Beauty and the OCD Beast

April 23, 2014

Melissa, 21, suffers from OCD and says most of her rituals are focused on one thing — trying to make herself prettier than her older sister, Justine. She says her behavior has taken a toll on her and on her family, and she desperately wants help. What is at the root of Melissa’s obsession? And, can she learn to manage her disorder — and reclaim her life? Plus, Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall, Chief Medical Officer of Pfizer (, shares important information about coping with OCD.

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MelissaMelissa's sister, JustineJustine and MelissaNoreen, Melissa and Justine's motherDr. Freda Lewis-Hall, Chief Medical Officer of Pfizer

Melissa's Story

Melissa says she has suffered from OCD since childhood, and for the past three years, almost all of her rituals have focused on one thing — trying to make herself more attractive than her older sister, Justine. She says she constantly chants, “I want to be prettier than Justine," in her head, making it difficult to even hold a normal conversation. Melissa also says she must perform numerous rituals throughout the day, which she believes will make her prettier — and Justine uglier. "I don't want to live this way anymore," she confides. "OCD has suppressed me from being able to do normal activities. I'm exhausted 27/4."

"One of my daily rituals is saying, 'Justine, my sister’s, eyes are going to be too small and close together,'" Melissa explains, adding that she must also close her eyes and touch two fingers together. "I feel like if I put my fingers close enough, it will have an effect on her eyes," she says. Melissa adds that if someone else says the words "close together," she must do the same ritual, fearing that otherwise, her eyes will move closer together.

"OCD is definitely my full-time job. Since we’ve been sitting here, I’ve probably done, like, 20 rituals."

Onstage, Dr. Phil says to Melissa, "When was the first time you realized you had an obsessive thought?"

"At the young age of 5, I remember just obsessing over my looks," she says. Dr. Phil points out that Melissa has a make-up bag with her onstage, and she explains, "I had to bring it with me, because I have an obsession with reapplying make-up, just to self-check and make sure everything is OK."

Dr. Phil responds, "I want us to have a coherent conversation, and if you need to do that, just do it. I’ve been through this a lot, and I’m not going to judge you, and neither is anybody here."

"If you're prettier than Justine, what does it do for you?" Plus, Dr. Phil challenges Melissa to say "close together" without doing a ritual.

Threshold Moment

Melissa says that growing up, she was very self-conscious about her nose and when she was 15, her mother, Noreen, finally agreed to let her have surgery. "The surgeon destroyed my nose. That's when the OCD really intensified," she says, adding that she had two more surgeries within three years. "I still have concerns with anything that has to do with my face," Melissa continues. "Even if, like, a really strong gust of wind comes at my face, I feel like it will shift my nose."

Noreen recalls, "After Melissa had her first nose surgery, it was like the OCD just totally exploded. She would flip the light switch 20 times, the windows in the house had to be open to the same level." She continues, "Melissa's rituals have changed ... I did not know how much of her OCD was about Justine.” Noreen says, through tears, "I feel like I have done everything humanly possible, and I don't know what to do anymore. I want Melissa to move out and become her own person ... This is our last chance."

Dr. Phil mentions that Melissa has said she doesn't want to be onstage with Justine, for fear that people will compare them and think Justine is prettier. He cautions, "I think it’s a mistake, and I don't want to do it. I need to talk to her obviously, because she’s part of this dynamic, as is your mother, but that means I lose time with you, and that means I don’t get to see you with that trigger around."

"I couldn’t do that on national television," Melissa responds. "I'm sorry, Mom, I can't," she says, turning to Noreen. "I really, really can’t. That’s the one thing I said from the beginning. I just don't want you to be mad at me later."

"I'll never be mad at you, but this is it," Noreen says to Melissa, encouraging her to face her fear.

Tearfully, Melissa agrees, adding, "The only reason I'm doing this this is because I know there’s going to be a girl at home saying, 'She’s facing this, and if she can face it, then I can face something I’m scared of.'"

"This obsessive thoughts and the compulsions that flow from it come from the inside out. The fact that they happen to be attached to her is just because she’s handy."

Dr. Phil says to Melissa, "God forbid this would happen, but if [Justine] fell off the world and was no longer here in some way, do you think you would be resolved and better?"

"Of course, no," she says. "I went through a period of time where I had OCD about every part of my body. I would take a compact mirror around the house and measure my pores in every single lighting. Then I would skip to something else, [like] hating my feet. I know my OCD is in other areas, too."

"You very likely have what’s called co-morbidity," Dr. Phil explains. "You’re experiencing OCD along with some body dysmorphia, where you just have a distorted view of yourself and your body. You find flaws with your body that are not consistent with any objective reality."

"I drink every day, basically." Is Melissa turning to risky behaviors to cope with her OCD?

Melissa reveals a source of pain. "You have something that is critically important to your future, and that is insight," Dr. Phil says.

Dr. Phil mentions that Melissa has been accepted into a treatment program for her OCD. "I'd love the opportunity to communicate with them about you before you go there, with your permission," he says. Dr. Phil continues, "Right now, there's a good chance that you have an alcohol dependency, if you are medicating yourself with alcohol ... If that's not dealt with, it will undermine every other program and progress that is made. So, you want to be very forthcoming with your treatment facility about your drinking patterns, and I certainly will be."

"Absolutely," she agrees.

"You're going to be amazed how this changes for you," Dr. Phil says.

Managing OCD

"Today we've been talking about repetitive actions and rituals that are part of OCD, and how they can disrupt normal life," Dr. Phil says. He introduces Dr. Freda Lewis-Hall, Chief Medical Officer of Pfizer, to explain more about the disorder, which affects 2.2 million adults in the United States.

How do you recognize OCD? And, how can it be successfully managed?

For more information on OCD and other health topics, go to