I was raised in the United States until I was eight years old, after which my family moved to Iran, where I lived for almost 14 years. Though Iran is considered by some far behind “first world” countries in many political and social aspects, it is certainly no different than them when it comes to beauty standards.
Leading the world in rhinoplasty, young men and women go to dangerous lengths to have the socially acceptable look. The young are compromising their personal health because they are encouraged to do so by people who profit from their pain. There are no books published about self-image, there are no websites dedicated to teaching people about body image disorders, there are no celebrities promoting self-appreciation, there is only a media that motivates people to love beauty—a pre-defined beauty that all must comply with.
There is no equivalent to “Body Dysmorphic Disorder” in our language, nor in our culture. Seeing flaws in one owns appearance is considered an advantage as it will help you fix the flaw. Anorexia was a term used to describe extreme thinness and not a state of mind, and over the years, it has completely disappeared from our vocabulary since all the “visual” symptoms it had are now considered beautiful. It was only after I started communicating with people from foreign countries and moved to back to the United States that I realized I too had given in to the peer pressure, and had an eating disorder.
Going to high school in Iran was a traumatizing experience. Early into my sophomore year, more than half of my classmates (all schools were single sex and my observations are from an all-girl’s school) already had their “first” nose jobs. By the end of that year, more than half of the girls who had undergone rhinoplasty were unsatisfied with their new looks, preparing themselves for other types of cosmetic surgery.
Due to this increasing trend in what I called “facial reconstruction,” facial beauty was not a standard to compare and rank our classmates’ beauty by anymore (we have all done this in high school, the ranking of “the pretty girls”), since they could all come to school the next day with an entirely new face. The one and only truly comparable physical trait was body weight (since our cosmetic surgeons were at least reasonable enough to not preform liposuction on minors). The prettiest girl in our class was the one who had the now infamous thigh gap, her rib cage was showing and she could wrap her hands around her thighs, which was the only true way of knowing that she had achieved the beauty standard in our school. She was perfect. She was also bulimic, something she mentioned proudly, something that she was constantly praised for. All I ever wanted, was to be like her.
After skipping meals at school, secretly throwing out my food at home, exercising tirelessly, and subsisting on nothing but water for months, I reached my goal weight of 94 pounds. At 5’4’’, I was 10 pounds underweight. I don’t blame my parents for not discouraging my extreme weight loss, for they were as ill-informed as I was. At age 52, my mother, a retired engineer, is still well known for being “thin and beautiful” when she was at my age, weighing less than 100 pounds at 5’2’’.
Almost two years after my extreme weight loss, I somehow came across a newly launched website in which people could exchange their ideas and thought on the topic. Most websites from where I came from were censored and filtered making it impossible to communicate with the outside world; however, this website, being rather new, was yet to be discovered and prohibited. Most of the users on the website were American women, two of them happened to have BDD. Speaking with those two women truly broadened my perspective, and changed my life. It was then, after almost two years of suffering from weakness, fatigue, anemia, depression and self-loathing that I realized what I had was a disorder, and it had to be cured. With the help of those two beautiful ladies, four years later, I have a BMI of 20.3. I am healthier, I am happier and I am a proud activist of BDD awareness.
What I find funny is that unlike my fellow classmates, I never went under the knife. I foolishly considered myself better than all those young ladies because I had not followed the trend they all had. I considered myself stronger than all of them. But little did I know, we were all victims.