When Seeking Perfect Selfies Becomes a Dangerous Obsession

One teenager almost lost his life over his selfie obsession.

ByABC News
August 13, 2014, 5:25 PM

— -- The selfie craze has become ingrained in our sharing culture, but being a selfie-holic can have a dark side and sent a British man on a downward spiral and a never-ending quest that almost took his life.

Danny Bowman, a 19-year-old from East Sussex, England, said taking selfies became an obsession “to seek perfection.”

“It became a habit ... to the point where I was taking 200 [photos of myself] a day,” Bowman told ABC News' “20/20.” “I wanted to find the perfect selfie. ... I wanted to look like them people on the front of Vogue, like them people on the front of GQ. Perfection was the key.”

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It began, Bowman said, when he was 15 years old and took his first selfie with his cell phone, but that initial picture set off an endless cycle of snapping and scrutinizing his looks.

“They were the perfect way of examining myself ... examining my face, examining my hair,” he said.

But soon, selfies for Bowman weren’t about sharing on social media. Instead, he started using them to pick himself apart. He stopped posting them to social media entirely, but kept critiquing his appearance, focusing on perceived imperfections.

“I would see skin discolorment. I would see spots potentially coming. I would see my hair wasn’t perfectly coifed ... my nose was too big,” Bowman said. “Everything was a problem, and it seemed that that the only way to get rid of that problem ... was to take these photos, and examine them completely… and it became just out of control.”

Bowman’s life soon became consumed with taking selfies. He said he would constantly stop what he was doing to take selfies and stopped playing sports.

“I was on about four or five different teams, and I just quit them ... to take the pictures,” he said.

To his parents’ horror, Bowman retreated from day-to-day life, dropping out of school and barely eating. For six months, Bowman even refused to leave the house.

“I literally cut myself off from the world,” he said. “Cut myself off from social media, cut myself off from everything ... because I thought I wasn’t perfect.”

He became so uncomfortable in his own skin that he would imagine the outside world turning on him.

“I thought I would be like an alien, you know,” Bowman said. "People would look at me and think I was so disfigured that ... they would literally scream down the street."

At one point, Bowman said, the idea of being anything else but perfect became so unbearable that he tried to take his own life.

“Unfortunately, it got to the point where I didn’t want to live anymore,” he said. “It’s not just the perfect selfie. ... I could not seek perfection.”

Bowman nearly overdosed on pills, but his parents found him in time and rushed him to the emergency room. That trip to the hospital, Bowman said, was his wake-up call.

“You know, the first path to recovery is realizing you have a problem,” he said.

He soon found out his problem was called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), a condition that leads sufferers to have a distorted view of their looks to the point where they will isolate themselves out of fear that other people will notice the flaws they obsess over. About 1 percent of the U.S. population has the disorder, and usually develops in teens and adolescents, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Bowman’s compulsive selfies were a symptom of that underlying condition.

After being diagnosed, Bowman underwent intensive therapy. He got rid of his cell phone and deleted most of the selfies he had taken and saved.

“I’m never going to be completely cured,” he said. “I feel happy. I don’t feel perfect, but I feel happy.”