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Male medical students more worried about looks than females

Karachi, April 28, 2008: Female medical students are less concerned with their appearance than males, and while females are more concerned with being fat, males are more concerned with skinniness and head hair, revealed a study conducted at the Aga Khan University Hospital.

The study was carried out by Ather M. Taqui1, Mehrine Shaikh, Saqib A. Gowani, Fatima Shahid, Asmatullah Khan, Syed M. Tayyeb, Minahil Satti, Talha Vaqar, Saman Shahid, Afreen Shamsi, Hammad A. Ganatra and Haider A. Naqvi for the Section of Psychiatry, Department of Medicine, AKUH.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by a preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect that causes significant distress or impairment in functioning. Out of the 156 students, 57.1 percent were female. A total of 78.8 percent of the students reported dissatisfaction with some aspect of their appearance, and 5.8 percent were diagnosed with BDD.

As for gender differences in body areas of concern, the top three reported in male students were head hair (34.3 percent), being fat (32.8 percent), skin (14.9 percent) and nose (14.9 percent), whereas in females, they were being fat (40.4 percent), skin (24.7 percent) and teeth (18 percent).

Some degree of concern over physical appearance is quite normal. However, when these concerns with physical appearance reach an intensity where it causes significant subjective distress to the individual and impairment in social and occupational functioning, and when the perceived appearance flaw is actually nonexistent or slight, it constitutes the disorder.

BDD is marked by time-consuming repetitive compulsive behaviors (mirror checking, excessive grooming behaviours, measuring or comparing the perceived defect), and avoidance (of social situations, mirrors, posing for photographs, bright lights, etc).

It is important to discern whether doctors have any element of body image disturbance, because this may have some impact on their practice and, specifically, their perception of a patient's physical defects.

Given the chronic nature of BDD and the early age of onset (adolescence), it is highly likely that medical students with body image disturbance will retain it when they start their professional career.

It is well-recognized that, in some communities, being physically unattractive is considered more of a social liability for women than for men. Women's bodies are more likely to be regarded in an evaluative manner. In the Pakistani culture, physical appearance is a major determinant of the manner in which a female is judged in society. When physical attractiveness affects the value attributed to an individual, the desire to be physically attractive increases and the risk of an individual developing body image concerns becomes more likely.

This phenomenon has been exemplified in cross-cultural studies which show that Americans, who consign greater value to physical attractiveness, are more likely to develop body image concerns than Asians and Germans. "In light of this background, we hypothesized that the prevalence of BDD would be higher in females and they would report different areas of concern as compared to males. Given the fact that society has high expectations from doctors in terms of grooming and appearance, we hypothesized that the prevalence of BDD would be higher in our medical student population than other student samples," said the report.

All medical students studying in the five years of the medical college were eligible for participation, except for those who submitted incomplete forms or reported a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.

The prevalence of BDD in the sample (5.8 percent) was higher than in three other college student samples - German students (5.3 percent), American students (four percent) and Turkish students (4.8 percent).

Medical students might be more conscious about their physical appearance than students in most other fields of study, because of society's high expectations from a doctor in terms of grooming and appearance. Alternatively, the higher prevalence of BDD could also reflect cross-cultural differences in the value placed on physical attractiveness and the resulting socio-cultural pressures.

"This might overshadow the other factor that physical appearance is a means for evaluation of females in the Pakistani society. It is also interesting to note that, although more females reported body image dissatisfaction than males (88.8 percent vs. 76.1 percent), the prevalence of BDD was lower in females," the report explained. Daily Times Monitor


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