A Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviour Awareness Week tradition here at CBSN is to gather guest blogs to share throughout the week. In the past, we’ve gotten a variety of narratives from BFRBers across the world. This week, we have four guest blogs to share with you.
Not too long ago, I was talking with a friend of mine about an ambitious plan I had to write about body-focused repetitive behaviours for a major outlet, like the New York Times or the Huffington Post. I was commiserating to my friend about how difficult it was, and how frustrated I was becoming. She told me, “I think people just want to see shock value. If it’s not fatal, they don’t want to hear about it.”
BFRBs are not fatal, but imagine spending entire hours picking at your split ends.
There is something you’re supposed to be doing – maybe you’re at work, or doing homework for a class – but you just can’t focus. You run your fingers from your scalp to the brittle ends of your hair, then examine carefully. You try and do this against a fluorescent white background (a computer screen will do perfectly), so the little alligator-mouths of your split ends become crystal-clear. The knots and gaps and fraying ends are so unruly, so revolting, that looking at them is tantalizing. One of them snaps and makes a satisfying noise. Another, you take in between your serrated front teeth and bite off. Another peels right off, getting thinner as it travels back up the strand. You think, “I’m cleaning up. I’m going to look so much better when I’m done.” There is a delusion in your mind that allows you to think you can get them all, and in time for dinner.
You never do. You only find yourself hours later, as if waking from a dream, looking down and seeing your computer keyboard littered with beheaded fragments of hair, you are washed in a wave of panic that you haven’t made any progress whatsoever.
BFRBs are not fatal, but imagine getting ready for a first date.
You put on clothes you think flatter you, perfume that smells like the beach, lipstick the color of a ripe cherry. Your face looks textured, uneven from scratching and prodding at it. You pad a layer of foundation over it, and it still looks wrong; another layer, and it still looks wrong. Powdering your face doesn’t help, either.
You look at yourself up close in the mirror, as you are wont to do, and suddenly become overwhelmed by how powdery you look. Every urge is insisting that you rub it all away, but you wouldn’t be caught dead looking like that, especially to a stranger. Concealer, bronzer, blush, none of it does any good; your skin is buzzing beneath the surface with trapped oil, waiting to erupt like a dormant mountain range. You lie to yourself, saying this is the best you can do to get your face to cooperate, and you try your darnedest to believe that, even though part of you urgently wants to try just one more coat of makeup. He doesn’t text you back after that night, and you wonder if his vision allowed him to penetrate every layer of your skin, and if he decided he didn’t like what he saw.
BFRBs are not fatal, but they do involve way too much math.
You keep a tally at your desk at work and find that you pull between 60 and 120 strands of your own hair a day. At that rate, plus assuming k is a constant meant to account for all the times you pull inadvertently as soon as you walk out the door of your office, your rate of pulling falls between 250-300 hairs per day. If you started pulling at 11 years old, at that rate, and you had around one-hundred thousand hairs when you turned eleven, when would you be bald? Or rather, when would you have enough noticeable hair loss to feel you’d truly ruined your life? On the other hand, if hair grows one half-inch per month, that would be roughly 1.6% of an inch each day, and if only 40% of your hair follicles are irreparably damaged (just a haphazard guess), you will be able to enjoy a full head of hair in… ten years? Twenty? You can hardly control yourself for a single hour, much less a full day.
BFRBs are not fatal, they are only the teetering first domino in a cascade of self-destructive behavior.
Shame and guilt are methodologically two different concepts, and yet they both feel the same, like a punch in the gut. I’ve swept so many fragments of hair off my clothes and out of my bed that I’ve wanted to die. One disparate hair is the epitome of insignificance, but in numbers, they collect, entwined, inside each other until they’ve amassed like a tumbleweed, one that lives in the pit of your stomach and fills you with dread and hopelessness whenever someone mentions how beautiful you used to look. In some cases, the anxiety in your intestine is sufficient on its own to drive you into a cave, never to be heard from again.
Other times, that prickling sensation in your abdomen is actually a bezoar, and before you know it you’re reading a news article about a girl whose organs stopped functioning because of one of those.
Most BFRBs are not fatal, until they are.