January 1, 2011
As frustrating as it can be to hear, the question of healthiness in regards to cosmetic surgery receives an ambivalent answer. In most cases the answer is: “It all depends.” Indeed, many factors must be considered in determining whether cosmetic surgery makes sense: overall health, procedural risks, emotional health and maturity, finances and most critically, motivation.
When considering cosmetic surgery, one of the most important moves a surgery candidate can make is to examine their motivations as honestly as possible. Here are a few examples of sound reasons for undergoing the procedure on one hand and reasons that are not adequate enough to justify the procedure on the other hand. When taken into consideration, they can prove crucial in making a difficult decision simple.
Alleviating health problems
The most clear-cut reason to choose cosmetic surgery is to improve physical health. Women who opt for breast reduction surgery are often seeking better health conditions when consulting a plastic surgeon: relief from symptoms like backaches, neck aches, deep bra strap grooves and rashes. More than 100,000 women seek breast reduction in the U.S. each year, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
Relief from excess bulk is the goal of another group: those who experience massive weight loss. Whether through bariatric surgery or their own weight loss efforts, these people discover that as their body shrinks in size, their skin does not. Weight loss patients are usually left with rolls of extra skin, saggy breasts and so on. Cosmetic surgery can re-contour skin to hug the body more closely, thereby cutting down on rashes, body odor and other problems. Surgery can help patients become comfortable with physical exercise and find clothes that fit.
Cosmetic surgery that removes unwanted body tissues benefits these patients both emotionally as well as physically. In the words of one breast reduction patient from Los Angeles who had grown into a size G bra by young adulthood: “I have so much more confidence now.”
Addressing a long-standing trouble spot
Plastic surgery can also yield great rewards for those who decide to change a physical feature that has bothered them for years. Rhinoplasty or nose surgery patients are often great examples. Most plastic surgeons report that the typical comment from rhinoplasty patients is: “I should have done this a long time ago.” This reaction is also common from adults who undergo otoplasty, the procedure that pins back ears that stick out.
It is understandable that patients would find these procedures and their results so satisfying. Noses and ears are prominent features — parts of the body people groan about daily as they pass by mirrors. When patients choose a qualified plastic surgeon to improve the look of such a troublesome feature, the result is often a great sense of contentment.
Marking a positive transition
The emotional impact of a cosmetic procedure can be a boon to a patient, particularly when they elect surgery to mark an important milestone or life transition. Lauren Eskenazi, a San Francisco plastic surgeon with an all-female patient base, noted such an effect in her patients who elected to have breast reconstruction after a mastectomy.
Though not as surprising, Dr. Eskenazi observed a similar life boost for many of her non-mastectomy patients as well. In her book, “More than Skin Deep: Exploring the Real Reasons Why Women Go Under the Knife”, she noted that women often choose cosmetic surgery when going through a divorce or other transitions in their lives. She adds that their desire was to “have the outer body reflect an inner change that was already taking place.” In other words, the majority of her patients “use their surgery as an opportunity to heal and grow.”
Losing weight is not an appropriate reason to have cosmetic surgery. That doesn’t mean that cosmetic surgery has no place in weight loss, but the right time to consider a procedure like liposuction or a tummy tuck is after you have lost weight.
Why is this the case? For fat inside the abdomen — known medically as “visceral fat” — there is no entirely safe way to surgically remove it. There are good reasons to wage war on visceral fat; it’s one of the most dangerous kinds of fat on the body. The safest way to battle fat inside the abdominal cavity is through exercise and diet.
Liposuction can remove a portion of other types of fat: subcutaneous fat. Some patients can be at or near an ideal weight and still have stubborn love handles or saddlebags that are not affected by diet and exercise. These areas are some of the best targets for liposuction. Keep in mind that liposuction can only safely remove a few pounds as it sculpts and smoothes body contours. A tummy tuck can also be a valid choice for women who, through pregnancy, genetics or weight loss, have loose skin and muscles in their lower abdomen. These procedures are options for fine-tuning the body and not for losing weight.
Influencing another person
The surest path to disappointment is to elect cosmetic surgery for reasons having more to do with another person than with you. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for patients to consider going under the knife to get or keep a partner. However, there is so much more to relationships than simple physical matters, and this strategy rarely works.
Recently, an even more disturbing and growing trend has perplexed cosmetic surgeons: vengeance plastic surgery. A recent article by Ellen McCarthy in the Washington Post noted that many women consult cosmetic surgeons to get revenge on a partner. One of McCarthy’s interview subjects chose breast augmentation as payback for a husband who had strayed.
It should go without saying that if a patient can not look inward and honestly say, “it’s just to satisfy me,” cosmetic surgery is not the right move.
To Achieve Unrealistic Expectations
In today’s economy, some justify procedures such as facelifts or eyelid lifts as a means to gain a more youthful look and improve their job prospects. These are not necessarily the worst reasons to choose cosmetic surgery, but there are absolutely no guarantees that surgery will help you land a job. Most plastic surgeons advise employing other resources in improving job prospects.
Patients should not sign up for cosmetic surgery expecting drastic changes. In fact, during office consultations, plastic surgeons usually probe prospective patients to make sure expectations are realistic. In most cases, cosmetic surgery will not change a patient into a beauty queen or a runway model, unless the patient already qualifies.
There are many other important matters to consider before deciding to have cosmetic surgery. Talking with a primary care physician about overall health and the likelihood of surviving a safe surgery — as the majority of people do — is key. Evaluate the risks of the procedure and whether they are acceptable. Consider the high cost of most procedures and whether a modest change will be worthwhile. Get educated and explore information on how to choose a plastic surgeon wisely. Before taking on those topics, think through personal motivations. For many people, cosmetic surgery is just the ticket for putting a little sparkle in the eye. For others, it can mean disappointment and even disaster. Preparation for the outcome with proper expectations will determine the success or failure of the procedure.