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Dr. Susan Albers

Dr. Susan Albers

Posted: December 1, 2010 01:22 PM

Let's recap the premise of E!'s new reality T.V. show, Bridalplasty. If you haven't seen it, it's a show where brides-to-be compete for extreme plastic surgery procedures. The winner won't see the groom until she has undergone head-to-toe plastic surgery. He'll get the first glimpse of her when they walk down the aisle.

The reviews of the show seem to present a general consensus. They express serious concerns about the show's underlying message. For example, these women are generally pretty attractive. Could the desire to get a pre-wedding physical overhaul be a sign of a clinical disorder like Body Dysmorphic Disorder or OCD? Also, is this T.V. show giving girls the message that they need to change their appearance to be loved and accepted? Or, that women need to be "perfect" for their wedding day no matter what the cost. These worries, as you can imagine, are just the tip of the iceberg.

Research backs up the need to be concerned. A 2007 study in the journal, Eating Behavior, examined this very issue. Participants were assigned to one of two conditions: one in which they watched a reality TV cosmetic surgery program (The Swan) and one in which they watched a reality TV home improvement program (Clean Sweep). Women in the cosmetic surgery program group who reported higher internalization of the thin-ideal at baseline manifested lower self-esteem at post-testing. In other words, for women who had shaky self-esteem to begin with, viewing a show about plastic surgery made it even worse.

A 2009 study in the Annals of Plastic Surgery presented fairly similar conclusions. This research indicated that reality plastic surgery shows are related to more favorable cosmetic surgery attitudes, perceived pressure to have cosmetic surgery, a decreased fear of surgery, as well as overall body dissatisfaction, and disordered eating.

Given the results of these studies, perhaps it is time to reconsider whether reality T.V. plastic surgery shows are truly "entertainment."

Dr. Susan Albers is a clinical psychologist and author of five books on mindful eating. Her work has been featured on Dr. Oz , the Oprah Magazine, Shape, Health, Prevention and the Wall Street Journal.