The Decline in Stigma Surrounding Cosmetic Surgery
by Teresa Huyzers
Cosmetic surgery has traditionally had a bad reputation – those who chose to alter their bodies through surgery with the sole aim of improving their looks were labelled as vain, superficial and narcissistic. However, more and more patients have sought out these surgeries as well as the newer non-invasive cosmetic procedures, and the industry has seen tremendous growth across the world despite this stigma.
This growth is most notable in the US, most likely fuelled by its large and influential entertainment industry. Interestingly, Brazil has an even larger cosmetic surgery industry and attitudes are far more positive there. In Brazil, plastic surgery is considered a right, not a privilege. Government hospitals cater to people from low-income sectors of society by providing reduced-cost and even free cosmetic procedures – and this purely for the purpose of being more attractive.
The Brazilian rationale is that cosmetic surgery can be just as effective at improving the state of the psyche as psychotherapy. This might seem overly simplistic, but it’s a sentiment that is becoming more and more popular. The stigma surrounding cosmetic procedures has certainly not curbed its popularity in the US. Entertainment personalities might still be the subject of gossip and even ridicule as a result of their cosmetic surgeries, but this has not stopped these performers from resorting to the surgeon’s rooms to enhance their looks and prolong their careers.
It has to be said that many people do take it too far when it comes to surgically altering their looks – to the extent that clinicians have started recognising excessive cosmetic surgery as a form of addiction. Botched surgeries which leave patients looking strange or abnormal as opposed to more attractive have also fuelled the disapproval fire. But with the latest advances in the industry and the introduction of newer, better, less invasive procedures, it has become far more acceptable to visit a cosmetic surgeon for a physical self-esteem boost.
If your droopy eyelids have always made you sad when you look at yourself in the mirror, you don’t necessarily need psychotherapy, nor does this make you superficial and one-dimensional. Not all of us were blessed with good looks and it is undeniable that looks play a significant role in modern society – everything from finding a mate to finding a job can be influenced by your physical features.
If we were to set aside the movie stars and the wannabes and take a more compassionate look at cosmetic procedures, it’s easy to see why the stigma is disappearing. Having your ears pinned back has never really been frowned upon since most people can empathise with the embarrassment and low self-esteem felt by people with protruding ears.
Other classic procedures such as rhinoplasty (nose jobs) are slightly more complicated – what might seem like an interesting profile to some might feel like a grotesque deformity to the person themselves. Traditional thinking would have us believe these people should simply “get over it” and accept those parts of their physical appearance they can’t change by means of diet and exercise, for example. But if you are an adult and you can afford the procedure, why put up with feeling less than beautiful if a relatively simple surgery can erase your unhappiness about your looks?
Breast augmentation has always drawn the harshest criticism, since it has traditionally been seen as a measure taken for the pleasure and approval of men, much to the chagrin of feminists. It was also seen as a sign that you had completely bought into the modern Western ideal of beauty – however skewed we might know this to be. And it is indeed difficult to justify unnaturally large and unnaturally shaped implants. But what of the woman whose genetic make-up produced very small breasts, making her feel like “less of a woman”? Who are we, as society, to deny her average-sized breasts if they make her feel more feminine and attractive and help her look better in her clothes?
Then there is the woman who has breast-fed three children, leaving her with somewhat deflated breasts. What grounds are there really to begrudge her a breast lift which will restore her body to its pre-breastfeeding shape? And what of those people who manage to lose enormous amounts of weight and are left with large amounts of excess skin? Surgery is the only option to remove this skin and such patients should not be judged for wanting to reap the self-esteem benefits – along with the inherent health benefits – of a fitting silhouette, instead of merely swopping one unattractive body shape for another.
Minimally invasive, non-surgical anti-ageing procedures are also vastly increasing in popularity. Sure, botoxing your face into an expressionless mask is not a healthy sign – but then what responsible surgeon would even allow this? Quite frankly, if an injection here or there every now and then can make you look ten years younger, go for it. These days, as far as cosmetic surgery and similar procedures are concerned, society is more likely to see you as an attractive woman – or man – who takes care of him or herself, nothing else.