by Dorothy Rowe, October 20, 2006
People seem puzzled by suicide in women with breast implants, but I wouldn’t be surprised if BDD [Body Dysmorphic Disorder] was behind it,’ says Katherine Phillips, a psychiatrist at Brown Medical School, Providence, Rhode Island. New Scientist, October 21, 2006 …New Scientist didn’t contact me. Had this happened, I would have said that it was really very simple. Just ask each woman what she hoped the breast implant would do for her, and take what she says seriously, not merely as evidence for or against an abstraction like BDD which resides nowhere but in the mind of a psychiatrist or psychologist who believes that such a disorder exists.
Women who have received breast implants are two to three times more likely to kill themselves as those who have not.
‘People seem puzzled by suicide in women with breast implants, but I wouldn’t be surprised if BDD [Body Dysmorphic Disorder] was behind it,’ says Katherine Phillips, a psychiatrist at Brown Medical School, Providence, Rhode Island. New Scientist, October 21, 2006
A combined study of 21,936 American, Swedish, Finnish and Danish women who had had cosmetic breast implants found that, while in a group of such a size only 25.2 women would be predicted to commit suicide, actually 58 did so. Rachel Nowak, who reported this for New Scientist (‘When Looks Can Kill’ pp. 19-21), listed as explanations for this phenomenon: neurosis, substance or alcohol abuse, or Body Dysmorphic Disorder. She wrote, ‘To find out whether BDD or some other psychiatric disorder is behind the suicide, and whether cosmetic surgery alters the risks, would require thousands of women to undergo extensive personality testing before and after surgery, something that psychologists and epidemiologists contacted by New Scientist doubted will be done.’
New Scientist didn’t contact me. Had this happened, I would have said that it was really very simple. Just ask each woman what she hoped the breast implant would do for her, and take what she says seriously, not merely as evidence for or against an abstraction like BDD which resides nowhere but in the mind of a psychiatrist or psychologist who believes that such a disorder exists.
Whenever we find ourselves seemingly trapped in a way of life that leads us to be miserable we look for a change of circumstances which would mean that we would be happy. We know the form of misery we are enduring minutely but the picture we have of the circumstances where we would be happy can lack all the details which real life would reveal. If we look at someone who seems to be in the situation where we long to be we see that person as being perfectly happy. When the psychologist Fay Fransella studied how people who stuttered saw themselves and their world she found that, while these people could give a detailed account of their own difficulties, they knew very little about how fluent speakers managed their lives. They believed that fluent speakers had no difficulties at all in communicating with other people. Fay found that the stutterers ‘are unable to interpret the subtler forms of communication such as eye contacts, hand gestures and general body movements that usually accompany speaking for the fluent person.’ These are the means by which we try to improve our communications which all too often fail in what they try to convey. If Fay had been able to wave a magic wand and make the person’s stutter suddenly disappear, the stutterer would have found such a change like walking off a plank and dropping ‘into an unknown, unpredictable world’.
Unhappy people often locate the source of their unhappiness in just one simple facet of their life. In a society where women are constantly told that to be attractive is to be happy, and that attractiveness resides in a substantial bosom, it can be much easier to blame one’s unhappiness on modest breasts rather than on one’s upbringing or oneself. From the way the media presents well-endowed women, they seem to be leading happy, successful lives, enjoying excellent relationships and being admired by all. That fact that life is hard for all of us, irrespective of the size of our bosoms, can be completely overlooked.
Once the operation is over, the truth slowly dawns. Bigger breasts do not open the door to paradise. Making this discovery, the woman can chalk the operation up to expensive experience and resolve to be more sensible in the future. Or she can blame herself, and feel herself to be too inadequate and to unacceptable to live in this world.
I am sure that there are many plastic surgeons who take the time to listen to their prospective patients and thus identify those whose expectations of the operation lie only in the world of fantasy. But listening to someone is hard work, and takes time. It’s so much easier not to listen, do the operation, and blame the sad outcome on the fiction of Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
Fay Fransella ‘From theory to research to change’ Personal Construct Psychology ed Fay Fransella, Wiley, Chichester, 2003, p.214.