her perspective is important before drawing conclusions to a 20 minute segment (which I had the same view on until I read this from her):

      “I cant help but comment here because, well, I was the person on the show. To make it clear, I did NOT come on the show to complain about my looks and give off a “poor me, I hate myself” attitude. The show of course, turned my whole problem, which is compulsive skin picking, into a segment about Body Dismorphic Disorder and really only focused on the physical aspect of it all, not the mental. Personally, I don’t think BDD has CAUSED my picking, but that my picking has caused BDD. I am depressed and insecure BECAUSE of my struggle with picking, not because I wouldn’t be happy with myself had I never picked.

      After 11 years of picking at your skin and constantly trying to stop, you cant help but think that others will only look at the damage you have done to yourself. I came on the show to get psychological help to stop my cycle of PICKING, not to fix the way I feel about myself. I wanted help to stop picking at my face EVERY time I saw my reflection in a mirror. I could just be going to get a kleenex out of the bathroom and I am tempted, and usually do, pick. I wrote to Dr. Phil to help me lead a normal life. A “normal” 21-year-old does not sit on his/her bathroom counter for hours on end, wasting valuable study time, tearing apart their face, and then breaking down and crying endlessly because they couldn’t control themselves and they are so ashamed and disappointed. ESPECIALLY DAILY, FOR 11 YEARS.

      Please, imagine yourself doing this every single day of your life for the past 11 years. It is mentally, physically, and emotionally draining, and I could not do it anymore, which is why I wrote my letter to the show. For those who don’t understand, if you were to struggle with this particular disorder for ANY amount of time, I’m sure you would have given up a long time ago. The only way I can describe this vicious cycle is that it’s like an addiction to a drug. It is negative people like many of you that cause people to hide their problems, just as I did and millions of other people still do. I am no longer afraid. Those who are negative simply do not understand and I can understand that. I can not understand the mind of a murderer, because I am not one, just as you can not understand me, because you don’t suffer from what I suffer with. I am surely not narcissistic and I do NOT need to develop gratitude.

      I have the best family in the world who works their asses off to put me through a good school, the best of friends, the most supportive and motivating boyfriend, who all of which are happy and healthy and I could ask for nothing more in my life. Yes, MILLIONS (millions might even be an understatement) of other people have much, MUCH, worse things to deal with. But for me, this is MY biggest problem, and I will not hold back from getting help just because people have it worse than me. We all have a responsibility to take care of ourselves, and that is just what I am doing. For a 21-year-old girl, I sure seem to have a much better outlook on things than most of those who posted negative comments, so I can only hope and pray that you someday show some empathy for people who struggle with things that you cannot relate to, instead of criticizing them. I also went on the show to bright light to this situation.

      No one wants to talk about this disorder because of the immeasurable shame and guilt, but I felt the need to do this, not only for myself, but for others. I myself am a psychology major, and I can only hope that my viewing on the show will reach out to those who need it most. I plan to research and study this disorder throughout grad school, and I can only hope that I can turn all of my hard work into something that can help others. Thank you all SO much for the support and I pray for those of you who are struggling. xoxo”

    • April

      Hi Heather,
      Do you or have you ever PERSONALLY suffered with BDD or CSP? Also, I did not point to specific spots on my face because I did not want to directly point them out to people so they would then notice them.

  • Thank you for posting the episode, Angela. I wouldn’t have seen it otherwise. I agree with Heather that April must have BDD, because she thought she was completely scarred, yet I could barely tell the difference between her face with makeup and without. I too have never heard of this “brain navigation” treatment. If these clinicians have used it successfully for skin picking, they have not published it in any science journals. I keep up with the research, and there has been no such thing. Either he’s talking about its use for something similar (OCD?), or they’ve found it successful for skin picking but haven’t published it (or else someone’s making it up). If you look at his webpage about the show, there is a special thanks and a link to a psychoneuroplasticity (PNP) center – presumably that’s who’s agreed to treat her. Their website’s pretty vague as to exactly what the method is, some kind of biofeedback, and they write nothing about skin picking or BDD.

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  • Teresa

    I too wondered for years what and why I was doing to my legs, back, and ultimately face. Researching on the web gave me a name for the disorder but nothing or no one tells us how to stop. I sympathize with all of you out there with dermatillomania.

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  • RuthAnna

    Having lived with this issue for 55 years, the layering of the scaring is beyond comprehension. I have more scars then clear skin but from the neck down. I have had more pick sites than could be counted at any given time. The shame and self imposed withdrawal is almost beyond trying to explain to someone else. People are lined up to offer compassion, empathy and understanding if some tragic event leaves one scared…. but a self induced battlefield that leaves foxholes and discolorations over every square inch of oneself, that also layers internal, mental, emotional scars…. is not something that most people take the time to offer support of, let alone understanding.
    Just Stop, Let It Go, Get Over It, Are you contagious?, Is it like herpes?, is it like leprosy?, Oh, the things people say without thinking! The recoils of disgust, and even fear….. Shame? Yes, and just horrendous isolation because even if a couple may know, they dont understand. You are in this alone, and due to the visible damage you keep yourself alone…even in a room full of people, you never get to close. What are we to do when someone, especially someone we care for, really sees and is so horrified and repulsed? Why chance that pain on top of everything else? And of those that see and are around… its the only way they know us to be. Children, partner, spouse, if they are still around it is just the way they have always known you to be… they dont like it, dont understand it, but they get good at looking past it and pretend it isnt an elephant in the room. But its like knowing your son’s chronic smoking is taking years off his life, he coughs a lot, cant keep weight on, doesnt look right but he just cant quit…. no matter how bad he knows it is. Habit, Addiction, or Disease? Until they come with answers and solutions, what good are questions and names? Right, we need more exposure, visibility, awareness, and involvement by those who suffer and the medical community. If I knew how to help I would. Shouldnt have coped with this for all these decades for nothing….

  • Elizabeth Dorney

    i have a retired military boyfriend that suffers from neurotic skin picking but i would like to have some kind of treatment for him like ta topic solution. H e is so sweet and nice and i dont like him to suffer with him and a doctor said it was mental. but i know that is not the case. He needs a topical treatment that will get rid of these sore like sores he has had since 1995. He doesn’t even wear shorts or short sleeves even in the summer time. I want him to be content and happy when he can wear anything and not have to worry about people staring at him. please let me know if he can use some kind of topical treatment that will help get rid or at least help heal with what is going on now. thanks.