Living With BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder), By Lea Walker

Lea Walker grew up wanting to be like Dolly Parton. She certainly had enough heartbreak

Reviewed,Paul Burston
Sunday 18 January 2009 01:00

Faced with a book on body dysmorphic disorder, my first thought was, "Is this me?" Granted, my breasts aren't nearly as big as Lea Walker's (we gay men refer to them as "pecs", by the way). And I haven't had nearly as much "work" done. I go to the gym, watch what I eat, and occasionally I indulge in a bit of Botox or the odd facial filler to freshen up my appearance. A lot of men do, though few will admit to it – especially the straight city-boy types who, I am reliably informed, are a huge growth market for non-surgical age-defying procedures. But at what point does all this become body dysmorphic disorder? Let's turn to the book and find out.

Walker is a charming narrator. She didn't write this book herself and she isn't too proud to say so: "I'm not the brightest of sparks, so I'm having someone help me." (Her co-author is Janet Lee.) She also compares life to a glass of milk. "One day it's OK, the next it's like cat sick in a bottle." Well, give me that over Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates.

If you can get past the "I'm a celebrity, get me a book deal" aspect of this publishing enterprise, there's a really moving story here about a little girl who grew up thinking she was ugly and who went to extraordinary lengths to rectify the "problem", before finding fame on Big Brother in 2006 and undergoing a very public mauling, followed by a lot of soul searching. Much of the story you perhaps feel you already know: poor background, warring parents, bullied at school. As children, Walker and her siblings were known as the "the pit house kids" or "tramps", which really isn't so different to the cries of "chav" thrown at her now.

At the age of nine, Walker discovered peroxide. She turned herself into a blonde, but she wasn't quite the bombshell she hoped. "I knew that I was really ugly", she writes. "If I caught sight of my reflection I would shut my eyes because I didn't want this ugly thing looking back at me." Her idols were Dolly Parton, Samantha Fox and Pamela Anderson. Her main ambition in life was to live up to this ideal.

At 16 she lost her virginity, fell in with a rock band and developed an unhealthy relationship with food. She was skinny one minute, fat the next. Her boyfriend beat her up and broke her nose. It's hardly any wonder she started hating herself. After breaking up with one boyfriend, she settled down with another, a body builder who was injecting steroids. Despite his frequent 'roid rages, she worshipped him. She cooked for him, cleaned for him and even put the toothpaste on his brush in the mornings.

Bullied at work, she lost her job and ended up watching hours of daytime television – a recipe for disaster if ever there was one. Watching The Vanessa Show one day, she saw an item about bulimia and thought: "I could do that!" She took laxatives and threw up constantly. Her dentist warned her that her teeth were rotting, but she didn't care because at least now she was thin. Later she swapped the body builder for a man she calls Mr Black. "Trust me," she says. "This man was angry." Then why go with him, Lea?, you feel like pleading. But by now the answer is painfully obvious. He beat her, and he made her pregnant. She says she stayed because of her baby, whom she refers to simply as "H".

Not surprisingly, she found it hard to bond with the child and suffered postnatal depression. Meanwhile, the baby's father reminded her of how fat and ugly she was. Finally he did her a favour and left, but not before "he kicked the shit out of me in front of H".

From there, it was only a short trip to the plastic surgeon where Walker had another nose job, a tummy tuck, liposuction and a total of five boob jobs, reinventing herself as the woman she thought men wanted her to be. She made a regrettable venture into soft porn. Then came the media circus that is Big Brother and the creation of another "celeb", those strange creatures we love and hate in equal measure.

Despite their many similarities, in some ways Walker is the anti-Jordan, clearly vulnerable where Katie Price is not, and someone who lacks the brashness necessary to turn herself into a brand. But there's a saving grace, which is that Walker emerges from this book a far kinder and more thoughtful person than Jordan appears to be. If nothing else, she's convinced me that I don't have BDD, and for that I'm profoundly grateful.

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