I wonder, sometimes, what made me become so obsessed with being beautiful above all else.
Every morning, the first thing that I do is go and perform an inspection in the bathroom mirror. I fuss about my pores, my skin tone, and whether or not my face produced too much sebum overnight for my liking. I take a careful stare at the collection of five light tan beauty marks on my left cheek and make sure that the melanocytes in the skin haven’t darkened — do I need more vitamin C serum to brighten them? Should I lighten them with apple cider vinegar? Are they too dark and noticeable? I make a verdict about how it feels to look at my face and I proceed accordingly, either by immediately washing and scrubbing as a punishment for being ugly or celebrating what I might feel on certain days is a radiant glow without touching a thing, and instead just staring lovingly.
My bathroom has become overtaken with products. There are three jars of eye cream, four tubes of face masks, a pot of oil cleanser, a micellar water, two different makeup removing cleansers, a lip scrub, a box of pore strips, a box of under-eye gel masks, two bottles of night mask, a moisturizer, two serums, and a glass dropper of black castor oil. I almost convinced myself that I needed to have a chemical peel last week until one morning a light exfoliant burned my face. All of these things are supposed to ensure that I am doing my best to be beautiful. My skincare ritual is more relaxing than it is taxing, but it still enforces a distilled belief in the idea that the way I look should most definitely be manipulated. Let’s not even get started on the bleaching of my naturally blonde hair to take things a step further and make it platinum-colored.
All of this extensive primping and perfecting is for myself. I need to be beautiful because I already know that I am intelligent. I already feel good about my body. Maybe I just need something to let me down and I’m using my face as a scapegoat. Like the skincare obsession, my makeup ritual boils down to several dozen products for several dozen corrections to my appearance and only half the time after going on my thirty minute application makes me feel better. I find makeup to be so much fun, really, but when it doesn’t fix my self hatred it makes me resent its time consumption and cost.
I often feel hideous. This kind of dysmorphia is so insidious and rude that it creeps into my head at any given time, even times where being beautiful definitely does not matter. Wouldn’t whatever I’m doing be better if I were doing it while being pretty?
People with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) like myself often feel the weight of dysmorphia and eating disorders as an intense and overpowering comorbidity of our condition. This is because one of the criteria for diagnosis that affects us so deeply is an “unstable sense of self”. We do not know who we are and we cannot know how to feel about ourselves. What we look like is even harder to come to terms with because we cling to our appearance to help us associate our bodies with our identity with the vain hope of finding inner peace through some kind of conviction of confidence. Of the ten or fifteen BPD sufferers that I have met in therapy, not a single one strikes me as confident or even sure of themselves in the most basic way. We are, categorically, overthinkers who slouch when we walk and slouch even worse when we think about ourselves. Of all of the six out of nine criteria that I display in this illness, my unstable sense of self is without a doubt the worst symptom.
I used to feel beautiful without putting too much effort in. When I was 18, I got bangs because I liked bangs, not because I disliked my forehead. Now I cannot seem to get rid of them because I strongly resent my forehead. When I was 19, I started wearing winged eyeliner every day because I liked the artistry of shaping them to make my eyes look more fearless and polished. Now I cannot go a day without applying them because I find my eyes to be too big and bug-like on their own. The list of cosmetics that I find to be essential rather than recreational goes on and on.
What will bring me peace? What will bring people like myself peace? The rituals provide a sense of control for me. Manipulating my appearance makes me feel better than throwing in the towel and thinking “it is what it is”. I believe that society prefers beautiful people more than it punishes them. Maybe I just want to feel less punished. Maybe being in bad relationships made me very insecure. Either way, this obsession feels like an affliction although it started as a hobby.
I work on this problem of mine during various therapies (CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and DBT or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy). I believe in the power of therapy not because it can or will ever “correct” me, but because it teaches me how to attain the knowledge needed to suffer less. In CBT, I can discuss my facial dysmorphia without judgment and work with a professional to diagnose the best course of action to take to live a less afflicted life. This is the version of therapy that most people, even those not formally diagnosed with a mental illness or receiving the help of psychiatry, choose.
DBT is a little bit different than CBT because of its reliance on dialectical thinking. This means that we avoid thinking in terms of absolutes and escape the confines of “black and white”, “all or nothing” thinking. Because of DBT, I’ve begun to change my inner dialogue about the face I see in the mirror. Instead of deciding whether I “hate” or “love” my face, I can use my skill set to reset my old convictions and instead rely on facts. “It’s a face,” I can say to myself, “it’s my face. It’s a round face. It’s a bit red today, but that can change if I put on some lotion. If my face is a little bit red today, then it isn’t the end of the world.”
Maybe, even, to think “I can have a good day despite my face.”
The anguish I’ve often felt over my appearance has been debilitating because it’s stripped me of so much confidence. I know that I’m best equipped to deal with these challenges when I follow the coursework of my therapies and put in the effort it takes to have a sound mind. Being beautiful is slowly becoming less about vanity and my outward appearance and more about feeling calm, cool, and collected when I approach myself. Whether or not I like my face on this gloomy Wednesday, it’s still always going to be my face. It always has been and always will be my face, whether I cake it in pigments or inject it with fillers. It will never be anything more or less than a face, no matter how my mind blows it out of proportion to be something grander than that.
I hope that reading this can provide some clarity in distinguishing vanity from obsession, and what it means deep down to be self conscious. We can all feel bad about ourselves from time to time, and many of us have the capacity to take this negativity to extreme as I do. It helps me to divert my attention from any media that is fishing for money with the cosmetic promises of making me perfect, and I think that I can help many others, too. We can unfollow certain media, we can go to therapy, and we can assure ourselves that each day will be better than the next if we put in the work.