Cosmetic Surgery: Self-Esteem and Dependence, Reality and Myth

With each passing day an increasing number of people for various reasons decide to undergo plastic surgery. When appearance does not coincide with the inner self, the first to suffer is self-esteem. For many people, self-confidence and positive attitude are directly connected with the beautiful and harmonious appearance. The way a person looks also plays a huge role in the professional sphere. Plastic surgery is a long-accepted and tested method that helps to protect from the inevitable signs of aging or mitigate them. Plastic procedures not only improve the emotional well-being, but may have medical conditions. For example, after accidents plastic surgery may be necessary (Gilman 1998).

It’s no secret that plastic surgery can magically change the self-esteem. Recently another remarkable property has been discovered.

According to a study by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), presented at the annual conference of Plastic Surgeons in San Francisco, plastic surgery is in some cases quite capable of replacing antidepressants for a patient.

During the study of 362 patients exposed to plastic surgery, it was proven that 98% of them increased their self-esteem. Before the surgery, 62 people out of 362 had taken antidepressants. After the surgery, one third of them refused from antidepressants. Most of these patients are women of 40-50 who took the standard “anti-aging” operations: correction of breast, abdomen and facelifts.

Dr. Bruce Friedman, the director of the study, stated that the study of this issue has just started and will be continued, but it is possible to say that realizing one’s own attractiveness leads to positive changes in the psyche (Castle, Honigman, & Phillips 2002).

Cosmetic surgery is an ideal solution for those who want to look younger or change an unattractive feature of appearance. A professionally executed operation can radically change person’s image in the eyes of others and his or her own eyes. Self-confidence and high self-esteem acquired after the operation will certainly affect all aspects of one’s life.

But if the operation is called “cosmetic”, it does not mean that it is devoid of any risk. Of course, some cosmetic procedures are more dangerous than others, but almost all operations without exception can lead to complications of any kind. Infection, disfigurement, paralysis and even death are the possible results of any, even the most innocuous and minor cosmetic surgery. Such undesirable consequences of cosmetic surgery are not less frequent than complications after surgery of any kind (Sherry, Hewitt, Flett, & Lee-Baggley 2007).

According to statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, approximately 11 million cosmetic surgeries were made in the United States for the last year. However, this figure is not as scary as the fact that many people lying under cosmetic surgeon’s knife are not careful enough.

Typically, people receive the information about cosmetic surgery from TV programs, which have little to do with reality. No wonder that expectations of many patients are not satisfied. Besides, many doctors are certified to perform cosmetic surgery, having finished week courses.

Everywhere in the media we see perfect bodies, famous faces without a single blemish, and ideal stars that seem not to be influenced by time. In modern society unrealistic standards of beauty are imposed, and focus on fast results is developed, aided by such phenomena of modern reality, as fast food, instant coffee, botox injections and lifting within a weekend. In this society, everyone is obsessed with searching a source of eternal youth, but this search has never been so obvious (Gaetz & Phadke 2008).

In general, cosmetic surgery is not dangerous, but the risk rises when performing a series of several complex operations. Reality of plastic surgery is in putting safety first. One can save money, undergoing a series of successive operations, but one should remember that it increases the risk of complications. Moreover, it is necessary to find a doctor with the ASPS certificate to discuss all possible options with him before taking a final decision.

Cosmetic surgery is a fascinating thing, but such thing as immediate lifting simply does not exist, so it is easy to fall into error. It is necessary to focus on real improvements, because it is impossible to get everything at once.

Another important factor that should be taken into account is the recovery time after surgery. TV shows, as a rule, cut out this part, and it seems that the results appear immediately, but in fact, recovery after liposuction takes at least 3-5 days. In addition, the cut-off weight quickly returns, if a person does not keep to a diet and take exercises (Castle, Honigman, & Phillips 2002).

Most studies show that, as a rule, patients are satisfied with the result. However, there are factors that reduce the chance for a positive assessment of the outcome. These are patient’s young age, male gender, presence of mental health problems such as depression or anxiety syndrome, and certain features of character (some people are generally inclined to give negative evaluations to everything around).

Often patients after surgery feel worse because, despite the time and money spent, life does not change for the better and everything remains the same. It is also proven that patients are often more disappointed and upset about the result of operations giving a radical change in appearance (breast augmentation, changing the shape of the nose, etc.), than about the result of a “corrective” procedures, such as lifting or grinding face, botulinum toxin injections, injections of fillers (Gaetz & Phadke 2008).

So why do many people feel a desperate need to change the appearance? Why do people let the media lead them to feelings of inferiority and resentment by their body? Why do people depend upon the views of others so much and allow to manipulate their minds? (Sherry, Hewitt, Flett, & Lee-Baggley 2007)

However, there is evidence that plastic surgery possibly can help solve some life problems. A group of researchers from the University of Illinois (Chicago, USA) studied the influence of plastic surgery on the “first impression” – the impression that people make in the first few minutes of conversation.

It turned out that after the plastic surgery people are not only made a more favorable impression, but also, in judges’ opinion, looked happier and more financially independent than before the operation. Since in many situations (interview for employment, the first real interview with a virtual friend, the process of sale, etc.), the first impression often determines the success, the improvement of this indicator can turn a loser into minions of fortune (Gilman 1998).

But the emergence of the opportunity to achieve social success with the help of plastic surgery raises concerns of social researchers. Dr. Gillespie R. from the University of Portsmouth, School of Social and Historical Studies, England in 1996 suggested that although plastic surgery helps individual women to succeed, the boom in plastic surgery itself can promote injustice against women as a social group (Castle, Honigman, & Phillips 2002).

Some scientists wonder if there are social reasons for the boom of plastic surgery or women just happy to use the new opportunity to improve their appearance. One of the studies included a detailed survey of 35 women who had decided to make a breast enhancement operation. Women were asked how satisfied they were with their appearance in general, whether they were happy in their personal life, etc.

The same questions were asked to a group of women who had not thought about plastic surgery (Gilman 1998).

It was found that women who decided to do breast augmentation were, in general, no less happy in their personal life and no less satisfied with their appearance than women in the control group. The decision to have an operation, as a rule, is not due to an inferiority complex, not a desire to conform to the stereotype of advertising models, and not a desire to impress their partner, but simply a desire to have a bigger breast size.

A particular group of cosmetic clinic patients are people suffering from body dismorphic disorder – a sickly dissatisfaction with their appearance (it is also called dismorphofobia). According to U.S. experts, such people make up 6-12% of patients of plastic surgeons. Indication of the mental disorder may be a deep resentment of appearance in the absence of major cosmetic defects.

Such patients always worry because of their defect, often look in the mirror, touching or picking the face, profusely use masking means (wigs, cosmetics, shady hats, sunglasses), often avoid public places. Often such people have difficulty in communicating with friends and partners. Cosmetic procedures and plastic surgery is usually little help for this category of patients because they are either remain unsatisfied or find another defect causing anxiety. Moreover, cosmetic surgery today is so widespread that psychiatrists distinguish a new kind of dependence – dependence on plastic surgery. (Gaetz & Phadke 2008).

Ideal and perfection are relative and temporary notions. The image of the ideal appearance is rapidly changing, and it is hard to keep up with it. The fashion industry has a dirty secret: if the image of the ideal does not change, nobody will buy new products (clothes, cosmetics, hair dye, etc.), so the standards of beauty are constantly changing (Sherry, Hewitt, Flett, & Lee-Baggley 2007).

But it is necessary to remember that you cannot win in competition with nature. Any improvements are temporary. They do not remain for a lifetime. The only thing that really remains, and probably only getting better with age – it is our mental health.

In conclusion, we would like to return to the original question: does cosmetic surgery improve people’s self-esteem and give self-confidence? And if so, is it temporary or the effect will remain for a long time? Perhaps it is worth to search other, cheaper and less painful ways to improve self-esteem. People should not be afraid to ask themselves unpleasant questions and take decisions.

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