Men and women pluck their eyebrows as a way to look neat, polished, and refreshed. For Charlotte Starling, 27, from Norwich, England, routinely plucking her eyebrows led to her addiction — plucking other parts of her body as a coping mechanism for her severe anxiety.
Starling, the mother of a 10-year-old girl named Louise, began to obsessively pluck her eyebrows when her daughter started school at the age of 4. Starling was just 16 years old when she gave birth to Louise — in the toilet. She did not know she was pregnant until she went to the bathroom in the middle of the night and suddenly felt the urge to push. “When I looked down the toilet there was a baby. I was so shocked I screamed for my mum and she scooped it out,” Starling told the Daily Mail.
Starling was with her 17-year-old boyfriend at the time who vowed to her to raise the baby together. However, the young parents split when Louise was just 15 months old. Soon after, Starling met her current fiancé Martin Thompson, 36, who has helped her deal with her addiction. “I had my baby girl and my fiancé and life was wonderful,” Starling said, regarding the period before Louise started school.
Her daughter’s departure for school took a toll on her health. Starling experienced an identity crisis because she didn’t know who she was, which led to her severe anxiety.
“Since I’d become an adult my job was to look after Louise. When she was at school I didn’t know who I was and I started suffering severe anxiety,” she said. Before Starling realized it, she had gone six hours plucking her eyebrows, without a panic attack, before it was time to pick up her daughter from school.
When Starling’s daughter and husband would come home, Starling would no longer feel the need to pluck and would, “like a switch,” go back to what she knew. “It was only when I was alone that the anxiety came and the compulsion to pluck would take over,” she said.
Aware that her obsessive plucking was abnormal behavior, she sought help from her doctor. Unfortunately, she received little sympathy, although she repeated that plucking was taking over her life. Starling’s doctor simply told her to stop. “Nobody seemed bothered, so I told myself not to worry about it and just carried on," Starling said.
Starling’s fiancée’s mother, Kathy Thompson, was the one to address the issue and help Starling get immediate help. “I was getting changed and she saw my chest and gasped. She was shocked when I told her about the plucking. She sat down and told me it was very serious and I needed help,” Starling told the Daily Mail. Starling would pluck her chest hairs until her bra was filled with blood, an action that has left her with scars all over her breasts.
In 2011, Starling with diagnosed with dermatillomania, a skin picking disorder where a person picks his or her skin so often that it causes tissue damage and interferes with daily activities, according to the International OCD Foundation.
Since Starling's diagnosis, her fiancé has confiscated more than 20 tweezers, but this did not stop her from plucking. She would use her daughter’s pencil sharpener, needles, and knives, and later started to grow out her fingernails. “I turned myself into a pair of human tweezers,” she said.
Starling was labeled as disabled and now her fiancé has quit his job as a plumbing and heating engineer to become his fiancée’s caretaker.
“I can’t believe it started with plucking my eyebrows and turned into this,” Starling said.