Plastic Surgery: Body Image + Identity

The conclusion!

This is the last cosmetic surgery article for this particular series. This is an incredible topic and I’m sure that I’ll be writing about it fairly often. But this particular installment may be the most interesting, and probably the one that is more applicable towards your daily life.That’s because this article explores the effect that cosmetic surgery has had on body image and identity. In other words, how the idea of tummy tucks and implants makes us feel about ourselves.

Speaking from personal experience, I can’t say that I’ve met multitudes of women who have nipped and tucked. I can honestly say that I’ve met one, and she was in her mid-teens. For the sake of privacy, we’ll call her Evangeline.

-7Evangeline was absolutely gorgeous, but her father’s abusive influence led to a serious decrease in her self-esteem and lack of self-worth. Everyday she would talk about how she was ugly, about how our classmates and celebrities were so much prettier than she was. My arguments against Photoshop and in favor of everything that made her beautiful meant nothing.

She convinced her parents to let her get cosmetic surgery at the age of sixteen. She had breast implants and a nose job. And I don’t get it at all. I don’t get why parents would allow their teenager to alter their body when they aren’t done growing, and I don’t get why her mother stayed in a relationship that was obviously hurting her daughter psychologically.

It is what it is. We don’t talk anymore, but that was one of my first lessons in knowing your own beauty and your own worth. More than anything, it made me realize at a young age that I was totally against cosmetic surgery, because it made everything so much worse for Evangeline and she later regretted the decision.

Some studies have shown that women who undergo cosmetic surgery have a better sense of self-image and a ‘positive psychological effect’. Gregory Borah, MD, the head of plastic surgery at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, says that ‘the purpose of plastic surgery is to improve a person’s psychological functioning by modifying their body image’.

This seriously scares me. Not just because it seems wrong on an inherent level, but because this is proof that cosmetic surgery is teaching women that changing themselves will make them love themselves more. And that, in turn, filters down to young women and girls who are seeing those effects first hand. In my opinion, it’s reinforcing the idea that you don’t have worth if you aren’t pretty.

-9Of course, one could argue that it’s not necessarily the cosmetic trend, but the altering of image in the media. But you can’t Photoshop women appearing live at the Oscars, and seeing actresses in bikinis post-surgery doesn’t do much to convince the public of the dangers associated with such a popular remedy to ‘imperfection’. Yes, Photoshop does its part by making beauty unattainable, but cosmetic surgery is a real life ‘solution’ that offers obvious real life results.

Some women who undergo surgery may have a more positive idea of themselves post-procedure, but not all. A study done by Dartmouth evaluated the self-esteem of Venezuelan and mixed race women who underwent nose jobs to look more Caucasian. But the surgery only temporarily boosted their body image.

There are plenty of individuals that I’ve mentioned in prior articles who expressed serious desire to alter their appearance. But unfortunately, the issues leading to desire for surgeries aren’t laying on the surface. They’re very convoluted and deep-rooted in body image.

-8Caitlin Clemons got breast implants at the age of eighteen because she was unhappy with her small cup size. She saw how happy the implants made her mother and older sister, and said, “Once I saw how happy she [her mother] was, I knew I could be that happy.” Clemons says that she’s always been the friend with small breasts and nitpicked at her body. Tracey Karp, a seventeen year old high school student who has also had breast implants, says that she has high standards for herself, too: ‘Ugh, I’m only seventeen and I have wrinkles!’ Her parents (noting that they didn’t want it done behind their back) granted Karp permission to undergo a nose job since she was already getting surgery for a deviated septum. Fun fact: they used a hammer and chisel to do the reshaping. No thank you, rhinoplasty.

In 2009, an estimated 200,000 teens (a female majority) got plastic surgery. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) gives guidelines on their website for the evaluation of teen cosmetic desires, which include evaluating physical and emotional maturity. A recent study showed that poor self-image stemmed more from peers than from media, but another study in 2011 also showed a correlation between drama and gossip-filled television shows and eating disorders. Then again, Caitlin Clemons was influenced by her family, which the study did not take into account. So while media and peer interaction influence teen girls, plastic surgery seems to offer a solution for the psychological effects.

But still, the question lies: even if cosmetic surgery does offer an esteem boost on a broad and extensive level, how is that a solution? It only serves to give women and girls an altered idea of their self worth.

Cosmetic surgery has been around longer than most people realize, so this isn’t a recent topic. Dissatisfaction with our physical selves has existed beyond modern digital alteration, and the simple question of how to fix it won’t lead to an easy answer. It will lead to more questions.

Complicated problems often have simple solutions. The question is, what kind of solution are we looking for?

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