Third-generation doctor Eva Ritvo, vice chair and associate professor in the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, was raised by psychiatrists. “There was a lot of lively conversation around our dinner table,” she recalls.
Ritvo’s mother, one of only three women in her medical school class, treated patients from a home office. Her father, still practicing at age 78, was a pioneer of autism research who often brought young Eva to the hospital to participate in experiments. “I was a lab rat—and I liked it,” she quips.
But physical ailments introduced tough challenges for Ritvo, whose two daughters are 13 and 18. Throughout Ritvo’s childhood, her father suffered from heart disease, eventually requiring a transplant. “I went through high-drama medical experiences with him at an early age,” she says. Then her older daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at five months old. Because the child experienced life-threatening seizures, the family had to live within ten minutes of an emergency room. “I got through it with a lot of support from our community,” Ritvo says.
Returning the love, she initiated the Margaret Ann Aitcheson Humanitarian Award, named for Tipper Gore’s late mother in 2001. This April’s event, co-hosted by Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, will honor the sponsors of the mental health parity bill, which requires employers to offer mental health insurance that’s on par with their medical benefits.
In 2008 McGraw Hill published Ritvo’s self-help treatise The Beauty Prescription: The Complete Formula for Looking and Feeling Beautiful, written with her longtime medical school friend, Los Angeles dermatologist Debra Luftman. “It’s like skin deep and deeper,” Ritvo says, noting the irony of their collaboration. Ritvo, a nationally recognized speaker in cosmetic dermatology, who holds a joint appointment at the Miller School’s Department of Dermatology, says this is the first book by a psychiatrist and a dermatologist to explore beauty from both the outside in and inside out.
In it, Ritvo offers Sophia Loren’s famous statement that “Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful” and cites research that documents how if a real woman shared a Barbie doll’s exact measurements, she would die of malnutrition. The book further counters the notion that our quest for optimal health and beauty is only skin deep—and reveals that most women continue to struggle with body image.
Despite understanding the impact of society’s conventional beauty standards, Ritvo admits she’s not immune. She incorporates what her book calls “Beauty Boosters” such as salon visits with friends and vigorous tennis practices in her weekly regimen, “and let’s just say I’m not unwilling to take chances with enhancements,” she says. “Yes, I have had Botox.
“People think I live this charmed existence because from the outside it looks that way, but I’m a nerd and I like to work hard,” Ritvo continues. “I never just ‘hang out,’ but I’m working on that.”