My Turn: Body dysmorphic disorder takes quiet toll

You can see Karyn Foley’s face. She can’t. At least not all at once.
(James Foley)

I am the woman who passes a mirror and shifts her gaze away. I am the woman who wears oversized clothing to mask the extra 20 or 30 pounds of weight that don’t register on my scale. I am the woman who takes the picture rather than appear in the photograph. I am the woman who has had her eyes done, face lifted, collagen and Botox — more than once.

I am the woman who has body dysmorphic disorder.

I was in my mid-20s when I intuited that I had a major body image problem, one that was undermining my life. Although I led an active social life, I tended to avoid serious relationships. I didn’t have the courage to discuss this with any of my friends, for fear they wouldn’t believe me.

In my late 20s, during a regular checkup, I mentioned all this to my doctor. He told me that my condition was real and had a name. It was a frightening thing for me to hear, but I was too ashamed to ask any questions about the cause or treatment. The World Wide Web and Google hadn’t been invented yet, so I confronted the issue by doing my best to handle it by myself.


All these years, I have managed to camouflage my symptoms — although the emotional uncertainty follows me about like a second shadow. When I put on my makeup, I do it one feature at a time so I do not have to consider my face in its entirety. Hairdressers lose me as a customer the moment they spin my chair so that I’m forced to look in the mirror. I shop for clothing in stores that have communal dressing rooms so that I can rely on feedback from others rather than acknowledge my own image.

My secret is that I really do not know what I look like; each attempt to sneak a glance reveals a different facade. When I flip through photo albums of people in my life, I can pick myself out, but I’m always bewildered to find that I appear pretty and slender. How could that be? And how sad to have deprived myself of the confidence I could have had.

Somehow I carved out a happy life and enjoyed successful careers in business and politics. I am blessed with a loving husband and family and many good friends, few of whom would either understand or believe me if I had the courage to confide in them.

Foolishly perhaps, I still carry this difficult burden alone and quietly wonder if I will ever recognize my reflection.


Karyn Foley is a real estate broker and former mayor of Calabasas.

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience related to health or fitness. Submissions should be 500 words or fewer, are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times. Email Read more at