Coping with a disorder

FAMU student Mariah Porter. Photo courtesy: Lyneisha Lewis

Growing up in tiny Gretna, a half-hour west of Tallahassee with a population
under 1,500, 21-year-old Mariah Porter struggled at a young age. In middle school, she
wanted to grow like the other girls in her grade.

She was small, and she would ask her mother to buy her push-up bras and
tighter school clothing to show off her curves to fit in with her classmates.

“I knew mentally that I still didn’t have the body, so I decided to conduct self-
injurious behaviors because I was depressed about it,” Porter said.

Porter suffered from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). It is a mental health
condition in which you can’t get your mind off one or your perceived imperfections.
People suffering from BDD face other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, eating
disorders and emotional distress

According to the Iranian Journal of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, BDD
was seen in 16% of psychiatric patients and 6.3% of dermatology patients in clinical
settings. However, nonclinical investigations (including college students) revealed an
incidence rate ranging from 1.3% to 5.8%.

Porter was diagnosed with stage 3 cancer at age 19. Fluctuation with weight is
very common among individuals with cancer.
Porter said that being a full-time student at Florida A&M University was
challenging, especially with her appearance.

“The medicine made me swell up bad, and those days were the worst because
I get reminded of how much I struggled to love my body when I was bigger,” she said.

Chante Anderson, a 22-year-old from Fort Lauderdale,  struggled with loving
and accepting her appearance. She suffered from BDD but felt like her mother was
against her with her appearance.

“Growing up, my mother would try to put me in bigger clothing to hide my body. I would
feel like she would hide me as a part of protection from people’s words towards her little
one who is twice her size for her age,” Anderson said.

BDD most commonly manifests itself in adolescence, and research shows that
it affects men and women almost equally. BDD affects roughly 2.5% of males and 2.2%
of females in the United States. BDD is most common in teenagers aged 12 to 13.
(American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Being of Caribbean descent, Anderson faced criticism from her mother and
family compared to her twin sisters. This comparison led her to try being just like her

“My mother would compare me to my twin sisters; when we were younger, they
were chubby just like me, but they grew out of theirs. I never did. So that made me feel
less than compared to them about my appearance,” Anderson said.

Being a full-time student with BDD, Anderson had a hard time making friends.
Walking on campus, Anderson would think people could read her mind, hearing and
seeing how she felt about her appearance.

“I felt out of place and like people were constantly negatively looking at me
because of my physical appearance. I stayed to myself a lot and didn’t try to make
friends unless people spoke to me first,” Anderson said.

Many people suffering from BDD turn to cosmetic surgery or dermatological
treatment to help accept their appearance. Altering one’s appearance doesn’t always
leave the person satisfied with the procedure. Sometimes it makes them feel even
worse getting anything done.

BDD is a common disorder, and a few celebrities, such as Billie Eilish, Shirley
Mason, Robert Pattison and Reid Ewing, struggle with BDD.

According to the  International OCD Foundation, cognitive behavioral therapy
is frequently used to treat body dysmorphic disorder. Cognitive behavioral treatment for
body dysmorphic disorder focuses on understanding how negative thoughts and
emotional reactions persist over time. Learning strategies to deal with impulsiveness
might help lessen mirror checking, reduce social avoidance, and boost involvement with
nutritional support.