When Does Looking Good Turn Bad?

Valeria Lukyanova, the human Barbie

As bikini season approaches, we all become a little more self-aware of how we look in less clothing. I’ve recently joined a new gym but have only been there about once a week since joining… I’m starting to notice those tuckshop-lady arms sneaking back. Hopefully, most of us feel okay about what we look like without the winter woolies.

I recently watched a documentary where Louis Theroux – I highly recommend his work – travelled to California to scrutinise the increasingly popular trend of having cosmetic surgery. I remember a particular scene where a middle-aged man was showing off his pectoral implants to Louis. They looked like boobs; girl’s boobs. Both patient and doctor truly believed this guy looked fantastic. Other patients featured on the documentary had varying levels of involvement in plastic surgery: one lady completely transforms herself to please her disrespectful boyfriend. It made me wonder: what is the real motivation behind artificially changing your appearance.

Louis discusses California’s obsession with perfection and with the surgeons themselves. Some are adamant that cosmetic surgery is in no way detrimental. Another doctor admits that while he believes his work does help people, it can also promote an unhealthy obsession with vanity.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is becoming increasingly prevalent among society. Psychologist Dr. Jefferys, from the University of Melbourne, discusses how patients are becoming more aware of this condition as it appears more in the media.

Individuals with BDD become obsessed with their imagined “ugliness”, often focusing on one or a few specific body parts. Some BDD patients were originally believed to have agoraphobia because they were so self-conscious that they refused to leave the house. Thirty percent of BDD patients also have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression, and suicide attempts are very prevalent among victims. There have even been numerous attempts at self-surgery which is extremely dangerous and can end in infection and death.

While cosmetic surgery seems like a quick fix for sufferers, it is not targeting the real issue. Individuals with BDD are likely to become fixated on another part of their body and never feel satisfied with their appearance. Dr. Jefferys recommends cognitive behavioural therapy and pharmacotherapy, as the cause of BDD is often linked to childhood bullying, sexual abuse or pressure from family to look good.

While only around 1% of the population suffer from body dysmorphic disorder, it is important to keep an eye out for signs amongst friends. It’s normal for us to feel less-than-fabulous some days, so don’t fret if your girlfriend asks if her butt looks big in those skinny jeans. Dr. Jefferys suggests that we should pay attention to shy, sensitive people who may not complain about their appearance but display behaviour such as “sitting in such a way so that their imagined side of ugliness is not directly obvious.”

Not everyone who has plastic surgery suffers from body dysmorphic disorder. A one off boob-job isn’t too much of an issue, but what do individuals gain from an obsession with false appearance? What do you think – where’s the line between beneficial and detrimental?