Does cosmetic surgery have a positive psychological effect?

Cosmetic surgery continues to grow in popularity in the UK. Whilst there is no single definitive reason as to why so many individuals are opting for cosmetic procedures, the constant bombardment of ‘perfect’ media figures and provocative TV shows demonstrating their ‘miracle transformation’ patients, are certainly having an effect on the population. Irrespective of the reasons, cosmetic surgery is definitely on the rise. Statistics from MYA, a UK cosmetic surgery group, show that in the last two years the number of surgical and non-surgical procedures has risen dramatically.

But does it really have a positive psychological effect on us?

A recent analysis of 37 studies monitoring patients’ psychological and psychosocial functioning pre and post-surgery suggests positive results in patients; including improved body image and a boost in life quality. The same studies, however, also showed several predictors of poor results for patients who held unrealistic expectations or had a history of mental health problems. The researchers established that dissatisfied patients were likely to request subsequent procedures or experience adjustment difficulties, and exhibit negative emotions towards their surgeon. 

A long term study, as discussed by Science Daily, investigated the psychological outcomes of cosmetic surgery on approximately 550 patients. The researchers discovered that the individuals displayed increased satisfaction and self-esteem after their physical appearance had been altered surgically.

The researchers further examined whether patients who undertake cosmetic surgery are systematically different from others, what their goal attainment entails and whether this is achieved post-surgery. They compared first time cosmetic surgery patients with two other groups; individuals who expressed an interest in surgery then decided against it and individuals who have never been interested in surgery. Interestingly, there were no significant disparities recognised between the three groups in terms of psychological and health variables.  

The psychologists subsequently tested the patients three, six and twelve months post-surgery to assess any changes in variables. On average, the participants expressed that they attained their desired goal and were pleased with the outcome. In comparison to the persons opting against cosmetic surgery, the participants were less anxious and had developed more self-esteem. Therefore, the researchers were able to conclude high levels of success of the surgery in terms of psychological characteristics.

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Whilst studies imply patients do experience positive outcomes post-surgery, there is contradictory evidence suggesting not all surgery is beneficial. Several studies have indicated that seven to 12 per cent of cosmetic surgery patients have Body Dysmorphic Disorder. BDD is characterized by the preoccupation of one’s appearance; patients with the disorder often experience little satisfaction post-surgery and will request multiple procedures. Fortunately, psychologists are able to work with surgeons in order to identify such issues. Factors such as internal motivations, expectations and excessive bodily concern should be addressed in case a patient should be referred to mental health professionals rather than undergo surgery.