The psychology of cosmetic surgery

Can cosmetic surgery ever be the answer?

Over 50,000 cosmetic surgery procedures were carried out in 2013, according to The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. Liposuction was up by a massive 41% although breast augmentations continued to be the most popular. Cosmetic surgery specialists MYA also reported their own data from 2013; with breast augmentations up by 1% with a total number of 2063 being carried out. They also reported that the second most popular procedure to be carried in 2013 was Rhinoplasty with 266 procedures taking place. 

The reasons why individuals chose to undergo cosmetic surgery differ from person to person. Some may choose to have surgery done for aesthetic reasons whilst others chose to undergo cosmetic surgery claiming self-esteem or health issues. It could be suggested that the rise in cosmetic surgery is derived from the need to look ‘perfect’ or that some of those who have undergone a procedure are experiencing higher levels of self-esteem and this is influencing others.

We at Mental Healthy have often written negatively about cosmetic surgery, as we try to encourage a more healthy, balanced view of the body. However, is this unrealistic? In order to look at the bigger picture we have outlined some studies below - looking at whether cosmetic surgery, and those who have undergone procedures, actually feel 'happier' as a result, and the findings are quite interesting.

PsychCentral have spoken about a long-term study by researchers at Ruhr-University Bochum, in cooperation with colleagues from the University of Basel. They conducted a study into the psychological effects of cosmetic surgery on 550 patients. This group were looked at to see if they were systematically different from the two comparison groups in the study: 264 people who had wanted plastic surgery and then decided against it and 1,000 members of the general public who had never been interested in having plastic surgery.

The study looked at the goals patients had set themselves before their operations and whether or not these were accomplished afterwards. The researchers discovered that, on average, patients who had undergone their surgery reported more enjoyment and higher levels of self-esteem after having their procedure. Psychologists tested the patients before they had their surgery, three months after their surgery and again six months and 12 months later.

In terms of psychological and health variables, investigators also found that there was no significant differences amongst the three groups. The study can be looked at in more detail on the PsychCentral site or on the Ruhr-University Bochum website.

Psychology Today highlighted another study which looked into whether plastic surgery improves psychological well-being. The study identified that if you have set yourself unrealistic goals for the outcome of your surgery, you will be left feeling disappointed and unhappier than you were before the procedure. This study broke down the cosmetic surgeries by type and it found that those who underwent breast augmentations and reductions had a more positive emotional outcome compared to those who chose to undergo a Rhinoplasty or face lift; the results for these groups were more mixed.

So then can cosmetic surgery ever be the answer? The jury is still out here, undergoing any procedure has risks and doing so for cosmetic benefits feels inherently wrong when we should be encouraging a more positive view of self-esteem. However, for some people the experience is positive, feeling more confident about their body can make them feel more confident in general, so who are we to tell them it is wrong? Although we can but wonder if this is simply masking the issue? Either way we suggest people read the facts and consider in full any surgery, it should be noted that undergoing cosmetic surgery is not a ‘quick fix’ or a definite answer to self-esteem issues. Please see our Body Image section for further help and information regarding a positive body image.

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