How Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Mental Health Issues Lead People to Undergo Cosmestic Surgery
Sun, April 18, 2021

How Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Mental Health Issues Lead People to Undergo Cosmestic Surgery


Cosmetic surgery involves enhancing your appearance, including aesthetic appeal, proportion, and symmetry, explained the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS), which has been dedicated to excellence in cosmetic surgery and providing the highest standard of care to their patients. It can be performed on all areas of the body, head, and neck.  

Alternatively, plastic surgery involves reconstructing facial and body defects caused by trauma, burns, birth disorders, and disease. Although cosmetic and plastic surgery are related specialties and commonly interchanged terms, they are not exactly the same.  

Cosmetic Procedures Among Youths In Singapore (2014)

In Jia Hui Ng and colleagues’ study published in PMC, a biomedical and life sciences journal portal, they conducted the first phase of the study by surveying 1,500 junior college (JC) students aged 16 to 21 from six junior colleges in 2010. The same survey was given to a random sample of year 2 to 5 medical students from an undergraduate medical school in 2011, which was the second phase of the study.

Overall, 1,164 JC and 241 medical students answered the surveys. 0.8% of JC students said they have undergone some kind of facial cosmetic procedure, with females (six females) comprising the majority. None of the students said they have undergone procedures performed on other parts of the body. The procedures the respondents had undertaken were facial lesion removal, facial laser, facial chemical peel, rhinoplasty, and blepharoplasty. Among medical students, 2% said they had previously undergone cosmetic procedures, which included facial melanocytic nevus removal and facial laser.

About 35% of JC students approved of their peers having cosmetic procedures. Among medical students, 24.5% approved of their peers getting cosmetic procedures, while 32.4% did not have an opinion. More JC boys (22%) approved of their girlfriends undergoing cosmetic procedures than JC girls (12.4%) who approved of their boyfriends undergoing such procedures. Among medical students, 17.4% of females approved of their boyfriends undergoing cosmetic procedures compared to 14.8% of male students who approved of their girlfriends having such procedures.

When asked whether they would allow their own kids to have cosmetic procedures in the future, 9.3% of JC and 5% of medical students said they would give consent to their child to undergo cosmetic procedures as students. Among medical students, 16.6% were unsure of whether they would allow their children to have cosmetic procedures as students.

When asked whether they would give consent after their kids have finished their studies, 24.7% of JC students and 30.7% said they would agree. Regarding which body parts the respondents would wish to alter, JC students mentioned nose (10.1%), eyes (8.9%), and skin (4.8%). Among medical students, they chose skin (13.7%), nose (11.2%), and eyes (9.1%). 10.7% of JC students and 16.6% of medical students were keen body contouring of certain body parts like thighs, buttocks, and abdomen.  

When asked if they would feel embarrassed if others found out that they had the procedure, 28.5% of JC and 31.5% of medical students said they would feel embarrassed if their immediate family knew. 35% of JC and 51% of medical students would feel that way if their close friends found out.

50.6% of JC students and 73.5% of medical students would also feel embarrassed if people outside their family and close friends knew about them getting cosmetic procedures. 51.8% of JC students and 35.7% of medical students did not know any of the risks associated with cosmetic procedures. Only 22.9% and 69.7% of JC students and medical students respectively were able to provide three correct associated risks. The study showed that the youth is increasingly accepting of cosmetic surgeries, though they lack a general understanding of risks associated with these procedures.  



The Relationship Between Body Dysmorphic Disorder, Mental Health Issues, and Cosmetic Surgery

Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental illness described as an obsessive concern about a supposed flaw in the body that may not be seen by others, stated Rebecca A. Clay of the American Psychological Association (APA), a scientific and professional organization that represents psychologists in the US.  Psychologist and associate dean for research and director of the Center for Obesity Education in Temple University's College of Public Health David Sarwer, Ph.D., said more than 90% of people with body dysmorphic disorder who undergo cosmetic surgery either report no change or worsening of symptoms.

Therefore, they are spending their energy, time, and money to get a treatment that will not benefit them. “Adolescents are very self-conscious about their bodies,” said Gia Washington, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. 

However, body dysmorphic disorder is only one of the psychological problems that can complicate cosmetic surgery and recovery. Eating disorders and depression and even in certain populations such as adolescents are more susceptible to having questionable motivations for seeking cosmetic procedures, as well as having unrealistic expectations of the surgery.  

Sarwer noted that those who seek cosmetic surgery sometimes have more in mind than enhancing their physical appearance. He said, “Some patients don't just want to improve their body image and self-esteem: They do it because they're in a failing romantic relationship or recently ended a romantic relationship or because they're frustrated with their career advancement.” Patients often say their body image has improved, but it’s rare for some to report having their well-being dramatically enhanced due to cosmetic surgery.



Pointers to Remember When Thinking About Altering Your Appearance

Cosmetic surgery and non-surgical procedures can change your appearance, albeit with limits, reminded Rush, a top US and Chicago hospital. For example, don’t expect to look exactly like Beyonce when deciding to undergo the procedure. You should also weigh the financial costs of cosmetic procedures. These procedures are not covered by insurance unless they are seen as medically necessary.

It is also important to consider how changes will make you look and feel in real life. For example, getting breast implants that are too large for your physique can cause back pain, difficulty exercising, and even trouble finding clothes that fit you properly. Most importantly, you have to acknowledge that society’s definition of beauty is ever-evolving.

Rush psychiatrist Monica Argumedo said, “If you change your appearance every time you're dissatisfied, you'll always be disappointed because societal standards will always change.” A beauty trend might have been all the rage two years ago, but it might not be in the next two years. “It takes away from the value of you as a human being to keep trying to morph into someone else,” she added.

Patients who seek cosmetic procedures should be screened by a psychologist if they exhibit signs of body dysmorphic disorder, which might be more helpful for them in the long run. It is also important for patients to have realistic expectations of the procedure and to think about how it will impact their finances.