Topics: Health, Native Affairs

Native Affairs – Body Obsession

By Aroha Awarau

Gisborne hairdresser Dale Henry Ramos has one of the most extensive Barbie collections in Aotearoa – with more than 1000 dolls. But despite all the fun that playing with Barbies can bring, Dale has also had to overcome a rare condition called body dysmorphic disorder, where sufferers have an obsession about the way they look.

 “Barbie can be anything – astronaut, businesswomen, hairdresser, that's how the love affair with Barbie began.”

Dale has collected Barbies since he was eight years old, around the same time he developed an unhealthy obsession with his body.

“I remember being a kid and going to school and I was wearing jeans and I looked down and I noticed that my legs were big.  But I left it at that, until I started going into my teenage years.

“In a short space of time I became bulimic and quickly anorexic. It created  a real struggle for me.”

Dale was also obsessed with plastic surgery and only saw flaws with his body. Everytime he looked in the mirror, he says,  he saw a monster.

“I would pick at stuff, like my face wasn’t symetrical. My hair wasn’t good. My nose, my mouth was too small. I didn’t know what this was.:

As a teen, Dale was diagnosed with the rare condition, body dysmorphic disorder.

Auckland counsellor describes it as an anxiety disorder, “but the focus is put on physical appearance.”

“It’s really an obsession and a fixation, a lot of critical, negative self talk.  I liken it to having a 24 hour bully in your head telling you maybe  your nose is a bit crooked to a point where you don’t go out.

The statistics show that it doesn’t discriminate against age, gender or culture. I feel that a lot of social culture has a big part to play. It’s the selfie culture, how we look, how we take people apart into separate pieces of self worth.”

Dale says he hid behind make up and wore designer clothes like an armour. He overcome the disorder after many years of counselling and the support from his whānau.

“I had to really make some tough decisions about where I was going to go in my life. Because I easily could have just rolled over and died. There was something more for me.”

Today Dale owns his own hairdressing salon. Just like Barbie, Dale met his “Ken” and married his husband Erick last month.

“Life right now is what I was looking for. To be happy.”