Bodies, eh? We've all got one, and many of us spend a great deal of time and effort trying to change them, a fact that has been highlighted by Josie Cunningham who recently underwent a breast augmentation operation on the NHS because her flat chest was "ruining her life".
The press coverage has tended to concentrate on the cost to the tax payer (£4,800 if you’re interested) and the fact that she has now set off on her quest to become a glamour model, and is as I write this, gracing the pages of The Sun with her first topless shoot. The implication is that we, the tax payers have been conned into funding this young woman’s ambitions, when she was at no psychological risk.
Well, I’m not sure about Ms Cunningham, but approximately 1% of the population are diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), that is, they have a disproportionate concern about an actual or a perceived defect in their appearance which has an overwhelming affect on their ability to live their life.
So, unlike Josie Cunningham who felt unable to go out without her padded bra, BDD sufferers will often feel unable to go out in public at all. They find themselves unable to hold down a job, continue their studies or socialise with friends. Not surprisingly, anxiety and depression are associated problems and the actual number of suffers is believed to be much higher than the diagnosed number as suffers are often unable to seek treatment for these reasons. In extreme cases BDD suffers have been known to attempt their own treatment, such as using bleach or sandpaper on their skin to remove perceived blemishes.
Josie Cunningham appears to be happy with the results of her surgery, and offers the fact that she can now pose topless without crying as evidence of it’s beneficial effect. But in reality, BDD sufferers do not find relief through surgery and starting off down this route can lead to a lifetime of unnecessary and dangerous operations, something that another former glamour model, Alicia Douvall spoke about this week. She had over 50 ops before it was suggested to her by a psychotherapist that she might have BDD, she has since addressed the problem by therapy, rehab and medication.
And the good news is that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and medication have been shown to help BDD sufferers. At the same time a recent review by NHS Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh into the cosmetic surgery industry is expected to lead to new legislation and tougher regulation, which will hopefully reduce the number of patients who are given the surgery they think will solve, but which actually perpetuates the problem.