Friday, July 4, 2014

Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgery: How Much Do You Know?

The facts of cosmetic surgery bring the quick-fix solution into question.
Here's What Matters
 by Mimi Machakaire

Surgeries have been performed for thousands of years, with one of the earliest cases dating back to approximately 10,000 BC when Peruvians performed craniotomies. Cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries have also been practiced for mellennia, with records showing that plastic reconstruction of broken noses were performed in Ancient Egypt between 2500 and 3000 years ago, and reconstructive surgeries were regularly being performed in India as early as 800 BC.

Today, cosmetic surgeries are becoming increasingly commonplace, and can be seen as linked to a culture of superficiality and the obsession with youth. While there are many cases where reconstructive surgeries are necessary or can greatly increase someone's quality of life, such as skin grafts for burn victims, reconstructing deformities, or gender affirming surgery, many superfluous, costly and dangerous surgeries are performed every day merely to satisfy vanity or in severe cases as a symptom of deep-seated insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. Obviously, drastically changing your appearance does not necessarily equate to solving these underlying problems, and many have become addicted to going under the knife in the pursuit of "perfection" which will never come. While certain less invasive procedures might add to a sense of confidence, which might be a good thing, the invasive and drastic alterations like liposuction or facelifts can have many negative results. There are also many cases of plastic surgeries that ended in disaster, including the death of Kanye West's mother last year after cosmetic surgery, or the long list of people who end up looking very strange because of these procedures.

Plastic surgeries have also become popular in Asian countries where people undergo eyelid reconstruction, skin lightening, cheek implants and chin shaving in order to look more "western" (read: white). These cases point to a worrying trend to idealise a particular notion of beauty, namely one based on features mostly found in white people, and to devalue the natural features of others.

The table below shows a sample of the amount of people in the US who have undergone cosmetic procedures in 2011. In total, 13,8 million cosmetic procedures were performed in the US alone during that year. Women made up 91% of all cosmetic procedures, and men accounted for 9%.

In 2013, the number of procedures grew to 15.1 million, marking the fourth consecutive year of growth in these numbers.The most recent comprehensive figures show that in 2012 $11 billion was spent on cosmetic procedures in the US. These figures from the past three years show a pervasive, growing industry which seems to be impervious to the continuing worldwide economic struggles.

Cosmetic procedures have lost a lot of their stigma over the past few years as more people become concerned with the power and importance placed on appearance. But the research suggest that for most people it does not have the desired effect of boosting self-esteem, and can actually lead to more negative than positive consequences, including financial problems due to the exorbitant costs. This supposed quick-fix solution might not be the road to long-term happiness that it purports to be.