Few topics are as polarizing as the escalating use of plastic surgery to alter the appearance of men, women and an increasing number of young adults. There are those who vehemently oppose the whole idea, seeing it as a sad reflection of our beauty- and youth-obsessed culture, while others embrace it as an opportunity to prolong the health and vitality of one's appearance.
In spite of this ongoing debate, plastic surgery experts predict wider use by a broader spectrum of people as safer, more refined and affordable techniques are developed. According to the most recent report by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, close to 13 million cosmetic procedures were performed this year in the U.S. alone, representing a 155-percent increase over the past decade. With these numbers, our ongoing fascination with reality TV makeovers and the popularization of cosmetic procedures, it seems clear that plastic surgery is here to stay. And if so, it is important to consider not just the physical, but psychological consequences of this growing phenomenon.
As a psychologist who studies beauty and self-image, I am sometimes asked what my take is on it all? I respond -- as psychotherapists often do -- with a question. "Do you want to hear my short or long answer?" You see, there are two important but separate issues at hand: the immediate emotional concerns faced by patients opting to surgically alter their physical appearance, and the farther-ranging cultural one about what this trend means in terms of our definition of beauty, its impact on our self-image and on our society at large.