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Buffy, Gwyneth and the Self-Diagnosing Trend

September 26, 2011

“I totally have body dysmorphic disorder. I think most women do.” Believe it or not, this is Sarah Michelle Gellar talking, in a new interview with Health magazine. The quote comes out of left field, not only because of its flippancy but also because Gellar seems otherwise confident (and healthy) throughout her interview. To our knowledge Gellar hasn’t actually been diagnosed with BDD, and it seems like she is casually name-dropping a psychiatric disorder, joining the same self-diagnosing trend that Glee has recently come under fire for. Unfortunately, reasonable doubt hasn’t stopped several breathless media outlets from reporting her self-diagnosis as fact.

Any psychologist will tell you that body dysmorphic disorder is a real and serious disorder, and that most women do not have it. The ordinary insecurity many of us feel about our body isn’t a disorder, and Gellar trivializes real suffering when she conflates the two. Gwyneth Paltrow—whose name has become synonymous with healthy living—recently shocked fans in her GOOP blog by posting a picture of herself at the Emmys with the caption, “Wait…why does my arm look like that and since when do I have 9 chins?”

Now a blogger at The Stir is wondering if Paltrow, too, has BDD, in a post titled Deranged Gwyneth Paltrow Thinks She Has 9 Chins. Of course, this is ridiculous speculation, and it does little to quell the rumor that BDD is as common as a cold. We can’t help wishing that Gellar had chosen her words more carefully. The self-diagnosing trend does little to validate the realness of psychiatric disorders and the impairment they cause…and it also distracts from the real causes of the all-too-common insecurity that most women have about their bodies.

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