When the Mirror Lies Unhealthy Preoccupations with Body Image can be a Major Concern for Some

Teens are undergoing facial plastic surgery at record rates and doctors are on high alert for adolescents suffering from a mental illness that causes them to loath their bodies, known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

Body dysmorphic disorder is defined as a time-consuming and potentially disabling preoccupation with imagined or slight defects in one’s appearance. Sufferers become obsessed with their perceived physical flaw, thinking about it for at least an hour a day, wearing heavy makeup or long clothing to hide it and avoiding contact with others. BDD most commonly involves facial features but may also involve hands, feet, breasts and genitalia. It usually begins during adolescence, and can cause depression, social isolation, school or job problems and, in more severe cases, suicide attempts.

“This is a dangerous yet misunderstood illness and facial plastic surgeons are increasingly becoming the first line of defense, ” said Dr. Shan Baker, president of American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS).

Families sometimes mistakenly attribute the behavior to extreme self-consciousness associated with growing up. Diagnosing BDD can be challenging because sufferers often keep their symptoms secret due to embarrassment and shame.

More teens than ever are seeking facial plastic surgery, according to a recent survey of the membership of AAFPRS. In 2001, 6.9 percent of all procedures were sought by teens, compared to 4.4 percent in 2000 and 2.5 percent in 1999. Interestingly, the AAFPRS survey also showed that body dysmorphic disorder appears to have no gender bias. Six out of every 100 women who seek procedures suffer from BDD compared to 7 out of every 100 men