Body Dysmorphia: Cheyenne

Body Dysmorphia: Cheyenne

"I am stressed about the way I look 24 hours a day," admits 17-year-old Cheyenne. "When I look in the mirror, I see someone who is fat. My arms look like little toothpicks. My nose is hideous. I feel like my body is totally out of proportion, as if somebody stuck random parts [together] and decided this is what's left. It's very hard for me to walk out of the house and not think people are disgusted by the way I look."

"She suffers from body dysmorphic disorder," explains Cheyenne's mother, Bobette. "She would sit in front of the mirror and pluck her eyebrows constantly. I was worried she wouldn't have any left."

"Body dysmorphic disorder makes me feel horrible about myself. The amount of stress that I go through from day to day because of it is incredibly draining," Cheyenne reveals. 

Bobette is perplexed by Cheyenne's distorted body image. "I want my daughter to see herself the way everyone else sees her," she says, blinking back tears.

When Dr. Phil camera crews were filming at Cheyenne's house, they purposely kept her features hidden. Onstage, her face is revealed. "Are you surprised?" Dr. Phil asks the audience, gesturing to a petite teen with big green eyes and lustrous blonde hair.

Audience members can't mask their shock. Comments of "She's beautiful" fill the studio.

"What do you think about people's reaction who see you differently than you see yourself? Does that affect your thinking in any way?" Dr. Phil asks Cheyenne.

"Because I'm so insecure with the way I look, I hear other people make comments, ‘Oh, she's so pretty.' 'She's beautiful,' and I think they're lying to me."

Dr. Phil turns to Bobette. "What do you think is going on here?" he asks.

"I have no idea what's going on with her," she answers. "People tell her all the time how beautiful she is, from the time she was born. She was a beautiful baby, and I don't understand. I mean, she's gorgeous."

"Is there a level at which, intellectually, you say, ‘I understand I must be distorting my perception'?" Dr. Phil asks Cheyenne.

"Yes," she replies.

Bobette explains why she thinks she contributes to Cheyenne's bad feelings. "People who suffer, apparently, from this disorder, if their parents or family members have a history of depression, then they're more susceptible to this disorder," she says, wiping away tears. "I've been diagnosed with major depression, and lived with it most of my life. I feel like I made her this way."

"I won't disagree that those may be factors, but you have to understand, this isn't an issue of blame. Blame implies intent," Dr. Phil says.

Observing that Cheyenne has been in beauty pageants since she was a toddler, Dr. Phil says, "Every fiber of my being questions whether this is a body dysmorphic disorder situation here. I can tell you, body dysmorphics are not going to be going to pageants; they're not going to be drawing attention to themselves. What may happen is that kind of over-valuation by a parent, over-valuation by society, a focusing on them, can certainly make them self-critical, can certainly make them narcissistic, can certainly make them a lot of different things. But I just have to tell you, I have real questions as to whether or not [BDD] is what's going on here. I think defining the problem is half of the solution."

Dr. Phil turns to Arie, director of the Los Angeles Body Dysmorphic Disorder Clinic. "I'm questioning whether or not this is a classic body dysmorphic disorder. What do you think?" he asks.

"Just because someone is very concerned about their appearance does not mean it's BDD. There are many things going on. I agree with you, Dr. Phil, that because of the attention paid to her early on " being in pageants and what have you " so much of her sense of self was connected with her appearance. That means other areas of her were not built up, possibly," Arie deduces.

"I'm very uncomfortable with that [BDD label] being thrown around by people who don't specialize and deal with it every day," Dr. Phil says. He turns to Cheyenne. "A lot of your history and profile is markedly inconsistent with what one would predict with body dysmorphic disorder. I'm not saying that's good or bad news; I'm just saying that's something we just need to do some real figuring out."
Before the show, Cheyenne sketched a self-portrait. Pointing to the drawing, Dr. Phil asks, "What did you intend to depict here?"

"The darkness under my eyes. I have dots on my nose that I see. My lips are not shaped the way I would like them to be, and I feel like my cheeks are just huge," she responds.

Cheyenne explains another sketching, a full-body portrait of herself. "My arms are very twiggy and small, but they're long," she points out. Gesturing to her thighs, she says, "This whole area of my body here, I feel, is overweight, and it's not proportionate to the rest of me."

"And you're tipping the old scales at what?" Dr. Phil asks.

"One hundred and five," she replies.

Dr. Phil contrasts a photo of Cheyenne in a bathing suit with her full-body drawing. "Do you see an inconsistency there?" he asks.

"I think I look hideous in that picture," she replies.

"Do you think part of this is an over-focus on your appearance?" Dr. Phil asks the teen.

"No, I don't really," she replies. "As a child, I was never like this. I did not grow up this way."

"When I say that there may be an over-focus on that, you do understand that we're at war in Iraq, and we have a lot of homeless people in this world, and controversies about global warming, and AIDS, and cancer," Dr. Phil informs her. "There are a whole lot of issues that are kind of getting crowded off your radar screen by a complete and total focus of how you think your thighs look."

"Yes, I'm entirely aware of what's going on in the world, and that I'm pushing that aside," Cheyenne says.

"Part of it is focus, and part of it is adjusting your filter and how you look at these things," Dr. Phil says. He promises to provide Cheyenne with tools to manage her condition.

Diana, the previous guest, issues a warning to the teen. "Don't ever, ever, let it get to a point where you've created your own prison," she cautions.