With awareness of Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs) beginning to gain traction across the world, it is important to discuss how disorders such as dermatillomania affects a person’s quality of life. From social isolation to embarrassment of marks, most people who compulsively pick at their skin keep it a secret so that they won’t be judged or shunned by friends, family, coworkers, and the rest of the world.
One way awareness has been raised has been through the unfortunate rise of cyst- breaking videos available online. Dr. Sandra Lee (aka “Dr. Pimple Popper”), has become prolific in sharing graphic videos from her dermatological practice. With millions of views on her channel and videos, why are people watching these videos? Do they all have dermatillomania to a varying degree?
To the latter question: No. Many people are fascinated with the human body, what it is capable of, and the things that can go “wrong” with it. Dermatillomania is a condition that causes a person to pick or scratch at one’s own body compulsively, with negative consequences coming from failed attempts of being able to stop the behavior. Others watch them as a guilty pleasure- deriving some enjoyment from these videos.
Not all people with dermatillomania like these videos. Some find them (myself included) cringe-worthy while others find that they help with their own urges. Instead of getting full relief from picking at oneself, a person who is partial to these clips can instead turn one on and receive the stimulation by watching someone else go through the motions of picking. That, or be triggered to find one imperfect mark on themselves to replicate.
It can also set a harmful precedent to encourage breaking zits or fixating on a minefield of blackheads, which is where many pickers have problems with, cognitively. Seeing others engaging in these behaviors in an encouraged way (through virality and viewer’s reactions) on camera can normalize obsessive picking behaviors. While most people in the world pick at their skin occasionally for the sake of self-grooming, people with dermatillomania find it nearly impossible to stop picking on their own.
The videography section of Dr. Lee’s website is designed to grab attention in the ways that porno pop- ups do. It’s marketed in an edgy, fun, and in-your-face way, which goes along with how she wants her channel to be received by the public. Maybe I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with her sharing her videos of her profession online had she not discussed dermatillomania in what could be perceived, as an interchangeable obsession. Instead, when these videos are shared and “dermatillomania” is mixed into the conversation irresponsibly, our struggles can appear superficial.
The emotional pitfalls of BFRBs are serious and should not be minimized through sensationalized videos meant to evoke strong emotions. The shock factor these videos have given the public has been coupled with a tinted view of what dermatillomania is. Based on the success of Dr. Lee’s sensationalized videos, her brand of awareness will reach further than the current literature and resources on this disorder will to educate about this topic. The question is, do we want our condition to be shared around the world through reputable sources or exploitative means?
Check out the five star documentary Scars of Shame and Angela’s ground- breaking memoir FOREVER MARKED: A Dermatillomania Diary. Like Angela on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, and join her on Tumblr.
EDIT: Since the publishing of this article, Dr. Sandra Lee has made many attempts (including this) to raise awareness about BFRBs. I am unsure of whether or not she has seen this but I am happy to see that she is using her platform to talk openly about BFRBs without furthering stigma toward our community.