Help for Heidi

Yesterday, I read about two of the sadder things to cross my path in recent history: Haiti and Heidi

It goes without saying that an aspiring "It" girl’s addiction to plastic surgery is a drop in the nightmare bucket compared to the loss of 50,000 lives in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. (To donate now, visit the American Red Cross website), but "The Weighting Game" is a body image blog so let’s stick to what we know.

What we know is this: Heidi Montag is sad. What’s made her sad is her body. She hates her “Jay Leno” chin and her “Dumbo” ears. She hates her nose, her cheeks, her neck. She hates her breasts, her waist, her hips, her inner thighs.  Her whole life, she has hated being an “ugly duckling.” And so, on November 20 of last year, without notifying her family, the Hills star subjected herself to a marathon 10-hour, $30,000+ surgery, during which she underwent 10 different procedures, from a chin reduction to a DDD breast augmentation to neck liposuction. She had her eyebrows permanently, surgically arched (why she couldn’t just have tweezed them differently, I’m not sure), a procedure which even her surgeon, Frank Ryan, admitted "isn't commonly done" to women her age…and you can see why when you look at her “After” photo – it prematurely aged her, making her look more like a 40-year-old who had a facelift than a 23-year-old not even old enough to have wrinkles.

In the newest People magazine cover story, with the headline “Obsessed With Being ‘Perfect,’” Heidi speaks candidly about her low self-esteem, the turmoil of having body parts circled on blogs and made fun of, the pain of living in her more successful, more attractive castmates’ shadows. She claims that in looks-centric L.A., this is what she needs to do simply to compete, let alone succeed as a singer (her ultimate blonde ambition). She  also suggests that many other actresses are doing the same thing; they’re just not talking about it.

Reading this article left me feeling even emptier than I normally feel after flipping through celeb weeklies. Partly because I’ve struggled with self-esteem issues and fought those demons yelling, “You’re not pretty/thin/sexy enough!” in my head. But more so because I don’t think this woman has any idea the kind of damage she’s doing with an article like this. I imagine she thinks it will generate positive interest and people will soon clamor to hear her music. But it reads almost like a suicide note – a laundry list of perceived personal flaws and faults, a catalog of failures. She seems like a little bird with a broken wing who is chirping and chirping for help, but nobody’s listening. She let People photograph her in an ambulance, after she suffered Demerol-induced breathing problems. She could have possibly died because of plastic surgery, and yet she had a People photog in the careening ambulance with her, shooting away. And this photo of her in paper surgical undies and compression stockings, with surgical tape covering her nipples, looks startlingly like the kind of shot you’d see in a documentary on eating disorders. She looks small and lost and frightened and so very vulnerable.

Jezebel.com has criticized People for glamorizing Heidi’s saga, but I disagree. I think the magazine hit the nail on the head, showing readers exactly the kind of inner pain this young woman is in. I didn’t leave the article thinking, “Oh, well, breast implants and lipo made her feel prettier; maybe they’ll help ME feel better sexier, too!” I left it thinking, “I am so thankful to have people around me who can give me the kind of unconditional love and support I need to stay strong through my darkest thoughts, and who would talk me out of this kind of needless, expensive, potentially life-threatening surgery. ”

PS I’ll be on the Today show Tuesday January 19 at 10:30am, all time zones. More detail to come…

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