19-year-old Danny Bowman is England’s and perhaps the world’s first self-confessed selfie addict. It might seem funny, but this addiction is every bit as serious and dangerous as any other. In fact, the young boy almost lost his life over his obsession of taking the perfect selfie photograph.
Danny used to spend about 10 hours taking over 200 selfies on his iPhone, every single day. At one point, his addiction got so bad that he stopped going to school and didn’t leave his house for six months. He even lost almost 30 pounds trying to make himself more photogenic. When his parents tried to stop him, he turned aggressive. And in a final, drastic attempt to cure himself of his disease, Danny overdosed on drugs.
“I was constantly in search of taking the perfect selfie and when I realized I couldn’t, I wanted to die,” he said. “I lost my friends, my education, my health, and almost my life.” Fortunately, Danny was saved by his mother Penny, before the his selfie addiction claimed his life. He is now being treated for technology addiction, OCD and Body Dysmorphic Disorder, which is an excessive anxiety about personal appearance.
“The only thing I cared about was having my phone with me so I could satisfy the urge to capture a picture of myself at any time of the day,” said Danny. “I finally realized that I was never going to take a picture that made the craving go away and that was when I hit rock bottom. People don’t realize when they post a picture of themselves on Facebook or Twitter it can quickly spiral out of control. It becomes a mission to get approval and it can destroy anyone. It’s a real problem like drugs, alcohol or gambling. I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve been through.”
According to Dr. David Veal, one of the top psychiatrists at Danny’s clinic, selfie addiction is slowly gripping the nation. “Danny’s case is particularly extreme,” he said. “But this is a serious problem. It’s not just a vanity issue. It’s a mental health one which has an extremely high suicide rate.” Clicking selfies has been all the rage for the past five years or so, especially with celebrities. The word ‘selfie’ was named the ‘word of the year’ last year by Oxford English Dictionary – that’s how popular the phenomenon has become.
Danny began posting selfies online when he was only 15 years old. When his pictures received a few negative comments, he slowly began to seek approval from his peers. “I would be so high when someone wrote something nice but gutted when they wrote something unkind,” he said. Ultimately, Danny’s aim was to become a male model. But a modelling agency rejected him in 2011. “They told me that my body was the wrong shape to be a model and that my skin wasn’t up to scratch. I was mortified.” That’s when the addiction took a turn for the worse.
When he got home that night, he stood before his mirror and took a picture of himself. He didn’t like it, so he took another, and another. And he just couldn’t stop. Within a fortnight, he was taking almost 80 pictures even before he left home for school. As soon as his alarm went off in the morning, he would take 10 selfies. Then, 10 more after showering and 10 after moisturizing. He played around with the lighting and tried various rooms and backgrounds.
“I swiped through them on my phone. I would spend hours looking at them, scrutinizing my features and skin. I took selfies in bed, in the bathroom, and all day into the early hours. I would pore over pictures of my idol, Leonardo Dicaprio, and then take selfies in different poses, trying to look like him. But I felt so ugly.”
Things didn’t get better when Danny got to school. He’d become really anxious about how he looked in the middle of his classes. So he’d sneak out to the bathroom, click more pictures and lock himself in a cubicle to look at them until a teacher came to get him. At age 16, he finally dropped out of school, limiting himself to an apple and a bowl of couscous a day to become thinner and improve his skin. Although he dropped a lot of weight, he could only see an ‘overweight monster’ in his pictures.
Danny’s parents worried for him, but they were helpless. All of their efforts to stop him were only met with aggression. And then, on a fateful day in December 2012, tragedy struck. Danny began to pop pills, unable to cope with his disappointment over the pictures. Oddly enough, when he woke up in the hospital groggy and in pain, the only thing he could think of was what he would look like in his next picture.
I think Danny was extremely fortunate to be saved on time. He was referred to London’s Maudsley Hospital, where he has been receiving the appropriate treatment. According to Dr. Veal, “The common treatment is where a patient gradually learns to go for longer periods of time without satisfying the urge to take a photograph, along with therapy to address the root cause of the problem. This can be anything from low self-esteem to problems with bullying in the past.”
The whole situation has been a terrible ordeal for Robert and Penny, Danny’s parents. “We are both qualified mental health nurses and this was always our worst nightmare,” said Robert. “There is a huge lack of understanding about the dangers social networking and mobile technology can pose if a young person already has any insecurities – which most do. It’s important parents are aware of the dangers and keep a close eye on their children’s behavior and seek help if they feel it is needed.”
The good news is that Danny has now been ‘selfie-sober’ for the past seven months. He agrees that it sounds trivial and harmless. “But that’s the very thing that makes it so dangerous,” he said. “It almost took my life, but I survived and I am determined never to get into that position again.” He has now realized that ‘people don’t really look at you’ and he just wants to be comfortable with himself. Good luck, Danny!