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May 9, 2012

Tanning Mom Puts Tanorexia Body Dysmorphic Disorder in the Spotlight

Tanning Mom Does New Jersey Woman Suffer From Tanorexia?

New Jersey mom Patricia Krentcil is facing child endangerment charges stemming from accusations that the 44-year old took her young daughter to a tanning salon. Krentcil denies charges that burns on her 5-year old’s legs came from a tanning booth session and instead says her fair-skinned daughter simply spent too much time in the sun.


In New Jersey, state law prohibits children under 14 from using tanning booths; anyone under 18 must have parental permission. However, it may be Krentcil’s own appearance that is raising the most questions in this case and keeping it in the media spotlight. Dubbed “Tanning Mom” due to the extreme tan she showcased during an interview on NBC’s Today Show and her 20-visit per month habit at the local tanning salon, Krentcil has many wondering whether she suffers from body dysmorphic disorder, a condition frequently expressed through “tanorexia”, or compulsive tanning.

Thought to affect 1%-2% of the U.S. population, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a body-image disorder characterized by a persistent and intrusive preoccupation with defects in one’s physical appearance that are, in reality, very slight or completely nonexistent. Individuals with BDD typically feel great distress over these perceived imperfections; it is not unusual for those with BDD to miss work or school, avoid social situations, and otherwise physically and socially isolate themselves out of an intense fear that others will notice their flaws.

Skin is a common focus of compulsive body-related thoughts, with as many as 73% of individuals diagnosed with BDD admitting to fixations with acne, scars and marks, uneven skin tone, wrinkles, and other perceived defects. As more research emerges on the subject, it is clear that a sizable percentage of individuals with BDD compulsively tan as a way to “cover up” their skin problems and self-medicate negative emotions associated with BDD, including anxiety and depression.

In one recent study of 200 individuals affected BDD, 25% of participants reported past or current compulsive tanning behaviors. Among this group of so-called tanorexics, the majority also displayed symptoms of an eating disorder and over half admitted to substance abuse. All compulsive tanners had experienced some level of problems related to social functioning as a result of BDD’s negative self-perceptions; one quarter had attempted suicide.

Going to a tanning salon five days a week, as is the case with Tanning Mom, could be viewed as compulsive tanning related to BDD. It may also be a sign of an addictive personality. As a small 2006 study found, UV rays in tanning beds enhance the production of endorphins, chemicals released from the brain that produce a euphoric-like “high” Tanorexics may begin to crave this boost, especially if they suffer from depression. According to the study, when participants stopped tanning, many experienced withdrawal symptoms similar to those experienced among those quitting nicotine use.

Krentcil herself has not given too many specifics about why she tans. She does admits that she “really likes to tan” and that it is something she has done for “at least twenty years.” Krentcil has not discussed BDD or even confirmed that she understands chronic tanning bed use is linked to skin cancer risk.

As for her daughter, Krentcil admits to taking her daughter Anna to the tanning salon, but insists she left the little girl in the waiting room with her father and brother. As Tanning Mom told the Today Show, “I am not going to bring my little daughter into a 90-degree tanning bed. Now, that’s not normal.”

Krentcil is due back in court on June 4.



– Today Show:

– ABC News: Does Tanning Mom Have Tanorexia?

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