When I was thirteen, I showed up to a party where I happened to be wearing the same top as one of the “pretty girls” in my class. Noting this, a boy lined us up side by side and decided it would be fun to compare us. His cruel assessment of me, in front of my peers, was devastating. Up until that point, I hadn’t really had any comparison for my looks; I thought I was normal. It wasn’t until people told me I was ugly that I started to believe that I truly was.
Ever since then, I have struggled with my appearance, and my self-image grew so distorted that I actually convinced myself I was deformed. Throughout my teens, I constantly obsessed over how unattractive I was. I spent an obscene amount of time scrutinizing my outrageously large pores and my unreasonably crooked nose and fixating on the texture of every inch of my skin. The more I focused on my perceived flaws, the more I alienated myself from the world. I often refused to leave my house because my compulsive grooming, hiding, and concealing rituals consumed so much energy.
When I went to university, it was free to see a psychologist. I knew my behavior was abnormal: missing out on classes because I felt too ugly to go made me realize I needed to talk to someone if I planned on graduating. So I spoke to a psychologist, who explained, “Body Dysmorphic Disorder” (BDD), the clinical term for what I was struggling with, and recommended I seek further counseling. Once I graduated, more counseling didn’t happen because I couldn’t afford it.
My ability to simply hide came to an end when I became a performing musician in my early 20s. Early on, one of my coping mechanisms was to wear oversize sunglasses to conceal my flaws while onstage. My manager at the time put his foot down, claiming people needed to see my face. I was forced to relinquish the glasses, while agonizing over how I would be able to survive without my protective shield.
In another painful situation, I was asked to show up for a magazine photo shoot au naturale in order for them to do my makeup. The idea of going out in public without makeup was so terrifying, it hurtled me into full panic mode. Looking back now, it was obviously an overreaction; however, at the time, the faulty wiring in my brain had me convinced that, without makeup, I was monstrous — a fragmented Picasso painting on acid.
A week before I signed my first record deal, at 28, I slipped into a deep depression. I recall when, one day, I was feeling hideously ugly, and I arranged for a nonsurgical procedure to have fillers injected to straighten my nose. I knew my college therapist and all the experts strongly recommend that people with BDD do not get plastic surgery, fearing it may lead to a slippery slope that goes beyond hiding behind makeup and inadvertently into hacking away at their appearances in an effort to find some semblance of perfection. But I didn’t heed such warnings. I was still in denial that I had a real problem.
The fillers didn’t work out the way I imagined, and I was left with a botched nose. This sent me further into a downward spiral, especially because I needed to perform in front of record labels that same week. In the end, I paid hundreds of dollars to get the filler dissolved, subjecting myself to rounds of painful injections. The whole experience left me very depressed. I drank to excess, wishing I could just disappear. It was very contrary to the joy I should have been experiencing as an aspiring young singer who was signing her first major record deal.