Recently, there have been a number of stories in the media that have touched upon the topic of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). These stories suggest the unfortunate extent to which women (and a growing number of men) appear to be internalizing extremely distorted ideas of beauty.
Will BDD become known as Heidi Montag Syndrome?
Perhaps the most public illustration of this growing problem is the case of Heidi Montag. Until a year ago, I had never heard of Heidi Montag, and I still have no idea why she is famous. Apparently, she is on a reality TV show called “The Hills”, which Stylite blogger Linda Ripoll describes as an “amazing exploration into self-hatred, body dysmorphic disorder, and addiction to plastic surgery”.
And while I have never seen her show, I would have to live in a cave to avoid hearing about the highly publicized cosmetic procedures she has had in recent months, including one day in which she reportedly had the following ten procedures performed at one time:
- brow lift
- botox in her brow
- Revision of previous nose job
- fat injections in cheeks, nasolabial folds and lips
- chin reduction
- liposuction on neck
- ears pinned back
- breast augmentation revision
- liposuction on waist, hips, and thighs
- buttock augmentation.
This orgy of body mutilation led Ripoll to suggest that BDD might become known as Heidi Montag Syndrome, much like OCD has at times been called Howard Hughes Syndrome. While I am not prepared to diagnose Ms. Montag from afar, one glance at the photo to the right suggests that she has a profoundly distorted idea of what a healthy woman’s body looks like.
Sadly, despite the multiple procedures that have left her with the outsized physical characteristics of a cartoon character, Montag is reportedly still not satisfied with her size DDD breasts, and is said to be considering having her them augmented yet again. This cycle of cosmetic procedures, followed by dissatisfaction with the outcome of those procedures, followed by yet more procedures to counter the effects of the initial procedures, is a classic symptom of severe BDD, and suggests the possibility that Ms. Montag may yet supplant Michael Jackson as the most (in)famous representative of Body Dsymorphic Disorder.
Jennifer Aniston, Kim Kardashian, Pamela Anderson, et al
Unfortunately, Montag is not the only media personality to seek respite from her distorted body image by going under the knife. OK Magazine recently did a cover story titled “Boob Jobs, Botox, and Lipo” that reported on the various surgeries done by over 25 celebrities. And while some of these reported surgeries may have been done for legitimate medical reasons (i.e., repairing damage done from a broken nose that led to restricted breathing), the great majority of these procedures were on stars apparently having purely elective surgeries in an effort to improve their already very nice faces and bodies.
Amongst the celebrities noted in the above-mentioned story was actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who has acknowledged resorting to liposuction and Botox in the past. Curtis, who perhaps enjoys the wisdom that only comes with age and experience, also appeared in a recent issue of More magazine, which is specifically aimed at the “mature women” demographic. In addressing her own experience with the aging process, and that of her equally famous actress mother (the late Janet Leigh), Curtis wrote with great clarity about the growing problem of modern women’s self-loathing:
“Our dissatisfaction with what we look like has reached epidemic proportions. Just look around you: people don’t look right. Lips, eyes, hair weaves, implants. It is a freak show being fed by the business it generates, a modern day surgical industrial complex.”
And there you have it – “the business it generates”. Cosmetic surgeons make big money by feeding off the body image insecurities of women, and to an increasing extent, men as well.
But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the problem with the business of beauty is solely that of unscrupulous physicians willing to exploit the insecure. All one need do is look at the world of advertising to see how the public is being sold unrealistic, unachievable ideals of beauty. Ralph Lauren has come under fire in recent months due to the obvious retouching of photos in two ad campaigns that presented models as being grotesquely thin. And recently, Ann Taylor has been caught doing the same thing.
Meanwhile, cosmetics companies continue to make billions by successfully convincing women that they need to change the way they look. And the pharmaceutical company Allergan has gone so far as to (very successfully) market Latisse, a drug originally designed for glaucoma, but now sold as a beauty aid because it has a side effect of increasing eyelash length.
Of course, we can’t blame business interests entirely for our attraction to products and services that we think will make us more beautiful. It may simply be innate in humans to value beauty, and as such, to seek out these products and services. As Camille Paglia has noted, “We should not have to apologize for reveling in beauty. Beauty is an eternal human value”. It may be that we are naturally invested in being beautiful, even if it requires surgery, drugs, or Photoshop. But the question arises: At what point does our attraction to beauty become pathology? At what point does our quest for beauty become an addiction? At what point does our desire for beauty become a disorder?
•Tom Corboy, MFT, is the director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles, a private, outpatient clinic specializing in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), and related conditions. In addition to individual therapy, the center offers six weekly therapy groups, as well as online therapy, telephone therapy, and intensive outpatient treatment. To contact the OCD Center of Los Angeles, click here.Heidi Montag photo courtesy of Kevin Perkins, PacificCoastNews.