Imagine staring into the mirror at your face for hours to pick apart its every feature. Imagine shying away from people, afraid they’ll look at you. Or hating your looks so much that you run to one plastic surgeon after another, pleading when them to fix your ugly flaws. That’s the struggle Reid Ewing suffered through with an illness called Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
Michael Jackson may have been the most famous sufferer, although he was only diagnosed in theory, according to The Washington Post. Now, Ewing, 27, who played Dylan on Modern Family, has come forward to share his story in an essay for The Huffington Post.
His story began at only 19 when he had just moved to Los Angeles; “I had very few, if any, friends. I’d sit alone in my apartment and take pictures of myself from every angle, analyzing every feature.” After these hours-long sessions of self-hate, Ewing would close with the mantra, “No one is allowed to be this ugly.”
Ewing apparently did this for a few years before he finally decided to go under the knife, and Reid said he fully believed his first procedure would turn him into Brad Pitt. He was wrong. In 2008 and still only 19, he told a plastic surgeon that he wanted surgery because he was an actor. The doctor agreed and gave Ewing cheek implants that sent him into post-surgery hiding and ended up caving in his cheeks like a corpse.
The vicious cycle had begun. More than half of all body dysmorphia sufferers try to fix their problems with cosmetic surgery, but they are often dissatisfied with the results, and only about nine percent reported their surgeries alleviated their symptoms.
For Reid, each surgery created another problem.
“For the next couple of years, I would get several more procedures with two other doctors. Each procedure would cause a new problem that I would have to fix with another procedure. Surgery may not be as expensive as you would think. The new business model for cosmetic surgeons is to charge less and get more people in and out. I used the money I saved from acting and then borrowed from my parents and grandmother.”
One doctor had two lawsuits pending when he gave Ewing a botched chin implant that he could move under his skin from one side of his face to the other. This continued until 2012 when Ewing was 24, and he finally admitted that surgery wasn’t the answer to his problems.
“All the isolation, secrecy, depression, and self-hate became too much to bear,” Reid wrote, deciding instead to seek out a psychological solution.
Looking back on those dark years, Reid is now angry that his doctors never discerned whether his desire for surgery was spurned by a mental disorder. They never learned about Reid’s eating disorder or the family history of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and they didn’t seem concerned about his depression.
Plastic surgeon Lisa Ishii is trying to convince her colleagues to refuse to operate on people with body dysmorphia. When someone comes to her to inquire about plastic surgery, she uses a questionnaire to figure out if the potential patient has the disorder because the knife isn’t the solution. Cognitive behavior therapy is a much more appropriate treatment for the disorder.
The Post wrote that the disorder is “to grooming what anorexia is to dieting — an anxiety that has become all-consuming, a preoccupation that ruins a life.” It isn’t a product of the modern era and Photoshopped magazine spreads. History is rife with people purporting to hate their bodies, like Ewing, but it’s still not well understood despite being pretty common. About one in 50 people have the illness.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder could be caused by genetic predisposition, combined with trauma and social pressure. The disease could also be caused by abnormalities in the visual processing centers of the brain that makes sufferers focus on tiny details instead of the big picture. Men and women suffer from BDD in equal numbers, and most of them are young.
Now that Reid no longer sits in front of the mirror fixating on the tiny details of his face, he sees the error of his ways and wishes he could turn back time.
“I wish I could go back and undo all the surgeries. Now I can see that I was fine to begin with and didn’t need the surgeries after all.”
For Reid Ewing’s full essay, click here.
[Photo By Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images]