I read about Herbert Chavez earlier. He`s the guy from the Philippines who has spent a fortune, and 15 years, having cosmetic surgery to transform himself into Superman. Now, he may be considered a bit of a nut, but its his money, and he`s hurting no-one. I`ve read of, and seen, people who have transformed themselves into tigers, leopards, lions and snakes. I once took a call from a guy who wanted surgery to change himself into an elephant, of all things… But they are the extreme fringes of cosmetic surgery.
After I left the NHS, I spent 7 years in cosmetic surgery. I`d already spent a couple of years in Burns & Plastics, ie reconstructive surgery, but this was pure cosmetic….and to be honest, I came to hate the job…with a passion.. Don`t get me wrong, there`s nothing wrong with cosmetic surgery per se, I think that most people, no matter their personality, have a deep desire to look and feel beautiful and attractive. We look into the mirror at night, we notice and sigh at all the little imperfections of our face, body, skin and hair. This desire to look better and younger is understandable, but….. I admit that it’s mainly to do with me. I loved what I did in the NHS…as I said before, it defined me…and helping people look a bit better didn`t do it for me, I`m afraid.
At first, it was fine. We did breast augmentations, liposuctions, noses, face lifts and tummy tucks, with breast augmentations being far and away the most common. But over and over, I kept hearing the same reason…`to give them confidence`. I sometimes wondered if there wasn`t an easier, and indeed cheaper, way to gain confidence…but there again, I`m not a woman, I have no real comprehension of how important it is to them. So far, so good.
I can pinpoint the day that cosmetic surgery and I began to part company. A man in his late 30`s came in. He`d paid over £2000 to have his ear-lobes made slightly smaller. He was a salesman, and he felt that slightly smaller ear lobes would help him be a better salesman…because it `would give him more confidence`…..Then came chin implants, belly button inversions and labiaplasties.
Now, in the report Requests for Genetic Genitoplasty: How Should Healthcare Providers Respond? (2007), the authors, Lih Mei Liao and Sarah M. Creighton, reported that “the patients consistently wanted their vulvas to be flat, . . . some women brought along images to illustrate the desired appearance, usually from adverts or pornography that may have been digitally altered.” The critical conclusion of the report was that the designer vagina craze originated from the commercialism of sexual medicalisation.
This is where I start to worry. It really annoys me that, as a society, we`ve bocome so shallow that a persons worth, success and value are now measured by their looks, their hair, the clothes they wear. I mean…anal bleaching, toe-shortening, eyebrow transplants and knee lifts…..are they really necessary? There have been reports which suggest that 4 out of 5 of the first time patients who visited a plastic surgery clinic for consultation or surgery were high-intensity viewers of `Reality TV` shows on cosmetic surgery.They also revealed that their decision to go under the knife was largely influenced by `success` stories featured on programmes like `Extreme Makeover` and `The Swan`. Admittedly, these shows are american imports, but the format is universal. They usually show ordinary people, leading ordinary lives, who have become virtual social outcasts. By the end of the programme, they have become attractive, desirable and have gained instant popularity. This, of course, then increases social acceptability for surgery which has now considered `normal`, as commonplace as having your hair cut…and that then is bolstered by celebrities endorsing surgery. The problem with these shows, though, is the emphasis is always on the personal aspirations and success stories of the patients rather than on the effects and side effects of surgical procedures. Which means that surgeons usually have to warn against this make-believe world of unrealistic expectations where patients walk into a clinic demanding services which will give them instant gain, and no pain.
More and more, we are living in a quick-fix culture, a society where `beautiful` means `successful`, a society that demands instant gratification and promotes cosmetic surgery as an acceptable solution to perceived physical “inadequacies”. It is worrying that new research has revealed that a quarter of British women aged between 18 and 30, first considered cosmetic surgery between the ages of ten and 15.
Add to that there seems to be a rise in media propaganda, usually fronted by some teen idol or other, who talks of how he/she `felt bad about themselves/their body/their looks`. The shallow media imagery that portrays celebrity plastic surgery as the height of beauty is very convincing to teenagers who perceive themselves as “not pretty or handsome enough” . When Lady Gaga gives an interview to magazines in which she talks about her own physical insecurities and says she is open to plastic surgery as a solution to those insecurities, it makes a huge impression on her audience…mainly teenage girls. A research study performed by GoodSurgeonGuide showed that, of 1,012 girls interviewed, 41 percent of girls between the ages of 13-16 years old are already considering a cosmetic procedure. 62% said they wanted bigger breasts, 55% wanted to change their teeth and 49% wanted some form of surgery for weight loss. Around 33% also thought that some nose work would be good too. Some of these teens, 49%, wanted to have the procedure now and 7% had already had some plastic surgery done. Twenty-five percent of the girls said that they would change their appearance so that they would no longer be bullied about it at school.
Unrealistic expectations are hard to combat, though. It is SO important for patients to accept that having a nose like Brad Pitt won`t make you Brad Pitt…but patients don`t always listen. Consider Laura Pillarella. She had hoped that the procedures to remove the bags under her eyes and insert a chin implant would improve not only her looks, but also her life. They didn’t. ‘When the bandages came off, I was disappointed,’ she says. ‘I wasn’t beautiful — just different. It wasn’t enough.’ So Laura planned another operation … and then another. For the next decade she became trapped in a vicious cycle of surgery, dissatisfaction and more surgery. After 15 procedures, and spending more than £40,000 trying to be beautiful, she contemplated suicide. Or Colin Phillips. In 2009, an inquest in Cardiff heard how he hanged himself in a wood, distraught at how his third facelift had gone. One study reported a 3x higher rate of self-destructive acts, such as binge-drinking, drug overdoses and reckless driving following cosmetic surgery. Admittedly, these are the exceptions. Most surgeons now use psychological assessments before surgery, which has reduced similar instances. To save money, some people still find their surgeon on the internet, though…and cosmetic surgery is often cheap in Europe…..
Despite the economic crisis, cosmetic surgery is surprisingly still on the rise, although `quick fix` injectable fillers and for non-surgical methods to tighten loose skin of the jowls and neck has dropped, and surgical interventions have risen. I`m presuming that patients want more `bang for their buck`, for treatments which deliver a reliable, long-lasting result….which just goes to show…something.
I`ve seen some incredible work done by some truly gifted surgeons…and like I said, I`ve got nothing against cosmetic surgery…but I would advise that people do their research…ensure that their surgeon is registered with BAAPS (The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons), and don`t get distracted by BOGOF offers….
Full disclosure here: I’ve had plastic surgery. It was on my upper eyelids…and only because they had sagged to such a degree that most of my eyes were permanently covered. But it did nothing for my self-esteem, my insecurities, or the fact that time was still going to relentlessly march across my face, body and hairline. I can`t fight Time…and there`s no way I`m going to have Abdominal Etching, or Bicep implants, or..a Penis Enlargement (no matter how much Mrs. Sabrewulfe begs :) )