A Very Different Body Image Problem

‘Most people want to change something about themselves, and the
image I have of myself has always been one without legs,’ Susan
Smith wrote earlier this year in the Guardian (link
unavailable). Smith (a pseudonym) relates her lifelong struggle as
one of the untold number of those with Body Identity Integrity
Disorder (BIID). Classified as a psychological condition, those who
suffer from BIID long to amputate healthy appendages in the pursuit
of an ideal body image.

To physicians and researchers, the origins of BIID still baffle,
though patients’ histories are strikingly similar.
In an article for Psychology Today,
William Lee Adams points out that many BIID sufferers ‘encounter
amputees as children and, as early as age 4, experience
discomfort with their bodies.’ According to leading BIID
researcher, Michael First of Columbia University, humans
gradually develop a psychological acceptance of their arms and
legs, but seeing an amputee can disrupt this process.

According to the
BIID Association
, an advocacy group made up of medical,
psychological, and psychiatric professionals, the disorder has
other root causes, too.
On its website, the group lists a few theories,
including one that posits that children who feel ‘unloved’ and
develop BIID might believe that ‘becoming an amputee may attract
sympathy and love.’ Another hypothesis is that BIID might be caused
by a ‘neuro-pathological condition.’

Many of those with BIID take matters into their own hands if
therapy and drugs do little to quell their desires. Like others,
Smith carefully planned ways to damage her left leg in order to
qualify for amputation. The process had Smith purchasing nearly 100
pounds of dry ice at a time to cover her leg and induce frostbite.
Only after an unintended infection nearly killed her, Smith’s leg
was deemed unfit enough for amputation.

Others with BIID, as Adams reports, manage to avoid the lure of
amputation. As a teenager Robert strapped a tourniquet to his leg
to induce necrosis, but was unsuccessful. Now at age 70, Robert
keeps his BIID in check through diversions like work and church
activities. What Robert fears the most is that he won’t be able to
keep his desires at bay when he grows too old to keep up with such

Even for those who undergo amputation, the many years of pre-op
depression and silence still linger. ‘I think BIID will stay taboo
until people get together and bring it out,’ Smith concludes. And
‘bringing it out’ is still a long way off. The BIID Association
says that only a single book has been published on BIID, and little
academic research has been devoted to the disorder. While BIID
might be a taboo for those who have it, more still have no
knowledge of its existence.

Go there >>
Quirky Minds: Amputee Wannabes

Go there, too >> I Won’t Be Happy Until I Lose My Legs
(link unavailable)

And there >>
Body Identity Integrity Disorder

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