Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Beauty is only.........

Forgive me for not posting yesterday, I haven't been feeling too well and I can't work out why. I think a phone call to NHS Direct is imminent, however I will do this first.

And now for something completely different, I feel confident at this stage to 'come out'. No I am not gay, but there has been something going on in my life which I very rarely talk about. I have tried to explain this to a few people but the response has always been the same, awkwardness and blank looks. If you haven't experienced it you can't understand it. I am hoping that at least one person reading this will know what I am talking about. I may waffle on for sometime, so if you become bored, feel free to skip this bit. I don't blame you because I can waffle.

I'll give this, 'something going on', a name, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or BDD. There, I've said it out loud and blown my cover. I'm not writing this to get to get it off my chest, I have tried to cast it off before and it doesn't work, it is always there, sometimes hidden and sometimes it rears it's ugly head. If you know someone who has this, my post will help you understand. It is classed as a mental disorder though mine has never been diagnosed. In my younger years I thought hating your looks was a part of growing up, everybody did it and I would grow out of it. I never did.
Hair dyed black, hairpiece, lots of thick makeup, not wearing my specs.

What has prompted me to write about it at this stage is Susan Boyle. Remember when she first came onto the stage, people ridiculed her, they laughed at her, and they poked fun at her. They judged her on her looks alone. Why is it that people are so judgemental before they know all the facts. Susan admitted to struggling a bit in life, she was bullied, and suffered name calling, something I can well relate to, it happened to me. What an absolute joy when she opened her mouth and sang, finally her dream is coming true. God bless you Susan.

Looking back, my BDD started with bullying at school. Of course when you are young you try and get on with things, but a seed is planted waiting to manifest itself later on, in whatever form it may take. In my case I learnt how to cope, some of the time. At this point I will pick out a few phrases from various websites so that you know I am not just talking about bullying but the devastating effects it can have.

Dr David Veale.....'Most sufferers are preoccupied with some aspect of their face. Typical concerns are percieved flaws on the face or head. Sufferers may be concerned about a lack of symmetry, too big, too small, or out of proportion.' In my case it is my face. Notice the word 'percieved', for that's what it is, a preoccupation with a percieved defect in one's appearance. Everyone tells you, you look normal, but inside your head you are not.

Dr David Veale......'Most sufferers are extremely distressed about their condition and spend several hours a day thinking about it. They remain very anxious and self concious. They monitor and camouflage themselves excessively to hide their percieved defect by using heavy makeup, and brushing their hair in a particular way.' Yes, I did all that.

Dr Frederick Penzel.......'People with BDD may be depressed because they cannot convince others of the problem, and not being able to change it no matter what they try. Social isolation is also common.' I will add here that my level of BDD is probably not as high as some people, but I felt cheated that God hadn't given me a normal face. I will explain in the next paragraph.

I have grown up hating my face, a bold statement but true. As I said, it started with bullying, my teenage years were hell at times as I struggled to fit in. The swinging sixties were indeed exciting, I dreamt of kissing Paul McCartney, I imagined myself singing on stage like Cilla, walking down the catwalk after Twiggy, I idolised these people. Then I caught sight of myself in the mirror and it caused me great sadness. No matter how I tried to copy their styles, their fashions, and their looks, it always ended in tears. It was hopeless, I would never be pretty.

Looking back this knocked my confidence right off track, I thought I wasn't as good as anyone else, I left school to go to work because I did not do well in lessons. Boys did not want to go out with me and I was laughed at if I mentioned to my friends that I liked someone. I was painfully shy, and painfully thin and everything was such a struggle.

A turning point came for me when I passed my HGV driving test at 27, and got my first lorry driving job, then I threw myself in at the deep end of working in a male environment. I was engrossed in my new career, so BDD was pushed aside because now I had more important things to think about. It did come to the surface however as the bullying began again, this time from men who hated me. They said I was taking the job off a man, and I should get back to the kitchen sink, in 1976 men were very chauvinistic. Again I cried buckets and blamed it on my face, I was sure that attractive people didn't have these problems.

Another turning point came a few years later. I was listening to a programme on Radio 4 about a charity called Changing Faces. I heard the story of James Partridge, a young man who was horrifically burnt in an accident when his landrover turned over and caught fire. He went through many operations and skin grafts to restore his face to some form of normality. I had to stop my lorry to listen, he sounded such a kind and caring man. He started the charity because there was very little help for people with facial disfigurements, after the surgeons had done all they could.

I took the phone number down and rang him when I got home. I explained how I hated my face, and asked if I could attend his courses for confidence building. I felt a bit of a fraud really because to the outside world I do not have any facial disfigurements. I explained that my scars are on the inside. He was so understanding and said I would be welcome to meet him. I booked the two day course.

I met some lovely people at Changing Faces, and James himself was wonderful, it did my confidence a power of good. I strolled around the streets with him during the lunch break, and I noticed people looking the other way and couldn't think why. When I talked to him I looked through the outer covering to the person inside, and I saw a beautiful man. He put everyone he met at ease, he was so confident, and I wanted to learn how to do that. If you want to meet James he is here....

I hope you can now see how pleased I am to see Susan's dream coming true. There is a young lady who also has an uphill struggle to get her life back on track. Katie Piper was attacked by a man who threw acid over her face, she was a pretty young girl with her whole life ahead of her, and it was changed in a few seconds. She still is pretty, but in a different way, look through her skin to see the beautiful person inside. I have just read that Katie will be reading the Alternative Christmas Speech, something I shall be looking forward to hearing. You can read the report here....

Looking back now, I feel that my face has been the biggest obstacle in my life. I still hate it, that will never go away. There's no getting away from the fact that people do judge you by how you look. The media is to blame for young girls mutilating themselves under the surgeons knife, bigger this, move that, flatten the other. There is an appetite for beauty, but the best beauty of all is the one you can't see.


  1. How brave you are to post this. I agree, people are judged by their beauty and also by their youth... so it could get harder as we get older, but hopefully as we all age, we grow in understanding which helps us to see beneath the surface. Oh and by the way Ilona, I have never met you, but I thought you very attractive (certainly in the photo's you have shown) for a lady of your age... and was hoping that I would age so well! So there you go! x

  2. Oh Ilona. What a brave post! Thank you for sharing this. It may not help to say this, because I guess YOU have to believe it not me, but from what I've learned about you here, I think you are a beautiful person. You are not just a pretty face but much, much more - you write wonderful, thought-provoking words; you have an amazing creative talent; you tread on this planet lightly and with love - appreciating its beauty, caring for it; you have very sound ideas and principles... I'm sorry (for you) that you don't look the way you want to and I'm sorry (for me) that I can't help more but from what I see of you - you are great. I wish you a very Merry Christmas and lots of happiness in 2010. Den (from 'A Full Monte Life' - www.full-monte.com/blog)

  3. This is a brave post, it must have been quite a big step to have posted it. I agree with Billie Jane and Steve & Denise, ever since I found your blog I have always been struck by how attractive you are - both outside and in. A really lovely lady.

    Bullying does sow that seed though, doesn't it? No matter how we handle it at the time, the seed is sown and there it will grow.

    I read Katies story online back in the summer. A truely shocking story. I'm pleased that she has been chosen to give the alternative Christmas message.

  4. Reading your post has moved me to comment,something I haven't done before. When I was 11 I was told by the kids in my year that I had been voted the ugliest girl in the school and I was bullied for years after. By the time I was 16 I would not leave the house without make up because I thought I was so ugly. That stayed with me for years and in truth is still there somewhat. I'm 35 now but it still affects me in social situations. It is a battle I will always have to fight and gets me so angry that people are judged by their looks or what they have. Some people are just so shallow. Having followed your blog for a while and seen you on Britain's tightest person, I think you are an inspiration and would be proud to know you. You come across as witty, kind and interesting. Stay strong Ilona and thanks for your honesty

  5. What a sad post, Ilona. Especially as, looking at your photos, you are very attractive. What I want to know is who did the wallpapering? ('cos they didn't line up the pattern!). Keep up the good work with the blog - it gives us so much pleasure x

  6. I am so surprised to read this post. Your pictures have always shown you as an attractive woman. Like the others who have commented I find your blog witty and interesting to read. I have never heard of this disorder, I thought we all had something we really hated about ourselves, I know I have and probably always will.

  7. It's very hard to be so honest about your inner feelings, but by doing this, you have shown yourself to be brave and inspirational. Good looks are the icing on the cake, is all. I have bought a journal which was going to be a Christmas present for my daughter (but I may keep it) featuring Women Who Dare. They are all wonderful and different in their own way, achieving great things, and yet not one of them is there just cos she is beautiful. Besides, it's what shines out that matters, and everyone responds to that. Keep shining! (BTW I didn't go away on holiday for years as I thought I was too ugly to be half naked on a beach...sad eh!Don't care now!;)

  8. I know it won't help at all, but in actual fact you are NOT ugly, in fact you are a very attractive woman if your photo is anything to go by. As others have said it strikes me that most of us, men and women alike, really reaslly wish that some part of us - or in my case many parts, looked more like the images in the media. I'm very tall, 5'11" and fairly flat chested with it. Once in a queue a man behind me called me 'chip' which I've never forgotten. As folk say, beauty is only skin deep and those women you admired as a young girl are no longer the beauties they were. What matters as we get older is self-confidence and that's what you should cultivate. Hold yourself proud and MAKE yourself believe that you are at least as worthwhile as anyone else, no matter who they are. Finally remember that even Twiggy has to be airbrushed these days, and probably always was.

  9. Ilona, your piece prompted me to write to my own blog around this topic and I included a link to you too. I hope you don't mind: http://rattlebox-rcfairy.blogspot.com/2009/12/media-manipulation.html

  10. This post feels really relevant to me, I too have always hated my face and I've always lacked confidence because of it. It does ruin my life to some extent, especially now as I've suffered with bad rosacea on my nose for the last 8 years (and before that I was bullied because I have a big nose).

    I always try to tell myself that I should consider myself lucky, as so many people are so much worse off that I am, but that's easily forgotten when people laugh at me or comment in the street.

    I was raised to be more polite than that. If I see someone with something on their face, even just a teenager with bad acne, or someone with scars or anything 'abnormal' I always make a point of not staring, acting like there's nothing there and I certainly would never make a comment when the person was nearby because I am fully aware just how awful it is to have that happen, and I wouldn't want to be the cause of those feelings in other people. People should stop and think first.

    Sorry, for yet another very late comment! I found your blog this evening and I've been enjoying reading it!

  11. edit: Also, because of the way people react to me, I now will not go out unless I really have to or unless I can achieve some reasonable coverage with make up (which is rarely possible)

    I sympathise with you. I know what it's like to always be / feel like 'that ugly girl' and it's affected me throughout my life and I I think it always will. Whether I have BDD or not I wouldn't like to say, I accept that I am ugly! But it does make life miserable sometimes.

  12. Ilona, I know this is a very old post but I just wanted to say thank you for writing it. You are a very special person and I'm glad you found some help and have found the confidence to do some amazing things with your life. If I could have a fraction of your confidence I would be happy. As a society I wish people would stop raising girls to be so obsessed with their looks - their is so much more to life. I see so much 'appearance' parenting that is enough to make my hair curl twice; parents dressing their daughters like little dolls, modelling jobs, beauty contest, princessyfying, primping and preening. It's giving them the wrong message - if you are attractive you will be acceptable (wrong). Self worth and self esteem will never come from looks alone as you have proved with your achievements. Take care x

  13. I,too, know that this is an old post - but I suffered with this - bad acne and a not very kind step-mother knocked my confidence to the lowest depths. Then one strange day I was on holiday with a fellow student nurse at one of those holiday camps. Got drunk and was persuaded to enter a beauty contest and b****r me, I won! Gold sash and teddy bear under arm I scuttled off to avoid the bloke with the diary who was trying to pin me down to tell me the date of the next "heat". Didn't need any more of that, thanks - but made me look twice at why I felt the way I did - cruel words from a cruel woman can do so much damage to an already fragile child. That contest worked wonders - I realised I couldn't be that hideous afterall. But still to this day, I cannot bear to look at myself closely in a mirror, DETEST the hairdresser and do my makeup about 10 feet from the looking glass in a darkened room! That last bit isn't true but I would if I could!

  14. You've recently mentioned other people who've been reading your blog from the beginning, so I decided it was time for me to re-read everything, I've learned so much from you. Anyway, reading this post made me think about how much I've also learned from reading Katie Piper's very positive books. Bad things happened in my past that could very easily cast a long shadow, and they sometimes do, but like you I always try to look ahead, and make the best of every situation. I think you are amazingly slim, fit and attractive, an inspiration to me.


Due to large amounts of spam and rubbish comments coming through, and Blogger not filtering correctly, I have had to suspend anonymous comments for now.