Hayden Panettiere’s Struggle with Her Self-Image

September 20, 2012

Hayden Panettiere

“You are beautiful in every single way…” – Christina Aguilera

Hayden Panettiere was every teenage boy’s fantasy prom date when she played a superhuman cheerleader in the groundbreaking science fiction series, Heroes; she’s since moved on to her role as the super-sexy diva, Juliette Barnes, in ABC’s upcoming musical drama, Nashville. Hayden’s considered one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood and indeed has the career and star power to back up her beauty. So how would someone with that kind of toothsome reputation obsess over a perceived defect in her body? Ridiculous, right? Well, Hayden confessed to Women’s Health magazine this month that she’s struggled for years with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a psychological malady that distorts a person’s body image. A beautiful woman insecure in her appearance may strike you as a contradiction, but it’s hardly rare. In fact, Sarah Michelle-Gellar, Uma Thurman, Shakira, Jessica Simpson, and Demi Lovato all claim to have suffered from BDD.

So what exactly is Body Dysmorphic Disorder anyway? According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s “a type of chronic mental illness in which you can’t stop thinking about a flaw with your appearance — a flaw that is either minor or imagined. But to you, your appearance seems so shameful that you don’t want to be seen by anyone. Body dysmorphic disorder has sometimes been called ‘imagined ugliness.'”

A suffering person obsesses for several hours a day over a perceived flaw, and may attempt to fix it with cosmetic procedures, which in turn provide no satisfaction. And if you think it affects only women, well, think again. BDD occurs equally among men and women, and even occasionally strikes children and older adults. In fact, approximately 1-2% of the world’s population meets the diagnostic criteria for BDD.

Our hats are off to Hayden for having the courage to shine light on this subject! Now we’re clear that this is a disorder with a name, and it can be treated. With the intense societal pressures on actors nowadays, it’s easy to imagine them being particularly susceptible to such a malady. If this sounds like you, take it seriously and consider reaching out for help. When you reflect on the successful celebrities who have overcome these challenges, you can see you’re not alone, and it’s worthwhile to seek help. Besides, the most important resource you have when you walk into the audition room is your confidence. When you’re confident in your acting ability, in your voice, in your knowledge–and yes, in your appearance–casting directors, producers, and directors will notice. Confidence is not just innate; it can be learned and can be improved upon.