Dorian Gray

“If it were I who were to be always young and the picture to grow old…I would give my soul for it.” (Pg. 49 The Picture of Dorian Gray) Thus, while observing his new portrait, Dorian Gray unwittingly sells his soul in order to maintain his good looks. Through the following years his portrait mysteriously ages but Gray’s own handsomeness never diminishes. The portrait serves as Gray’s conscience; with every sordid act that he commits the portrait turns uglier and more sinister. In the end, Gray cannot hide from the true reflection of his portrait and, consumed by guilt and anger, he plunges a knife into the painting before dropping down dead. From this narcissistic tale by Oscar Wilde, the Dorian Gray Syndrome is born.

But what actually is the Dorian Gray Syndrome? Dr. Burkhard Brosig coined the term in the year 2000 although it is not yet officially recognized as a medical disorder. Brosig, taking the term from Wilde’s 1890 novel, said that someone who is obsessed with fighting the aging process – willing to use whatever means necessary in order to look youthful – suffers from the Dorian Gray Syndrome. In a nutshell, the Dorian Gray Syndrome is vanity at its most extreme.

Returning to the novel for a moment, Dorian Gray can be forgiven with making his wish for eternal youth. He is not the first to make such a wish and he is most certainly not the last. It is quite natural to fear the aging process but simultaneously this poses the question: what should be done about it?

For some, the answer lies in holding on to one’s youth for as long as possible. Many symptoms of aging such as grey hair, pot-bellies and a shrinking libido can be treated in different ways. In moderation, many treatments are accepted by the majority of people. If a friend or family member becomes a little too obsessed with a particular symptom then it is always wise to be sympathetic as well as constructive in pointing out the error of their ways. Aging can affect confidence and it is more important to rebuild self-esteem rather than resort to ridicule. After all, restoring a little pride in one’s appearance can make life more enjoyable.

But when does ‘a little pride’ transform into extreme vanity? Today we are quite familiar with self-obsessed celebrities. As many of these celebrities age we occasionally witness their desperate desire for eternal youth when they indulge in excessive amounts of plastic surgery. It would not be unfair to state that these people suffer from the Dorian Gray Syndrome. They have stepped into a world of desperate narcissism. Their fear of aging has turned them into pitiful deniers of nature and as a consequence they are often cruelly mocked by both the media and public alike. 

It could be argued that a reader of ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’ can view the story as a warning against self-obsession. Perhaps, among other things, this was one of Wilde’s intentions in writing the book.

Oscar Wilde considered himself an aesthete. Aesthetics is a school of thought that mainly concentrates on the beauty of artistic creativity and natural wonder. Wilde believed that by beautifying the outward aspects of life, one would beautify the inner ones. He did not see beauty merely as an outward thing but something deeper, more spiritual.

At the beginning of the novel, Dorian Gray is a young man who wants to reject the aging process. To Dorian Gray, beauty is only skin deep. It takes a more refined nature to appreciate the different nuances of beauty; in Wilde’s eyes, it would take an aesthete. For sufferers of the Dorian Gray Syndrome this misunderstanding of beauty is the source of their illness. They have deluded themselves with their impossible quest for eternal youth and miss out on many of the refined pleasures of older age by spending large amounts of time and money on cosmetics, pills, surgery and so forth.

It is alleged that sufferers of the Dorian Gray Syndrome can eventually find themselves in a state of heavy depression. An intense period of psychotherapy is recommended for such people. In a post-modern world that often pays greater attention to superficial beauty, it is expected that the syndrome will affect more people. This tragedy is fueled by the vast quantity of anti-aging products available to the general public who are continually persuaded to fear the aging process by manipulative advertisers and, as a consequence, many risk becoming fresh victims of the Dorian Gray Syndrome. Perhaps one solution to try and avoid this possible illness could be to read Oscar Wilde’s, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’.