Many Americans want to put their best face (and body) forward, believing that appearance is the key to success in life, love and at work. This realization has led men and women to undergo 17.2 million cosmetic surgery (or plastic surgery) procedures in 2017, up 2% since the previous year. Yet, despite an estimated 132% rise in people going under knife to improve their appearances since 2000, cosmetic surgery remains highly stigmatized and its recipients are often deemed “fake.” So, does cosmetic surgery provide the lift people seek, or is it an industry fed on our most shallow needs?
Here are three arguments in favor of cosmetic surgery and three against it.
Three reasons in favor of cosmetic surgery
Cosmetic surgery can improve confidence levels
One of the biggest advantages of cosmetic surgery is enhancing one’s appearance. For some, modifying a specific physical feature via cosmetic surgery can be a game changer, which improves confidence levels and self-image. The link between positive body image and high self-esteem is well known. People who love the way they look will feel better about themselves and experience an increase in confidence. Improving a person’s physical appearance can be the boost he or she needs to see themselves differently, change the attitudes that govern their lives and feel more accepted by the public. And if a common medical procedure is all it takes for one to make a change for the better, why not do it?
Cosmetic surgery provides significant health benefits to a suffering population
In some cases, cosmetic surgery can improve a person’s health. A person suffering from chronic congestion due to a deviated septum can undergo rhinoplasty (a nose job) and breathe freely at last. A heavily endowed woman experiencing regular pain as a result of the extra pressure on her back and shoulders can have a breast reduction. With cosmetic surgery, skin cancer can be removed and open wounds can be closed. Burn victims can begin to heal, and the removal of fat cells through liposuction can drastically reduce the chance of diabetes in at-risk populations.
Cosmetic surgery helps people gain a competitive edge
There is an increasing pressure for men and women to look younger and more attractive to better compete in the working world. This is related to the Halo Effect, a cognitive bias that most people harbor, inducing them to connect positive personality traits with physical attractiveness and provide these people with better opportunities. The trend of women, as well as a growing number of men, going under the knife in the hopes of looking younger and remaining relevant at work is on the rise. In fact, in a study formulated by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), 73% believed that appearance and youthful looks are critical for getting hired, a promotion, or new clients. If this is truly the case, then cosmetic surgery isn’t a folly, it’s a true competitive advantage.
Three reasons against cosmetic surgery
Cosmetic surgery does not deal with self-image issues at their source
Cosmetic surgery is a Band-Aid solution – it changes an aspect of a person’s appearance that has been harming their mental wellbeing. But cosmetic surgery deals solely with aesthetics. It does not solve the problem at its root. As such, a person suffering from body dysmorphia, an anxiety disorder that causes a person to have a distorted view of how they look, will continue to experience negative body image and negative self-perception, even after the offending body part has been reconstructed. In fact, a person can be left feeling even more lost following surgery than he or she did before going under the knife. In such cases, psychological counseling would be more beneficial and less physically risky.
Cosmetic surgery panders to society’s image obsession and objectifies women
In an era where the Kardashians reign supreme, image has become everything and people are obsessed with meeting the unrealistic standards set before them by celebrities. Cosmetic surgery procedures pander precisely to that, facilitating the ordinary person in his or her quest for an extraordinary physique and making it seem as though beauty and success are products available for purchase. The media practically promotes cosmetic surgery, through its idyllic casting of “reality” television shows (ahem, Extreme Makeover). Moreover, cosmetic surgery objectifies the female form, often to fit a male of idea of how women should look. In 2016, 92% of all cosmetic surgery procedures, including the most popular breast augmentations and Botox, were administered to women. This reflects an imbalance in the way society views the female form, especially as it ages, to fit the male standard of beauty.
Cosmetic surgery is unhealthy
People will pinch pennies and forego everyday possessions and experiences to afford the steep cost of cosmetic surgery procedures. This is so despite the fact that cosmetic surgery has potential for complications, severe pain and long recovery times. And in some cases, cosmetic surgery does not produce the results the patient desires, driving men and women to return for repeat procedures and essentially enslaving themselves to a vicious cycle of cosmetic surgeries. Famous examples include Michael Jackson and Joan Rivers, who according to her daughter “had a staggering 348 cosmetic operations over her life and was never happy with the way she looked.”
The Bottom Line: Does cosmetic surgery provide us humans a way to improve our experience in life, or does it bandage over problems and keep us away from evolving as people? What do you think?