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7 October 2005
Obsessed With Beauty: The Rush To Cosmetic Surgery
by Angie Rankman

If the multitude of television shows touting the benefits of extreme makeovers is anything to go by, then it seems that cosmetic surgery has secured a firm foothold in the collective consciousness of those seeking eternal youth and beauty. Is it possible that the increased focus on cosmetic surgery has finally revealed how self-obsessed many of us really are? Incredibly, in just 10 years, cosmetic surgery in the United States has increased by more than 700 percent. And it’s not just Americans who are choosing to go under the knife. According to the British Medical Journal, Britons spend over 400 million dollars a year on cosmetic surgery, and it’s one of the most common reasons women give for non-property loans.

Just what has caused cosmetic surgery’s rapidly increasing popularity? While TV has made the “extreme make-over” look like a cakewalk, the procedures are, like any other surgery, not without risk. So, either TV has successfully sold these procedures as being risk-free, or, the psychology behind these voluntary decisions is so compelling that people are willing to risk a great deal in the pursuit of happiness and self fulfillment.

While TV and other forms of advertising may have convinced the public that cosmetic surgery is an itch that needs to be scratched, does it really explain the rush to go under the knife? According to statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), reality TV shows are creating a greater public awareness of cosmetic surgery but these shows have not, by themselves, caused the rampant increase.

While the advertising and TV exposure of cosmetic surgery has certainly helped with creating a public “awareness”, as the ASPS says, it is not the sole driver. The reality TV shows tend to feed off the body image perceptions already in existence thanks to a mass media that sets the standards and trends in fashion, beauty and the cult of celebrity. Advertising normalizes certain body images, and then plays on the perceived problems that people are left with after they measure themselves against this mostly unattainable model. The relentless push to have these ideal models out on public display makes them so ubiquitous that we hardly notice that they are there; they become entrenched in pop culture. The result is that many people are left with deep seated psychological insecurities about themselves and their body image, often resulting in unreasonable expectations in regard to cosmetic surgery. For this reason alone it’s important to ask yourself why you are considering cosmetic surgery.

According to the Mayo Clinic Women’s Health Source, body image dissatisfaction is often associated with decreased self-esteem, self-confidence and psychological well-being. These emotional and psychological issues are what causes many women to turn to cosmetic surgery. If women feel they need a new face, a thinner waistline or bigger breasts to be likable and to feel good about themselves, cosmetic surgery may not be the answer. In fact, some studies show that extensive cosmetic surgery may make psychological issues worse. Understanding why you want to undergo cosmetic surgery may be the difference between a boost in self-esteem and disappointment at your decision.

To avoid disappointment, and perhaps further psychological distress, women need to keep their expectations realistic, as cosmetic surgery is unlikely to be the answer to all of life’s problems. Women who are happy with their overall appearance but who seek cosmetic surgery to alter just one aspect of their body often find that cosmetic surgery meets their physical and emotional needs, according to the Mayo Clinic Women’s Health Source. So, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of a nip or a tuck here or there if you seriously think that this will lift your confidence and self-esteem.

If this is the case, then the next step is to seek out a reputable plastic surgeon, and maintain an open and frank line of communication with them. This is to make sure that your own personal boundaries and limitations have been set, and that you will end up with the result that you want. After all, the reason you are going under the knife in the first place is because you want to improve or maintain your looks, and the last thing you want is a potentially disastrous miscommunication with your surgeon. Discussing the options with your surgeon will also help you understand what your limitations are. After all, this isn’t Mission Impossible where characters regularly defy all physical laws by completely changing the anatomical structure of their face, and back again!

Even something that we may consider simple (thanks to reality television), such as an eyebrow lift, is much more complicated than one might think. The way the procedure is carried out depends to a large extent on the existing features of the face. A “one shape fits all” approach to eyebrows should be avoided says the British Medical Journal. When surgeons position and shape the brow, they need to take into account the aesthetic relation between brow shape and position on the face - unique for every woman. In reality, the “normalizing” nature of the advertising world and the cult of celebrity do not fit with actual surgical procedure. In fact, it might be that the pervasiveness of the cult of celebrity is the reason why many women are dissatisfied with their own looks, rather than celebrating their own uniqueness.

The message in all of this is to be cautious and autonomous in your decisions regarding cosmetic surgery; don’t be pushed around by a pervasive media or let your own emotions get the better of you. Seriously ask yourself why you are considering cosmetic surgery. And there’s perhaps one other thing you should think about if you are overly concerned about how you think others perceive you. If people are so concerned with their own looks, who is actually scrutinizing your looks other than yourself?

Further reading:

United States: http://www.plasticsurgery.org/
Britain: http://www.baaps.org.uk/
Australia: http://www.plasticsurgery.org.au/public/aspsframe.asp

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