Dr. Phil’s Distorted Beauty

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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