The Implications of Cosmetic Surgery on Physical and Mental Health
Cosmetic surgery, in the last few decades, has become a prominent subject in debates concerning health. Strong views encompass this topic as to whether it can be considered a benefit or a downfall to society. Contrary to popular belief, enhancing one's look is not its only predominant use. It has been utilised throughout the years as a way to rectify victims of damage from diseases, torture and other forms of trauma. In knowledge of this, favourable views have been formed towards cosmetic surgery, especially those who have had their bodies restored. Despite its benefits and debated need however, arguments against it continue to remain vehement. Considering its rise in popularity, and mass use, it is believed, that cosmetic procedures are damaging to health due to infections and other factors. The complications and uncertainty involved in cosmetic surgery leave many to question the need for particular operations to be undertaken. Body image has remained a substantial topic in this day in age and has lead to a rise in mental health conditions. Many believe that cosmetic surgery has played a significant role in body dissatisfaction while others believe the opposite.
As cosmetic surgery's predominant use is to help rectify body image, it is a widely held belief that it plays a substantial role in self‐acceptance. This view is supported heavily by people who have been restored from traumas as a result of it and can now live a normal life. For those who have not sustained bodily disfigurement however, cosmetic surgery is used as a way to prevent insecurities due to underdevelopment or self‐consciousness usually instigated by media‐influence. From experience, individuals believe that without cosmetic surgery they would not have had the confidence to live their lives properly, as stated by Kate who had been subject to underdevelopment, ".. you can't put a price on being happy with your body. I've never.. regretted my decision..", cosmetic surgery can be praised as an alternative to insecurities (Coffey, 2016, p. 85). On the other hand, for people who cannot afford the expenses involved or would prefer not to change themselves due to personal opinions, they may engage in a mental process of self‐acceptance. It is a widely held belief that self‐acceptance is the key to happiness, (Parishca, 2016) nevertheless people find it difficult to engage in such a journey to contentment due to its "torturous" transition from embarrassment to confidence (Parishca, 2016).
For all the incidences where cosmetic surgery is needed however, it has evolved throughout the centuries, as a measure of restoration for victims of trauma. In ancient times it was developed to rectify damage predominantly caused by injuries or birth defects (Pećanac, 2015, p. 199). The first evidence of its use in history was discovered in "Ancient Indian Sanskrit texts" in which were recorded ancient techniques of plastic surgery performed on the ears and nose (Pećanac, 2015, p. 199). Due to the brutality of ancient times primarily in India, Greece and Rome, surgical procedures were performed mainly for damage caused by humiliation, torture and war (Pećanac, 2015, p. 199‐200). Towards the modern day era, these surgical techniques continued to evolve as knowledge and technology increased overtime, allowing for various abnormalities and damage cause by trauma to be rectified (Pećanac, 2015, p. 202).
Today, cosmetic surgery is used to rectify abnormalities with greater efficiency and safety due to advanced technologies and knowledge (Pećanac, 2015, p. 202‐204). Developed procedures such as oncoplastic lumpectomies have helped breast cancer sufferers restore their breasts in a way that "offers...patients options that are not only aesthetically more pleasing, but may.." help prevent against further tumors (Tenofsky et al., 2014, p. 401). Breast cancer patients are just one group of a wide range of trauma sufferers who have had cosmetic surgery performed on them to restore their bodies. Victims of paralysis have experienced the benefits of cosmetic surgery also, as Starmer, Lyford‐Pike, Ishii and Byrne (2015, June 18) reveal that "cosmetic lip surgery can ease facial paralysis". They state that as a result of paralysis to the face, the individual can suffer not only physically but also psychologically (Starmer et al., 2015, June 18). They explained that a cosmetic injection would create a temporary relief to the patient and thereby improve their overall wellbeing (Starmer et al., 2015, June 18).
Considering cosmetic surgery can improve wellbeing and overall body satisfaction, questions of its affect on mental health have arisen. There are numerous views concerning this aspect of cosmetic surgery and its ability to have a positive or negative affect on individuals with mental health issues. While many opinions hold fast to either side of the argument, studies suggest that it in fact has little to no effect on mental health (Von Soest et al., 2012, p. 618). Von Soest, Kvalem and Wichstrøm (2012), have found in their research that mental health issues such as body dysmorphic disorder is not relieved as a direct result of cosmetic surgery but can in fact be worsened (p. 617, 626). They stated that,
“…although cosmetic surgery may improve specific body‐part satisfaction, it does not alleviate mental health problems; on the contrary, cosmetic surgery patients’ mental health problems may increase rather than decrease compared to non‐patients. Thus, the results from this study provide no evidence that cosmetic surgery should be used to alleviate mental health problems in women dissatisfied with their own appearance.” (Von Soest et al., 2012, p. 625).
In light of this however, there were limitations to this study as it was only conducted on Norwegian women which may not be relevant to all women globally. This is evident in Kate's positive experience of cosmetic surgery. She recounted her experience of small breasts causing her "anxiety and stress" which was alleviated completely after her cosmetic procedure (Coffey, 2016, p. 85).
Although, cosmetic surgery, can ease the effects of various health issues, there still remains concern for complications that can eventuate during or after cosmetic procedures. As all individuals differ in physical state, there is a high degree of uncertainty involving minimal to fatal complications such as reactions or infections that could possibly occur as a result of cosmetic surgery (Kaoutzanis, 2017, p. 89‐90). According to the research conducted by Kaoutzanis, Gupta, Winocour, Shack, Grotting and Higdon, surgical site infections are the most common forms of complication in cosmetic surgery patients and the chances of sustaining them depend on demographic factors including, age, gender and disease history (Kaoutzanis et al., 2017, p. 89‐93).
For those contemplating to undergo a cosmetic procedure, a few factors should be taken into consideration. Factors such as mental health, which could include a lack of self‐ acceptance or diseases such as body dysmorphic disorder, can greatly affect one's perception of themselves. There are also demographic factors to contemplate in addition to mental health. As was stated before, no individuals are exactly alike and therefore various demographic variables such as age, gender and disease history can possibly affect the success rate of certain procedures.
To ensure that an individual is eligible for cosmetic surgery, it is recommended that mental health evaluation is considered once the unsatisfactory feature has been identified. If the feature the patient deems unsatisfactory is genuinely in need of cosmetic surgery, examination of mental health may not be necessary. However, it would be an unhealthy alternative to undergo a cosmetic procedure if the patient's mental health distorts their view of themselves. In such cases, the consultation of a psychiatrist would be of primary benefit to the patient. As was brought to attention by professional surgeons, cosmetic surgery should not be used as a remedy to mental health, as it may worsen its influence over the individual.
Furthermore, before undergoing any procedure, an individual's demographic variables must be thoroughly evaluated to identify risk factors that could possibly cause complications or affect the success rate of the surgery. As stated before, the unique combination of variables and characteristics that make up an individual, can create a high degree of uncertainty concerning implications that could occur during or post‐procedure. Therefore, it is recommended, that cosmetic surgeons thoroughly evaluate each patient's health records and history before proceeding with any form of cosmetic surgery. In this way, high success rates can be achieved with less complications, benefiting both the patients and the surgeons who in turn will gain credible reputations.
In addition to the evaluation of oneself, it is recommended that a patient evaluate the credibility of their cosmetic surgeons. It is important that their surgeons have experience in the area the patient aspires to have procedures undertaken. As is evident in the aforementioned surgeons, including the cosmetic, breast conserving surgeons and facial paralysis specialists, surgeons may only have expertise in specific areas of their field. Therefore, it should be in the patient's best interest to undergo extensive research of reputable surgeons who specialise in the area of the patient's concern.
In consideration of both the benefits and repercussions cosmetic surgery poses on the individual's physical and mental health, a clear conclusion cannot be drawn to prove that cosmetic surgery is beneficial or detrimental to health. It has been argued to be beneficial due to its use in the restoration of abnormalities and damage caused by traumas. Its use in appeasing anxiety and depression caused by body dissatisfaction also contributes to
the favourable views established towards it. However, opposing arguments claim that it is harmful to health
due to its unpredictability. The success rates and complications including infections generated during or post‐
surgery, instigate the belief that cosmetic surgery is harmful to physical health. As each individual's physical
state differs one from the other, it can be difficult to evaluate the overall implications a procedure will have
on an individual. The same belief surrounds its effects on mental health. Depending on the individual, it
cannot be guaranteed that mental health issues such as low self‐esteem will be appeased as a result of
cosmetic surgery. Therefore, the implications of cosmetic surgery depend highly on each individual's physical
and mental state and should not be utilised as a fundamental solution to every patient's bodily
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