Plastic surgery has a long history and is known to have taken place as early as 4000 years ago. According to various sources, the reconstructive surgeries, including skin grafting, were conducted back in 600-800 BC in India; these are among the first surgeries to be officially documented («The History of Plastic Surgery | American Society of Plastic Surgeons»). The reasons for resorting to reshaping of one’s body can be different: either a person wants to make a disfigured body beautiful again, use the surgery to fix the problems that endanger the physical existence, or use it solely to enhance the beauty and boost self-esteem. More and more people all over the world tend to agree to go under the surgeon’s knife to wake up different persons. Whereas most of the reconstructive surgeries have solid reasons and are prescribed by the doctors, most of the cosmetic surgeries are solely the decisions of the future patients. The acceleration of the plastic surgery development in the last couple of centuries, and the drastic improvement of its methods after the two World Wars have attracted millions of people all over the world to have various parts of their bodies reshaped in accordance with the modern and constantly changing standards of beauty. The development of the information technologies and a growing influence of the Hollywood and fashion beauty stereotypes have both affected the minds of several generations. Many discussions are held about the dangers of the new ideals and easy accessibility of the ways to attain them, and indeed the distorted views on the nature of the human’s beauty may dramatically affect the life a person with the unstable psychological condition, either it is a teenager in his or her puberty age, or a grown-up with self-esteem issues. Nonetheless, it is a known fact that every culture has its own ideals of beauty that do not always coincide. The domination of the Western beauty standards in the countries that were recently majorly affected by the Western culture, and the culture of the United States in particular resulted in the increase of the cosmetic surgery popularity. Grobman suggests the following examples in his “Vital Statistics”:
South Korea has the highest ratio of cosmetic surgeons to citizens worldwide, but Brazil has the most cosmetic surgical procedures per capita. The most popular cosmetic procedure in Asia is eyelid surgery. Argentina has the highest ratio of breast enlargements worldwide. (qtd. in Donahoe)
The statistics also show that the highest rates of various plastic surgeries are not accumulated in one particular region of the planet, but actually distributed all over the words. Thus, although South Korea is on top of the list with liposuction, rhinoplasty and blepharoplasty being the most popular procedures, next after it goes Greece, with the breast enlargement being the highest ranked plastic surgery in the country, and penis enlargement surgery being more popular than elsewhere in the world. The countries that follow are Italy, Brazil, Colombia, the United States and Taiwan (Conley). In some countries, like Korea, people turn to the aesthetic surgeries, as these procedures have already become a part of the culture. According to Seoul TouchUp website dedicated to the plastic surgery industry:
It is valued as a national asset – one that leads thousands of people to a land that is predisposed to aesthetic beauty. It is here that cosmetic surgery is viewed as a practical issue in an extremely competitive world. Many Koreans believe having the right face makes the difference between success and failure. (Seoul TouchUp)
While many medical professionals argue whether or not the plastic surgeries boost self-esteem, the direct experience of people, who went under the knife, is the best evidence. Needless to say that each case will be different, as the decision to use the plastic surgeon’s services can be taken under different life circumstances; however, it is clearly understandable that those people, who use reconstructive and cosmetic surgery not vital to their life, are using it to get a better feeling about themselves. If people did not care about their appearance, they would not turn to the invasive and risky procedures that are usually followed by a painful recovery process, for the sake of simply having better looks. Most of the people, who are seeking the surgical intervention, are trying to become more socially adapted and have a stronger self-belief. Though not everyone acknowledges the lack of the appropriate level of self-esteem, or they cover it behind the possible excuses for the inability to be strong competitors on the labor market (this relates only to those, who do not need the surgical intrusion to fix the disfigured body parts), most do acknowledge the optional nature of their choice and understand the possible positive changes that will follow after the surgery. The risks and pain that are associated with the procedures, thus, become the payment for a better mental state of mind.
Talking about those, who undergo the surgery under the circumstances of not having a better choice than to agree to the operational intervention, such people do not intend to escalate their self-esteem as a primary goal of the surgery. The self-esteem advancement appears in such cases as an occasional side effect that makes people feel better about their lives.
According to the Professors Dr. Jürgen Margraf and Alexander von Humboldt, who investigated the psychological impact of plastic surgery on approximately 550 patients, it turned out that almost all operations increased the level of satisfaction with life and self-esteem (Medical News Today). The results of the largest studies in this field have been published in the journal “Clinical Psychological Science”. The scientists wondered if the future plastic surgery patients were psychologically different from people, who did not resort to the surgeries, i.e. if they suffered from any kind of psychological complexes. Many still believe that most of the aesthetic surgeries are the outcome of the inferiority complex of an individual. The researchers compared the patients with people who had never had undergone plastic surgeries and those, who underwent them a long time ago; the results showed no significant psychological differences between the three groups. It turned out that the vast majority of patients did not expect the impossible from the plastic surgeons. When being asked about the expectations from the procedures, most of the clients were anticipated to reply about the drastic changes in their lives they were waiting on to follow, or to name the surgery as a possible solution to all their problems. As it turned out, only 12% of the future patients replied in this manner, when the remaining part indicated that the reshaping will make them feel better, improve self-esteem or help fight the aging process. In general, a successful plastic surgery is partially about the provision of the lasting improvement in the mood of the patient. The feeling of happiness was especially noticeable in the comparison of the plastic surgeon patients and those, who never turned to a surgery.
The studies of Dr. Joseph F. Sobanko of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia show, at the same time, that no particular experiments and researches have proven the effectiveness of the plastic surgeries in cases, where the clients had had strong self-esteem problems before. Saying that the cases need further investigation, Dr. Sobanko admits:
The only justification that I could provide a reason of why we perform facial cosmetic procedures is that it has been my anecdotal experience that patients may sometimes feel better with even a slight improvement in appearance. (Doyle)
Another study conducted by Cynthia Figueroa-Haas, a clinical assistant professor at University of Florida College of Nursing, argues that there are genuine improvements in the mental health of women, who receive a plastic surgery. Figueroa-Haas made a research based on the responses from 84 women aged 21-57 years old. Before the patients underwent the cosmetic or reconstructive surgeries, there all received special questionnaires, tests and forms to be filled in regarding their self-esteem and sexuality. Same questions were posed several months after the procedures were completed. The study using two widely accepted scientific scales (the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale and the Female Sexual Function Index) reveals dramatic changes in the self-worth and sexual self-perception of the former patients. While the minority of the patients showed no changes in their state of mind, the majority of the results is as follows:
The participants’ average self-esteem score increased from 20.7 to 24.9 on the 30-point Rosenberg scale, and their average female sexual function score increased from 27.2 to 31.4 on the 36-point index. Of note, after the procedure, there were substantial increases in ratings of sexual desire (a 78.6 percent increase from initial scores), arousal (81 percent increase) and satisfaction (57 percent increase). (Nauert)
The study reveals that more women attempt to find answers to their sexuality problems by resorting to the plastic surgeries, and the latter help if not answer the questions, then at least enhance the sexual life of a woman. Many clients of the plastic surgeon are women, who were not suffering low-esteem psychological issues until the boost of the aging process or the birth of the first child. The natural changes in a woman’s body may not naturally require surgical interventions, but they definitely help slow down the aging process of the soul, i.e., a woman feels younger that her age. Women, who see their bodies shaped up to their previous forms, tend to feel younger and capable of doing more things, than when feeling like their real physical age. This mental rejuvenation, though sometimes laughed at by the young generations, helps a woman feel the life in all its colors, when such woman looks in the mirror. Of course, some will argue that people, who chose to undergo plastic intrusion, are likely to have severe problems with self-worth. Here it would be important to note that most clinics conduct a special testing of an applicant for a cosmetic surgery, before actually consenting to these services; patients, who are discovered to have big psychological issues, will get a refusal and advice to turn to counseling regarding the self-esteem issues and the deeper underlying reasons for turning to the plastic surgery with the expectations of the dramatic changes in the patient’s life; other patients will be informed that the surgery is not an ultimate cure for the self-esteem issue.
My friend Ji-young decided to turn to more extreme ways to make herself feel better, and there was not a day when I judged her. Ji-young has not only undergone the rhinoplasty, but the blepharoplasty as well, making her eyes have double-eyelids. Being a Korean girl, Ji-young was taught from a very young age that the standard beauty is double-eyelids and small pointy nose. At least that is what her parents taught her. No wonder why she decided to go under the knife, as she was basically taught since childhood that she is not good enough with her natural appearance. As a woman, who is responsible for her own choices, Ji-young took her step towards feeling more confident about her looks. The main underlying reason for Ji-young to turn to the surgeons lies rather in her persuasion that the standards of beauty she was exposed to since childhood are the most attractive ones, than in the low self-esteem of the girl. All in all, Ji-young completed two surgeries and is not planning on having more within the nearest time. Her increased confidence influenced her life in many ways, from becoming happier, to landing on a good job, not for her looks, but for her self-belief.
Those, who oppose the plastic surgery at any age, when it is not prescribed by the doctor, argue that the modern beauty standards make teenagers and adults forget that a natural beauty does not lie only on the outside of a person. They note that more children of the age 8-13 start undergoing the surgeries at this young age, however, they do not explain that such early intrusions are conducted only upon the confirmation of such necessity. The opponents appeal to the unstable and pressing Hollywood beauty standards widely advertised by the media all over the world each day. According to the opponents of the plastic surgeries as a medium to enhance self-esteem, people cannot turn to this method of the personal problem solving, because usually the issues with self-esteem lie much deeper than the dissatisfaction with one’s appearance. The counter-argument for the abovementioned claims lies in the very nature of the low self-esteem of people in the modern society. Being social creatures, we try to keep up with the latest trends to stay updated and fit into the society. The child that grows with the distorted views on beauty is a responsibility of a parent, who failed to explain on time the necessity of sorting out the priorities in life and the sources of the credible information on the standards of appearance and behavior. Meanwhile, the children, who cannot accept their appearance, have already grown-up and cultivated the low-self esteem from living with the appearance standards that are quite far from their own body parameters. Instead of fighting with these children and teenagers, one should help them get back their confidence and a feeling of high self-worth, thus, giving them a chance to become happy people in future.
As body parts develop at different rates in different people, the opportunity to transform a teenager with low self-esteem and a crooked nose into someone with self-confidence is often justified because a well-timed operation could prevent destructive behaviors, including eating disorders, bullying and self-mutilation. (Sweeney)
Whether to undergo the reconstructive or cosmetic surgery or accept oneself as an unchangeable body is a choice of each separate person. Some people have strong self-confidence and do not need any help from the outside world to regain the confidence, if it is ever lost. Other people have not possessed the confidence from the very beginning of their conscientious lives, and before undergoing any permanent changes in their appearance, such people need to consult with the counsel or therapist regarding the necessity of the surgery. Another cluster of people is composed of men and women, whose confidence was lost due to some life events or maturing. All three groups of people have an undeniable choice to fix their bodies the way they can only imagine, but they should be explained about the possible consequences thoroughly. The studies show that the absolute majority of the patients of the plastic surgeons are either experiencing the advancement or restart of their self-esteem, or feeling as good as before, and only some patients feel worse than before, usually due to side effects, incompetence of the surgeon or the inability to take a thoroughly circumspect final decision about a very important part of their lives. Being one of those, who underwent forced, but voluntary physical changes, and a friend of an ex-patient of the plastic surgeon, I have witnessed the results of the changes in one’s self-belief, confidence and a feeling after the procedures. Although the future generations need to be raised with different standards and explained the nature of a human’s beauty that expands beyond the physical and sexual attraction, those, who grew up in a world of false promises given by TV, Hollywood and fashion world, have the right to resort to the plastic surgeries, within the reasonable limits, to enhance the body parts that trouble them and prevent from living a productive life.
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