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The official word from Mischa Barton's rep is that she's "still seeking treatment but making improvements." And while it remains unclear why, exactly, the starlet, 23, was placed under a psychiatric hold last Wednesday (her flack insists rumors of a days-long drug binge are "preposterous"), People magazine believes her body image angst played a part.

"She has big self-esteem issues. ... She hates her legs," reveals a confidant. "She isn't comfortable with her body. It's been a big source of stress and self-hate."

Barton's figure has long been the subject of scrutiny: She's been deemed both too thin and not thin enough. Over the last year or so, the London Daily Mail alone has devoted no fewer than a half-dozen stories to her shape, including repeatedly and unkindly calling attention to her supposedly "dimpled thighs."

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"She had a big problem with those photos of her cellulite," another mole tells the mag, apparently referring to pictures that were taken last year as the bikini-clad actress stood on a balcony at an Australian resort (her spokesman insisted they were doctored). "She didn't like it. That just was something that contributed to her spiraling, but she didn't do much to fix it because of her partying."

In the April issue of Cosmopolitan UK, Mischa said it's "human nature to be self-critical, but it's possible to like the way you look. ... Everyone has issues about their body, but I feel confident now."

Someone who has suffered through the same kind of physical criticism is Nicole Richie, who People reports is one of several pals who have distanced themselves from Barton because of her personal problems.

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"In the last few years, her dark side has really come out," relays an insider. "Her friends, like Nicole, want to be supportive but they really can't be around her too much. She's too volatile. It makes us sad, but we're also like, 'Pull it together and get help already.'"

Richie, who is awaiting the arrival of her second child with boyfriend Joel Madden, "is focused on motherhood and her family," continues the spy. "[She] considers [Mischa] a dear friend, but she's also a mother who can't be around too much negative, unsafe behavior. Mischa is one of the reasons that Nicole is mostly with her other mom friends these days, not the party girls."

Meanwhile, in a similar but far less believable story, FoxNews.com claims Barton also fell out with Lindsay Lohan because of her partying lifestyle, although LiLo is apparently willing to take time out from her busy squabbling schedule with Samantha Ronson to extend a helping hand.

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"Lindsay and Mischa used to go out all the time together in Los Angeles. They were like kindred spirits when it came to clubbing and letting loose," alleges a spy. "They have many mutual friends, but everything shifted for Lindsay last year at a party. Mischa was completely out of control, and Lindsay sat Mischa down then to make it clear that she needed help. Lindsay was desperate for Mischa to clean herself up and offered a treatment facility and a therapist to help Mischa. Mischa completely ignored Lindsay, and that was the end."

So, in other words, the thrice-rehabbed, problem-plagued cautionary tale of a pot attempted to call the equally dysfunctional kettle black.

Surprisingly, Barton is still planning to start work on the new CW series "The Beautiful Life" on July 31, which seems awfully soon under the circumstances.

The producers seem to agree. Entertainment Weekly says they're "quietly readying a Plan B" by adding another recurring female cast member to cover for Barton if she's unable to return. The new role would reportedly borrow liberally from her troubled supermodel character. Casting has already begun.

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