Imagined ugliness the new malady

We have all watched the metamorphosis of Michael Jackson. In pursuit of perfection, he has had more than 30 cosmetic surgery operations, changed his hair and bleached his skin beyond repair.

We have all watched the metamorphosis of Michael Jackson. In pursuit of perfection, he has had more than 30 cosmetic surgery operations, changed his hair and bleached his skin beyond repair.

His former wife, Lisa Marie Presley, said he never takes his make-up off, even in bed.

Studies suggest that people who hate themselves suffer from a condition called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

BDD is thought to be associated with a chemical imbalance in the brain, which might be genetically based. It is sometimes referred to as "imagined ugliness".

People suffering from this condition are usually extremely critical of their physique or self-image, though there might be no noticeable disfigurement or defect.

Nonkululeko Mathe, a clinical psychologist in East London, said people with BDD are incapable of seeing how they really look and wrongly believe that some feature of their body is hideously ugly. People with this disorder might obsessively check themselves in mirrors or avoid places with many mirrors, such as restaurants, she said.

This condition sometimes leads to depression, anxiety and, at worst, suicide. Those prone to this condition are young women and young boys.

"Young women have been bombarded with images of impossibly perfect girls in magazines, advertising and local soap operas like Generations. This exposure has contributed to the recent steep rise in eating disorders.

"In this fast-paced, celebrity-worshipping world of plumped-up lips, tummy-tucks and botox-injecting junkies image is everything.

"Bulimia and anorexia are at an all-time high in South Africa. Negative body image is becoming a serious problem for young people. In small doses, it causes low self-esteem; in larger doses it can lead to anxiety, clinical depression and eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia."

Mathe said that the children from the upper socioeconomic class are more at risk because they come from families with high expectations.

"This does not only affect young women. I have counselled young rugby players who are abusing diet pills and other substances, such as amphetamines, anabolic steroids, and muscle- building supplements to make their bodies look like their rugby idols."

Treatment

Treatment includes the drugs sertaline or fluoxetine combined with psychotherapy.

What can women do to avoid the trap of negative body image and eating disorders?

l Appreciate how your body works and keep it going strong with regular exercise.

l Stop playing mind games about food.

l Learn the basics of exercise and nutrition, and set realistic goals for yourself.

l Realistically view your genetic shape.

l Identify negative thoughts about your body image and challenge them with positive affirmations.

l Look at your self-esteem holistically. Think about what is truly important to you.

l Be honest with yourself.

l Realise that your genes have programmed you to have a certain body type. Not every woman can or should be model thin, but we can all strive to be fit and strong.

l Find your own standard of beauty. - fabulousfoods.com

X