Plastic surgery is about more than just physical imperfections
There seems to be an endless barrage of motivational clichés to inspire comfort in one’s own skin. Preachy words of comforting wisdom are usually heard in one form or another, and even mainstream celebrities such as Lady Gaga or Christina Aguilera have climbed the Billboard charts with inspirational self-image songs such as “Born this Way” or “Beautiful,” respectively.
But there is no ignoring the other side of the media that glamorizes beauty to the extreme, a tradition that has been upheld since the first advertisement was conceived. Television shows such as The Swan or Extreme Makeover, along with the endless aisles of glossy magazines showcasing this year’s most beautiful people, are readily available.
While infatuation over beauty and celebrities in general is nothing new in the United States, statistics show recent record increases in aesthetic plastic surgery. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, Americans spent more than $13.5 billion on combined surgical and non-surgical aesthetic procedures in 2015, which is a $1.5 billion increase from the previous year.
To say whether this is a result of how beauty is portrayed in the media, or due to medical advancements in the field of plastic surgery, is still out for debate.
“I think when you see celebrities undergoing [plastic surgery] it sort of gives the greenlight to the average person to have this done,” says Howard Langstein, chief of plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “These beauty standards are set regularly by the media, and I’m not doubting that it has a big role, but it’s so hard to know what the impact is.”
Countless advancements have been made in the field of plastic surgery, Langstein explains, including fat grafting, advancements in 3-D imaging, and non-invasive surgical procedures. Botox procedures are still just as popular.
“Botox, like everything else, is being used for all kinds of things, not just for wrinkles,” Langstein says. “It’s being used in a lot of non-plastic surgical things too like with migraine headaches. The theory is that muscle contraction around the head is mainly triggered through a migraine, and Botox can be used to relax the muscle so that there won’t be that spasm and patients won’t get headaches.”
Plastic surgeon Dr. David Shafer of Shafer Plastic Surgery & Laser Center in New York, specializes in cosmetic surgery of the face, breasts and body, and says the most common procedures he sees include face lifts, eyelids, breast augmentation, tummy tuck and liposuction. One of the factors he contributes to the rise in plastic surgery correlates with the soaring popularity of social media.
“People look at themselves in their selfies on social media and they want to improve their appearance,” Shafer says. “People come in wanting to follow the latest social trends for beauty. One of the big things in the last year is lip augmentation most likely because of the Kardashians, and also butt augmentation — also because of the Kardashians.”
Becoming an Obsession
One of the dangers associated with plastic surgery comes when doctors need to identify signs for body dysmorphic disorder, a mental condition in which a person cannot stop seeing perceived defects or flaws in their appearance.
“No matter how they look, they see themselves looking bad in the mirror,” Shafer says. “Those are the types of patients you might have a quote unquote unsuccessful result. Even though the actual surgery went well it still doesn’t satisfy them … Part of my job is figuring out who’s going to be a good candidate not only from the physical side of the procedure, but also psychology, so there are many patients that I tell them, ‘I don’t think this is a good idea for you.’”
Draw back the curtain of media-idealized beauty, and you’ll find a medical field that is rapidly evolving thanks to a high degree of innovation in the field.
Dr. J. Peter Rubin, professor and chairman of the department of plastic surgery at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, explains that the advancements that have been made in plastic surgery, particularly with surgery after weight loss and with reconstructive treatments, have been countless. One area he says is particularly exciting is the advancements made in fat grafting, a procedure that transfers excess fat in one area to a desired area.
Led by Dr. Jeffrey Gusenoff, one of the most recent developments being explored at UPMC involves fat grafting in order to alleviate foot disorders and foot pain. Rubin says that a number of people in the United States suffer from a loss of fat in the soft tissue of the soles of their feet, and thanks to advancements in fat grafting, doctors are able to shift fat from other parts of the body using a patient’s own tissues.
“Our goals are to restore form and function, so in plastic surgery we work across the entire body from literally head to toe,” says Rubin. He also stresses the importance of seeing a plastic surgeon who is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.
Dr. Scott Hultman, professor and chief of plastic surgery at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, specializes in burn reconstruction and says it’s these types of advancements that make a large impact on patients, particularly when it comes to non-invasive technologies, fat grafting and use of lasers for burn scars. At the end of the day, though, it’s the self-esteem that he helps patients regain.
“Perhaps the most important thing that I can offer patients is hope,” Hultman says.