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.