Cosmetic surgery is becoming an ever-more viable option for young people with personal perfection as a goal and money in their pocket. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimates that more than 330,000 adolescents in the USA, most of them female, underwent cosmetic procedures last year.
And this trend is increasing in the UK too. Over half of young women say that they would have cosmetic surgery to improve their looks, according to a 2007 survey of 25,000 females conducted by BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat and 1extra’s TXU. Women in this country who said they would consider surgery tended to want breast enlargements, with liposuction being the next most popular cosmetic surgery procedure. The number of people having liposuction treatments has risen by 90 per cent in a year, according to the unfortunately-named BAAPS (British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons). This trend is symptomatic of a growing obsession with the way we look, but is it healthy?
Rachel Cummings, OUSU VP for Women, commented on the increase of young women seriously considering cosmetic surgery to improve their appearance, ‘I can understand the pressures people are under to have cosmetic surgery; it’s a consequence of the image obsessed culture in which we live. It would be far better to start focusing on people’s achievements, personality and values rather than having a society where people’s self-worth comes from the shape of their body.’
Despite this, many intelligent, good-looking young women do consider plastic surgery as an option. I spoke to one second-year Oxford student who does buy into the idea, ‘I have already had non-invasive laser liposuction during my gap year, paid for with my own money that I earned. I am definitely planning on having more cosmetic surgery. It is not a huge amount of money to spend on something that will affect my whole life. If you think of clothes in terms of value-per-wear, surgery is actually far more financially sensible. After all, you wear your body every day.’
On looking at her, this girl is not your stereotypical cosmetic surgery candidate. Indeed, she has the kind of body that most of the miserable, desperate women on Extreme Makeover UK seem to be in search of. But perhaps this is the point. Plastic surgeons are quick to point out that ‘liposuction is not a treatment for obesity’ and that the ideal candidate is an otherwise fit person who wishes to re-sculpt minor imperfections that irritate them. The subtle procedures undergone by many already undeniably attractive celebrities have publicised the trend of going one step further in the quest for beauty.
Adam Searle, a London-based surgeon, and former president of the BAAPS, said he was least comfortable when men pressured wives or girlfriends to become their fantasy woman. He said, ‘One of the situations I find most difficult is when a male partner has brought along photographs, often of airbrushed porn queens, and is saying that’s what we want.’
Intrigued by this idea of women having surgery in order to please the men in their life, I spoke to a few male undergraduates here at Oxford to find out what they thought about cosmetic surgery. Interestingly, the general consensus of these enlightened young men was against the idea of cosmetic surgery for their female counterparts. They agreed that surgery for purely cosmetic reasons was shallow and that they would probably not encourage it.
‘If I were to encourage or be pleased about my girlfriend having cosmetic surgery it would symptomatic of something wrong with the relationship in the first place,’ said one second year. Another added that ‘It’s probably mentally healthier and definitely more admirable to overcome any body issues without resorting to surgery…If she wanted to look like Jordan then it would be a turn off, both because it’s shallow and also because lots of plastic surgery is aesthetically unattractive.’
Although all those interviewed said that they would probably support a girlfriend who had genuine issues to have surgery, they generally thought that cosmetic surgery would make no difference to how attractive they found a girl.
Based on the opinions of these males, the desire of many young women to have surgery is not a reaction to the chauvinism of their peers, but more of a personal decision rooted in self-esteem. The Harley Medical Group advertises cosmetic surgery as a way for women to ‘improve how they feel about themselves.’ Doctors report that the visible number of celebrities having surgery, as well as widespread advertising by commercial clinics has encouraged women to think that they can transform their lives by going under the knife. One third of doctors surveyed by the BAAPS said that the most common reason to turn down patients was because of their unrealistic expectations. It is important to realize that cosmetic surgery, like New Year’s resolutions and other quick-fixes, will not offer a radical life transformation.
Although prices are dropping all the time, surgery is not a cheap option. Private Healthcare UK gives an approximate guide to costs for UK cosmetic surgery, advising that a breast enlargement operation costs from £3,400 – £5,000, liposuction can cost between £1,550- £5,000 and a rhinoplasty costs from £3,000 – £4,000.
These costs can be considerably reduced by opting to have surgery abroad, and many companies offer plastic surgery package holidays. Whilst they may be cheaper, horror stories of botched operations abroad abound in women’s magazines. The BAAPS discourages going away for surgery, as over 80% of surgeons have seen problems with patients returning from holiday surgery, and advises people to check in with organisations associated with the Royal College of Surgeons.
The increase in the number of young British women going under the knife is probably not as much a cause for concern as the reasons behind it. Issues of poor self-esteem related to body issues will never be solved permanently by a surgical solution, as can be seen by a quick glance at any reality TV show.
Despite this, as cosmetic surgery becomes more socially acceptable and affordable, more women will probably be seduced by it. The danger comes in recognising when enough is enough.
This sentiment was well summarised by one of the students interviewed, ‘Jordan – you wouldn’t.’