Ever woken up and hated what you saw in the mirror? Have yo ever felt like your body does not belong to you anymore? This might sound exaggerated. It's one thing to feel a little off every now and then, but and somehow society has taught us that this kind of self-perception is nothing but a mere delusion. You could even argue that we all have something we dislike about our body. Yet there's no reason to feel extremely bummed and depressed, to the point that it alienates us from the world.
However, this si a reality that millions suffer every day. Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is one of the most common mental anxiety disorders in the world (even more common than anorexia or schizophrenia). It causes the individual to have a distorted perception of themselves in a negative way. But since people generally just see it as a normal way of appreciating their bodies, most of the times patients don’t get the attention they need to overcome it. We’re living in a very contradicting time in history. Because as we continue to shatter anything that is unconventional, we're also trying to raise awareness to these problems in order to destroy old taboos regarding beauty standards and ideals.
How do you make others empathize or understand a condition that society generally dismisses? How can you overcome it in a constructive and healing way? Those were the premises that took the artist and musician Leigh de Vries to create her short film and exhibit titled Exposure: MyBrokenReality. In the film, we see her walking through the streets of Manchester wearing a very real prosthetic mask made with the help of a professional makeup and special effects artist. This mask gives the illusion of the artist having a massive tumor covering half of her face. While she walks by and takes the bus, we can listen to her, in voiceover, explaining to the viewer what’s BDD. Together with her explanation, we also listen to her thoughts while people see her or approach her. Here we listen to statements like, “Don’t look at me. I’m a monster. I’m grotesque.”
The film's effect on the viewer, or at least in my case, is quite shocking, not precisely because of how she looks (I mean, no matter how open-minded you are, the image is meant to shock you), but because of the way people act after looking at her. In that way, the film becomes a sort of cathartic mirror where anyone can see themselves reflected. Whether you suffer from BDD and identify with the protagonist or with the people reacting to her, it raises the question, "If I’m reacting this way by just watching a video, how would it be like to witness it in real life? How would I react and why?"
Accompanying the video, the exhibit displays masks, huge quotes on the walls, and a recording with other people suffering from BDD telling their experiences. All in all, the exhibition intends to educate the audience on a very common yet concealed subject many ignore. It’s making them experience what it's like to feel like they do, instead of just trying to understand in a condescending way. In other words, for a moment the audience puts themselves in the shoes of people with BDD and experience the anxiety of the condition while becoming more aware of how some attitudes we might have can really affect others, no matter how meaningless we think they are.
Leigh de Vries has suffered from BDD since she was a teenager. This was triggered because she was born with a lazy eye. All her childhood she was aware of this, but it wasn’t until she reached puberty and kids starting letting her know about it that her insecurities developed in this anxiety disorder. In that way, music became a great healer but never a real cure. When the time came for her to do gigs or promotional videos, BDD would come to torment her. As a way of confronting it in a direct way, she came with the idea of the short film and then the exhibition. As she has stated, the idea couldn’t be more helpful. She had the prosthetic mask made to look exactly as she perceived herself every time she looked in the mirror, and the best moment of all was when she took it off: “It was the first time I ever realized that I was beautiful.”
If you want to know more about her work, take a look at her official website: Leigh de Vries
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