Taking care of your skin and hair is a good thing, but when your every passing thought about the invisible line or spot on your face is making you unhappy, then it’s time for some reality check.
Beauty might be skin deep, but achieving that beauty is serious business. It is understandable that in today’s image conscious world, people are going that extra mile to look well-groomed and be always presentable. Taking care of oneself, applying makeup is shown to have a positive impact on self-esteem; but when that need to look perfect becomes a compulsion, makes you unhappy and leaves you dissatisfied, then it is worrying. Because that’s when it has become a mental health issue.
Women and many men today spend considerable amount of time and money in buying beauty products and getting treatments that ensure clear youthful skin, and lush hair. It is understandable that in today’s image conscious world, men and women are going that extra mile to look well-groomed and presentable. But that need to look good always becomes a compulsion, is when it is worrying. It actually becomes a health issue.
“Today both women and men are concerned about their looks. Their social circles and professional goals make them more conscious of the fact that they need to look their best. Hence they don’t want to take any chances as far as their appearance is concerned. So they start obsessing over smallest fault on the face, body or hair,” explains Dr Rohit Batra, Dermatologist & Dermatosurgeon, Dermaworld Skin Institute, New Delhi.
Health experts say that the constant exposure to commercial messages that are always stressing on different standards of being beautiful create confusion in the mind. With the result many end up with an unrealistic image of what facial or physical beauty should be and impractical expectations from their beauty products and treatments.
Beyond the love of beauty
The problem arises when you set unrealistic or unachievable expectations of how you should look at any given age. This often means that you rush to your dermatologist or aesthetician to tweak the slightest change in your appearance that you feel is not what you want. Or you might want to buy every new product out in the market in the hope that using them will somehow transform your face and your look. This desire for reaching an unachievable beauty goal at any cost and becoming so preoccupied with this that you stop functioning normally is when you are officially obsessed with beauty and addicted to its power over you.
“An obsession is a repetitive, intrusive thought that may be quite distressing. Preoccupation with the idea of looking beautiful can take the form of obsession when all one can think about is the characteristics that impart physical recognition as beautiful. The individual so obsessed cannot derive pleasure from other aspects of life like friendships, relationships, professional or personal achievement and his/her life revolves around looking what is accepted by him/her as beautiful,” explains Dr Jyoti Kapoor, Consultant Psychiatrist, Paras Hospital, Gurgaon, Delhi.
It’s not always easy to ignore the lure of those attractively packaged skincare, makeup and hair care products, especially when the message around them promise you a better you. In fact, many of us take pride in being a ‘beauty junkie’ – a term for a person buying and hoarding beauty products even without really needing that. It is about giving into the attraction towards a new cream, or a makeup product, and not even using that; hoarding just for the sake of owning that beautifully wrapped product. It’s not always that you use the products or even like the thought of opening the packaging. There’s just an obsessive need to own the product.
Signs you’re getting addicted
Addiction to being beautiful always has started taking worse turn over the years, as more and more of us get access to beauty treatments that transform almost immediately. With Botox, fillers, laser therapies and such it is now easier than ever to reach your beauty goals – be spotless, wrinkle-free, clear and perfect literally.
“It is good to want to look beautiful, but the idea is to look beautiful at your age, and not try to look like a twenty year old when you are forty. You should look like a glamorous forty,” says Dr Rashmi Shetty, Aesthetic Physician, Ra’s Clinic, Mumbai, and author of the beauty tome Age Erase.
In fact, now you can drop by your dermatologist’s during your lunch break at work and come out a new you in less than an hour. The experience can be quite exhilarating; especially because of the compliments that follow thereafter; a heady feeling indeed.
“Till the time patient has realistic expectations it is fine but when they become too obsessed about their sagging skin or receding hairline and want to fix them at any cost even if they are suffering from any health condition which is a contraindications for the procedure, then it is worrisome,” informs Dr Batra.
A bit here, and a bit there is good, since it has an amazing impact on our self-esteem, but when that little bit of filler here, and laser zap there becomes your only thought, and your only activity in front of the mirror is to check for a spot or a line daily, or even hourly, you should seriously worry about your mental health. “If the preoccupation has reached to the extent that it starts affecting individual’s personal, social or occupational life, intervention becomes necessary,” says Dr Kapoor.
You know you are getting addicted when the treatments and compliments that you get post a treatment become the sole source of pleasure. Not receiving them triggers mood disturbance like irritability, sadness, anxiety and loss of self-esteem. This signals serious addiction.
Dr Shetty gives us another reason why a person might suddenly develop this obsessive behaviour towards looking perfect always – an emotional crisis maybe at work, or in a relationship. “To fight an emotional situation or loss, many try to go for a makeover, trying to change themselves completely. I have had patients who have expectations that cannot be met. For them getting a treatment is more of a mood booster, rather than a way to rectify a beauty issue,” says Dr Shetty.
Dealing with your addiction
The first step to dealing with your obsessive behaviour towards your self-image is to recognise it as an obsession. According to Dr Batra it is important to understand that aging and skin changes are a natural and continual process which you cannot really avoid. “We can delay the process but not stop it. You can look 5 years younger but not half your age. A proper counselling from a qualified dermatologist is must in understanding the aging. You can’t go and get everything done that is advertised by the beauty clinics,” he explains.
You also have to realise that getting too many beauty treatments is not going to get back your old job, or a relationship. “Looking good should be a positive experience, and you should not make that your crutch to get through life. In such case you need seek counsel of qualified doctors,” suggests Dr Shetty.
In case of severe obsession where it has been recognised as a Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), you need to get proper medical help. “A psychiatric evaluation is needed to identify underlying psychological and socio-cultural factors that may be causing this affliction. Intervention is based on the degree of its effect. Psychological therapies like cognitive behaviour therapy(CBT) aim to rectify the irrational thought patterns that lead to such obsessions at the same time focusing other aspects that enrich and fulfil life. In severe cases of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or BDD psychotropic medicines are quite effective,” advises Dr Kapoor. She also suggests that as soon as you start feeling stressed out and depressed with the constant pressure of looking good, you should seek counselling and some sort of mental health management.
Easing off the addiction
You have to understand that addiction to a specific treatment or a product happens in many cases when you start noticing the lack of effective result. You feel the need to use more of the same the result you imagine you must get.
Many times it happens that when you start using a product to treat a severe case of some skin or hair conditions, the immediate result gives you a mood boost, a sort of beauty high. But that starts to ebb, because once the skin or hair issue is dealt with, they go back to looking normal, and you miss the mental high of the initial phase. That is when the overdoing bit starts. So, Dr Shetty warns against this behaviour, instead try to keep things simple. “While it is important to have a good skin regime, but overdoing it, and overloading your skin with products is counterproductive to skin health. Treatment products and all the extras are important to use when you are trying to deal with a skin issue, but once that is resolved go back to simple, gentle products,” she advises.
She says that it is important to give your skin a break from products and treatments once in a while; to go on soft of a beauty fasting when you do not use any product. Practice beauty fast once a week and you are bound to feel better skin-wise, and even mentally.
If you are getting in-clinic treatments done to deal with pigmentation, fine lines, sagging, acne or hair loss, then avoid too much of the same thing, and follow your doctor’s advice for maintenance in-between treatment sessions. At no cost must you go for extra treatments in-between the prescribed sessions in the hope that you will look better. That is actually counter-productive to your beauty goals. “Success of any treatment depends on the correct care at home. Your dermatologist will give you products to be used in-between based on your treatments. Apart from this you can follow some basic rules like avoiding sun exposure, using sunscreen regularly and healthy diet intake,” says Dr Batra. You don’t need more that to look beautiful, seriously!