If you think your ankles are actually cankles or your ears are a little Dumboesque for that short haircut, don't feel too bad. You're in the majority. Almost everyone has at least one real or perceived physical imperfection. Like your grandmother probably told you, "Nobody's perfect." The exact nature of your preoccupation with looking good may have you seeking the help of a plastic surgeon or just cramming a hat on your head to conceal a thinning topknot. There's a difference between being sensitive about a few stretch marks and refusing to change out of your yoga pants for fear of ridicule, though.
In extreme cases, body image issues may fall into the category of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a condition characterized by obsessive worry about appearance, even in individuals who may actually look quite attractive. The difference between disliking, say, your complexion, and being so preoccupied with it that it interferes with your daily life is what distinguishes BDD sufferers from the 93 percent of women and 82 percent of men who openly admit that they care about their appearance and work to look more attractive [source: Phillips].
Although the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that there were more than 13.1 million cosmetic procedures performed in the U.S. in 2010, many people prefer concealment to making permanent modifications to their appearance. A long-sleeved blouse, boxy T-shirt or ball cap can often provide a quick cover-up, and with no one the wiser, concealment is a cheaper and less painful alternative to surgery, too, at least for those areas that can be concealed [source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons].
On the next pages, let's look at 10 body parts people hide to discover what it is that makes these areas ripe for self-criticism.
From pitted skin from aggressive acne to the telltale signs of a Cesarean section or a suicide attempt, scars are skin disformities that remain after injuries. They're a natural part of healing that may fade over time, but they seldom disappear completely, which is one reason scars are often hidden with makeup, under jewelry, under a wardrobe designed for concealment or even with the clever application of a tattoo. The long-term appearance of scarring can be different for different people, though. Sex, age, ethnicity and the location of the scar itself can all contribute to how a scar will look over time [source: Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine].
Although scars may be inevitable after an injury, there are a number of varieties:
- Contracture scars - These are the often shiny scars from burns. They can make the surrounding skin feel tight and uncomfortable. In extreme cases, contracture scars can also effect surrounding nerves and muscle tissue.
- Acne scars - You're probably familiar with acne scars and may even have a few. They can look like pits or craters, and even as lines or gouges. Acne scars range in severity, and even extensive acne scarring may respond to laser and other modern treatments.
- Keloid scars - Keloid scars can occur when the healing process becomes so aggressive that scar tissue builds up and extends beyond the area of the original injury. In some cases, scar tissue can be surgically removed or softened and flattened with the help of steroid injections or silicone gel sheets. The appearance of scarring can also be diminished using laser treatments, cryotherapy (freezing) and dermabrasion.
- Hypertrophic scars - Less extreme than keloid scars, hypertropic scars can appear red and thick but don't extend beyond the area affected by the original injury.
9: The Thighs
If you hurry past the bathing suit department when you shop for clothing and believe swimming is definitely out for the season -- if not forever -- you may have thigh issues. Saddle bags, those pads of fat that make thighs look disproportionately rounded, and the distinctive dimpling of cellulite can make wearing thigh-hugging clothing and swimwear torture for many women. Cellulite occurs more frequently in women than in men, and is distinctive for its "cottage cheese" appearance that can look like a collection of dimples and depressions. It often occurs on the thighs, but can also be present on the abdomen, stomach, buttocks and arms. Where fat accumulates on the human body, cellulite can follow. It's the result of an uneven distribution of fat just under the skin. Cellulite can be unsightly, but it isn't a serious medical condition. Although wearing heavier-weight fabrics can often disguise the presence of cellulite, liposuction to remove it and other unevenly distributed fat deposits were among the top surgical cosmetic procedures performed in 2010 [source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons].
8: The Upper Arms
A couple of decades ago, a woman covering her upper arms with a long sleeved blouse or sweater may have been considered modest, or just sensitive to the cold, but today, a set of toned upper arms is a mark of attractiveness, good grooming and a well-used gym membership card. Women with great arms flaunt them. When it comes to the extremities, arms may be the new legs, or so some fashion pundits believe. The fad for fabulous upper arms may have gained momentum with the sleeveless fashions worn by fit first lady Michelle Obama, but wherever this new focus on amazing arms came from, it's making some women think twice before strapping on their halter tops or investing in sleeveless summer dresses.
7: The Teeth
The latest advances in modern dentistry can go a long way toward perfecting a crooked smile, but teeth issues are still making self-conscious people hide their pearly whites behind a tight-lipped grin. Where the cost of dental work may be part of the problem, anxiety is another big issue. Dental phobia, or fear of the dentist, could be keeping more than 15 percent of Americans from visiting the dentist for regular checkups [source: Colgate Oral and Dental Health Resource Center].
Poor dental habits can lead to tooth discoloration, periodontitis, tooth decay and even tooth loss. That's not all. The implications of poor dental care may be far reaching. A number of serious medical conditions like heart disease, stroke and even some forms of cancer have been linked to mouth bacteria and infections [source: American Academy of Periodontology]. If this is the case with your teeth and gums, you need to put your fear aside and head to the dentist, instead of pretending it isn't happening.
6: The Ears
Beyond providing excellent hearing, an attractive human ear is expected to have a conventional shape and be oriented relatively close to the head. Protuberant ears (cup-ear deformity), ears missing the antihelix ear-cartilage fold (lop-ear deformity) and ears with dangling or damaged lobes are functional but considered unattractive. Surgery to correct these ear abnormalities is called otoplasty, but hiding a less-than-perfect set of ears behind a masterful haircut or under a hat is not uncommon. Ear injuries like torn lobes (often from wearing pierced earrings), and "boxer's ear" or "cauliflower ear" can be a source of embarrassment, too. For concealment, women have an advantage because longer hairstyles that more than cover the ears are typically in fashion in any season, where men may have to resort to knitted caps and longer-than-fashionable or asymmetrical haircuts to conceal ear deformities.
5: The Legs
A woman's legs are often singled out for appreciative glances from the opposite sex, which can make them a target for low self-image issues and general dissatisfaction. Depending on a woman's body type, perfectly healthy legs can look heavy in the thighs. Legs can also have distinctive scarring around the knees from childhood injuries. Women may feel that their legs are disproportionately short for the rest of their bodies. The dreaded cankles, or thick ankles, that make legs look like straight columns with poorly defined calf muscles can also create appearance issues.
Varicose veins can be unsightly, too, appearing distended and twisted. Varicose veins occur when the valves regulating blood flow through the veins in the legs begin to weaken. The condition known as spider veins is a less severe but related disorder. As many as 55 percent of women and 45 percent of men will develop varicose veins, and although the condition is most closely associated with aging, it can be hereditary, or be the result of sun exposure, a sedentary lifestyle, pregnancy or hormonal changes [source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services].
Because sculpted definition in the legs is a desirable characteristic and often the result of dedicated exercise, having great legs may require a commitment to an exercise regimen some women are just not willing to make.
When it comes to hiding legs that aren't quite close-up worthy, pants are a quick and effective fix. Since the last quarter of the 20th century, women have become comfortable wearing pants in the workplace, for formal occasions and just about anywhere else dresses were once considered appropriate.
4: The Breasts
Issues involving the breast, chest and nipples can affect as many as 21 percent of body dysmorphic disorder sufferers [source: Phillips]. Actually, breast augmentation tops the list of cosmetic surgeries performed in the U.S. in 2010 with 296,000 going under the knife, and with 93,000 procedures, breast reconstruction is among the top five reconstructive plastic surgeries [source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons].
Those who don't seek surgical remedies for small, large, uneven or pendulous breasts, or are dealing with the results of surgically removed breast tissue from mastectomy procedures may try to hide or alter the look of their breasts by wearing prosthetic devices or loose clothing.
Breast issues can be profoundly disturbing for both men and women. For women particularly, the breasts can have deep significance, and real or imagined problems with breast perception can have wide-ranging quality of life implications.
3: The Stomach
Whether you call it a tummy or a gut, stomach issues affect both women and men. A large or sagging stomach is hard to conceal with layers of clothing, and in silhouette, can look unkempt and unhealthy. Unfortunately, men and post-menopausal women may both be predisposed to carry extra weight around the middle, and women who have given birth may have trouble getting rid of that extra pouch of pregnancy-related stomach flab. Because it's hard to make a rounded belly look like anything other than what it is, hiding it can take some creativity. Vests may help, but in the end, exercise and possibly surgery may be the only two viable options. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 116,000 tummy tucks were performed in 2010, making it the fifth most popular cosmetic surgery procedure behind perennial favorites like nose reshaping and breast augmentation [source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons].
2: The Face
The face is by far a person's most distinctive, expressive and recognizable body part, but people often perceive their facial features as being too large, too small, crooked or uneven. It probably doesn't help that apart from the way the lips, nose, eyes, complexion, chin, and forehead are formed individually, they have to work well together to create a pleasing whole.
The overall shape of the face can also cause problems, as can its fullness or its size in proportion to the rest of the body. Facial features also change as a person ages. The human nose, for example, keeps growing through one's lifetime. The shapely nose of a mature adult can morph into a much larger facial feature when that person becomes an octogenarian.
The more rigorous the standards of beauty are in any given culture, the more harshly people may judge themselves and others relative to that ideal. That's probably why there are lots of tricks to change the look of the human face in order to conceal or downplay specific flaws. Your first thought may be about makeup that conceals or highlights, but hair styles can also place the visual emphasis on or away from a particular feature. Glasses, hats, scarves, beauty marks and other distractions can help, too.
From sagging skin to a receding chin, when all else fails, cosmetic surgery can reshape facial features. Nose reshaping and eyelid surgery were two of the top five cosmetic surgery procedures performed in 2010, and nonsurgical options like chemical peels, laser hair removal, botulinum toxin type A injections (commonly referred to under the trade name BOTOX) and soft tissue fillers are becoming more popular, too [source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons].
1: The Hair
Although thinning hair and baldness are probably the biggest reasons to cover this body part, having a bad hair day may be reason enough to hide a disastrous do under a hat or a scarf. Hair provides great protection from the sun, but it's a symbol of health and attractiveness, too. If you know a middle-aged man who opts for the notorious "comb over" or thinks a ball cap is an appropriate accessory indoors and out, it's easy to see that hair is more than a thick structure of threadlike strands that helps protect the body from heat loss.
Androgenetic Alopecia is the scientific term for male pattern baldness (MPB), a condition that's prevalent in men but occurs in women, too. It's responsible for more than 95 percent of male hair loss and can lead to a receding hairline, a thinning spot or significant hair loss at the crown and beyond. The statistics can be alarming, especially if you're a man who prides himself on a full head of hair. Before the age of 40, two in three men will notice some degree of hair loss, and by the age of 50, those hairs going down the sink will represent significant hair thinning for 85 percent of men. Conservatively speaking, male pattern baldness affects 35 million men nationwide [sources: Thompson and American Hair Loss Association].
Lots More Information
- Types of Baldness
- 20 Most Common Plastic Surgeries
- 15 Ways to Get Rid of Acne
- How Acne Works
- Do some skin creams really reduce cellulite?
- How Cellulite Works
- Healthy Gums
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