Can you be addicted to plastic surgery?

Learn about body dysmorphic disorder.

Andrea Markowitz, Ph.D.

HealthKey.com contributor

June 7, 2010


Google the keywords "addicted to plastic surgery," and the name " Heidi Montag" stands out more than her surgically enlarged breasts. In November 2009, at 23 years young, the naturally lovely reality TV celebrity endured 10 plastic surgeries in one day—3 years after having had a nose job and breast augmentation, according to NYDailyNews.com.

Why did her plastic surgeries cause so many headlines? In addition to making for juicy gossip, the excessiveness of her self-alterations inspired much speculation about what could compel someone so young, so pretty and so successful to be so dissatisfied with her looks that, in addition to the dozen plastic surgeries she's already had, she plans future "upgrades," as she told People.

Montag's own explanation for her physical remake was, in part, to blame the industry she's in and, in part, to bring out the best in herself. But other theories abound, from low self-esteem to media scrutiny of celebrities' beauty quotients to a psychological disorder known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

BDD, according to Encyclopedia of Mind Disorders results from a distorted body image. People who have BDD, according to MayoClinic.com, often spend many hours a day obsessing over minor or imagined flaws in their appearance. They’ll put themselves through multiple cosmetic procedures, but never be satisfied with the results.

After their surgeries, they either find something else wrong with the area they had corrected or they become preoccupied with another area of their body, according to a paper by Eda Gorbis, PhD, MFCC, Assistant Clinical Professor, UCLA School of Medicine..

Features that people with BDD typically dwell on are their nose, hair, skin, moles or freckles, acne or blemishes, baldness, breast or muscle size and genitalia, according to MayoClinic.com.

Addiction, Obsession, Compulsion and Perfectionism

BDD symptoms resemble behaviors that are associated with addiction, obsession, compulsion and perfectionism, as in the following partial list of symptoms adapted from MayoClinic.com and Encyclopedia of Mind Disorders:

Montag, interestingly, described her 3-year preoccupation with deciding what plastic surgeries she wanted for her second round as "beyond obsessed."

For more information visit Encyclopedia of Mind Disorders, MayoClinic.com and the Westwood Institute for Anxiety Disorders.