(Image by Miguel Tejada-Flores used under CC 2.0 via)
At the beginning of Mean Girls, Lindsay Lohan’s character watches her new high school friends indulge in body-bashing in front of a bedroom mirror:
“God, my hips are huge!”
“Oh, please. I hate my calves!”
“At least you guys can wear halters. I’ve got man-shoulders.”
“My hairline is so weird.”
“My pores are huge!”
“I used to think there was just fat and skinny,” Lohan thinks to herself. “Apparently there’s a lot of things that can be wrong with your body,”
While most women in the Western world are well-acquainted with this mentality, such self-hatred also occurs in men, albeit more covertly. Body dysmorphic disorder affects between 1% to 2% of the population and is distributed equally among men and women. And if they have the means to pursue cosmetic surgery, they can become addicted to it.
In an article appearing at The Huffington Post last week, 27-year-old Reid Ewing (pictured above), who plays a run-of-the-mill hunk on Modern Family, revealed his seven-year struggle with body dysmorphic disorder and his subsequent addiction to cosmetic surgery. After describing in detail his self-hatred in front of the mirror and his misery after each of the several surgeries, he turns his lens to the doctors who were only too ready to put him under the knife:
Of the four doctors who worked on me, not one had mental health screenings in place for their patients, except for asking if I had a history of depression, which I said I did, and that was that. My history with eating disorders and the cases of obsessive compulsive disorder in my family never came up. None of the doctors suggested I consult a psychologist for what was clearly a psychological issue rather than a cosmetic one or warn me about the potential for addiction.
People with body dysmorphic disorder often become addicted to cosmetic surgery. Gambling with your looks, paired with all the pain meds doctors load you up on, make it a highly addictive experience. It’s a problem that is rarely taken seriously because of the public shaming of those who have had work done. The secrecy that surrounds cosmetic surgery keeps the unethical work practiced by many of these doctors from ever coming to light. I think people often choose cosmetic surgery in order to be accepted, but it usually leaves them feeling even more like an outsider. We don’t hear enough stories about cosmetic surgery from this perspective.
Not long after I had decided to stop getting surgeries, I saw the first doctor I met with on a talk show and then in a magazine article, giving tips on getting cosmetic surgery. Well, this is written to counter his influence. Before seeking to change your face, you should question whether it is your mind that needs fixing.
Plastic surgery is not always a bad thing. It often helps people who actually need it for serious cases, but it’s a horrible hobby, and it will eat away at you until you have lost all self-esteem and joy. I wish I could go back and undo all the surgeries. Now I can see that I was fine to begin with and didn’t need the surgeries after all.
I have written extensively about my decision to undergo six years of limb-lengthening. In the many, many conversations I have had with people in person, on panels and in print about this decision, I have emphasized that it was not for cosmetic purposes and that anyone who would do it to counteract feelings of bodily inferiority should refrain. Ewing’s stories of screaming at his scars and feeling anything but satisfied with himself are precisely why.
And for the majority of people who are not at risk for such all-encompassing self-destruction, it is still worth asking ourselves as a culture if the aforementioned tradition of bonding through body-bashing brings us any self-esteem or joy.