Proud2Bme | Shattered Image: An Interview with Author Brian Cuban

Shattered Image: An Interview with Author Brian Cuban

By Benjamin O'Keefe--As I began to read the first page of Brian Cuban’s memoir, Shattered Image: My Triumph Over Body Dysmorphic Disorder, I already knew that this book would touch my life in a major way.

Little did I know that Cuban would take me on a journey that would include tears, laughs, and everything in between. He intimately and fearlessly shares his personal struggles with body dysmorphic disorder, bulimia, addiction, and the bullying and circumstances that led to his illnesses. His story is not far off from my own or from the stories of tens of thousands of young people. Brian Cuban has battled his demons and gone on to accomplish incredible things. He is an inspiration to me. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Brian to ask him a few questions about his book and his life. Here's what he had to say.

In your memoir you go into intimate detail about your battle with BDD, eating disorders, and so much more. Would you mind sharing a portion of your personal story for us?
I was a heavy child. I had a difficult relationship with my mom as a child. There was fat shaming as she was fat shamed by her mom; it runs downhill from there.  As I got heavier, the bullying in school began to present itself, it culminated in being "pantsed" when I was 11 years old by a group of kids I thought were my friends. They ripped off a pair of pants I was wearing, tore them up and threw them into the street, leaving me only in my underwear for the mile walk home.  I was so ashamed that I never told anyone in my family.  After that, the bullying increased in school as word of the incident spread.

In 1971, there was no internet. "Going viral" meant spreading through the lunchroom. By the time I was 18, I had decided that the only way I would ever be accepted, attractive, or popular  would be to take control my body and be like the kids I compared myself to every day who had fun social circles, girlfriends, etc.  As we were decades from the digital age, I was not comparing myself to magazine images, movie stars, etc. I was comparing myself to the kids I saw around me every day who seemed to be popular and accepted. I began to self-restrict.  

By the time I was a freshman in college I had developed full blown anorexia, living on a starvation diet and I began to develop body dysmorphic disorder. I no longer saw a normal reflection in the mirror. I saw a fat, stupid, monster.  Starving myself was not changing what I saw in the mirror even as I got thinner and thinner.  I then began to binge and purge.  I battled bulimia for 27 years and have been in recovery since 2007. Because BDD differs from a pure eating disorder diagnosis, there were other issues as well.  I developed alcoholism, a drug addiction, and abused steroids--all to change the image of the fat 11-year-old boy in the mirror that never would go away, no matter what extreme eating behaviors or addiction behaviors I engaged in.

I considered suicide. The turning point came in 2007 when after coming out of a two day blackout, I finally decided that I had no more looks into the abyss. They say your low point in life can be your best moment if you survive it and learn from it. The the next day I walked into my shrink’s office and finally got honest about my childhood, addictions, and eating disorders. I had been lying to him for years, telling him everything was fine (I had started seeing him for marriage issues). Once I got honest, everything changed. The more I dealt with the pain and shame of that 11-year-old child and released the anger, shame, and humiliation, I was able to take more and more control of my thoughts and future.  I was able to forgive those in my past who played a part in shaping my view of myself. I began to forgive myself.  I am not all the way there yet. Recovery is an ongoing process; every day is a small step forward towards complete acceptance of who I am, loving myself and looking towards a bright future.

When I went public with my eating disorder I did it in front of millions on televisions and newspapers across the world. It was a very scary thing to do. It was even more scary because of the stigma around eating disorders and body identity issues in men. Why do you think that as a society we are less receptive to the idea of men struggling with body image and what kind of reactions have you received after going public with your story?

I believe its because eating disorders are still primarily thought of as a "women's problem.”  When Karen Carpenter passed away [from anorexia] in 1983 it started a national conversation, which is a great thing. But it also helped cement that stereotype. We also primarily only have women of prominence who come forward with their problems, the most obvious and recent being Demi Lovato.  It is very rare to see a male of prominence come forward. The reason is the same one that has defined gender roles for a century: males are the "strong ones" and anything related to body image is a sign of weakness. With that comes fear of consequences of coming forward: fear of losing a job, fear of losing a marriage. I have males tell me these things as reasons they keep quiet, continuing to live in shame. Gender roles have of course changed for the better between men and women, but for some reason [the public's perception] of eating disorders has not caught up just yet.

I have received almost all positive support in coming forward. There will always be trolls who take pleasure in portraying it as a weakness, but those are few and far between. I have no regrets and look forward to spreading awareness.

What do you think can be done to help wipe out our nation’s fixation on body image?

[Parents should] stop fixating on it a home with children. The media is the media. That is not going to change.  Work from the inside out not the outside in.

Your older brother Mark (owner of the Dallas Mavericks and star of ABC’s “Sharktank”) also lives quite an exciting life. Is there any sibling rivalry there and was he supportive during your recovery?

My entire family was supportive.  My father always stressed the bond of brothers.  My two brothers have shown nothing but love during this process.  As far as sibling rivalry? Not really.  The three of us (there are three brothers) are different people with different personalities and outlooks on life. As it should be.  We are supportive of each other, not competitive about it.

Do you think if growing up you would have had access to valuable resources, like and like your own book, that your struggle with BDD would have been easier?

Absolutely!  In 1971 such things were simply not discussed. There was no internet.  For the most part there were no treatment options. Eating disorder awareness was non-existent.  Treatment options could only have helped. Because of that, I got so used to trial and error in my recovery and as options became available I was still unaware because I was simply used to dealing with it in my own way.

What should readers do if they feel like they or someone they know might be suffering from symptoms of BDD?

Reach out to people who understand the issues.  Like an eating disorder diagnosis, a BDD diagnosis is complex as is treatment.  There is no way to have a productive discussion from a position of ignorance.

I know for me, growing up overweight, I constantly compared myself to people around me and more than that, the sensationalized images portrayed in the media. Its one reason that I went up against the clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch and their company’s size discrimination; and why NEDA has fought and continues to fight on multiple projects involving this issue. How did the media play a role in your struggles and what do you think can be done about this issue?

The media did not play a role in my ED and BDD issues.  There was no  cable or internet in much of my teen years. I was comparing myself to the kids at school I saw every day who I thought were popular. A lot has changed since then. I think the new media and digital images can certainly play a role developing stereotypes. In my opinion, it all still starts at home. However, I feel that it is important to battle these stereotypes, as you did, when we see them.  When big fish like Abercrombie & Fitch come around, others will as well. Positive messages can take on a viral nature just as the negative ones can.

What is the one message you want people to take away from your story?
No matter how bad you think it is, just one small step forward can start to change everything. You just have to want it. No one can do it for you. There is a great ED-free life out there with each small step.  We are not on this earth to be perfect. We are here to love and be loved.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the NEDA helpline at (800) 931-2237 or visit the website for click-to-chat help.

For More Information on Brian Cuban and his book “Shattered Image: My Triumph Over Body Dysmorphic Disorder” visit his website or find him on Twitter @bcuban

For More Information on Proud2BMe Ambassador and Actor Benjamin O’Keefe visit his website or find him on Twitter @benjaminokeefe

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