See Inside April/May 2008

Imagined Ugliness

Some people are convinced that they are hideously deformed because of an obscure or nonexistent physical "flaw"

At 19, Aron Cowen suddenly became distraught over his hair, considering its curliness a “bad condition.” He chemically straightened it every week for a year, giving up only after it became severely damaged and developed an orange tint. While on a trip to Israel when he was 25, Cowen glanced at his reflection in a store mirror and saw his nose as huge and grossly malformed, like a beak. After that, he spent up to two hours each day reshaping his nose in front of a mirror and obsessing over its ugliness.

Unable to shake his fixation, Cowen opted for plastic surgery, but the effect was short-lived. A week after the operation the young man from Sherman Oaks, Calif., was back at the mirror, intensely scrutinizing his nose and noticing new flaws. And this time he felt responsible. “Now I felt butchered and disfigured,” he recalls. “I felt I had destroyed my nose.”

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