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A New Study: The Cosmetic Surgery Paradox

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Written by Emel Gerdaneri.

A New Study: The Cosmetic Surgery Paradox

A new study explains why people can both love and hate plastic surgery.

Plastic surgery is becoming more and more popular around the world. But we live in a time when people are both encouraged to have plastic surgery and condemned for doing it.

Plastic surgery advertisements, media, and government policy are contributing to the rise in cosmetic surgery. Negative attitudes towards plastic surgery stem from the concern for well-being and the belief that plastic surgery is natural and unfair.

Aesthetics encompasses surgical and non-surgical procedures aimed at improving one's appearance. On the contrary, plastic surgery aims to restore the appearance and functioning of the body after illness or injury.

96 Percent of Cosmetic Surgery Patients in China Are Under The Age Of 35

Çinde estetik cerrahiDespite the potential health risks of plastic surgery, its popularity is increasing rapidly. For example, between 2015 and 2019, cosmetic surgery rates increased by 20 percent worldwide.

In the USA, 18 million procedures are performed each year, and in South Korea, 20 percent of the population undergoes plastic surgery each year.

Most plastic surgery patients in all countries are women, and in many countries plastic surgery patients are very young. For example, 96 percent of cosmetic surgery patients in China are under the age of 35.

In a new review of the scientific literature, researchers at the University of Melbourne and the University of Queensland (Australia) sought to further understand how they posed the cosmetic surgery paradox: "It turns out that modern women are both encouraged to undergo cosmetic surgery. Here are the details of this study:

Why We Love and Think We “Need” Plastic Surgery

plastic surgeryBeauty ideals are at the center of the plastic surgery paradox. Current ideals of beauty are unrealistic and still unattainable for most women. For example, having muscle and no body fat, but having “curves in the right places”…

More importantly, while ideals of beauty have always existed, women today are constantly exposed through technology (social media) and put their bodies in a “fix” that needs to be “fixed”. They are taught to see it as a “problem”.

In doing so, three main factors play a role:

1. Plastic Surgery Advertisement

plastic surgery advertisementHistorically, many cosmetic surgeries aimed to reduce stereotypically racialized traits. This is related to the way beauty ideals often idolize a more "Western" look.

However, today, there are plastic surgeries for all parts of the body. Plastic surgery companies advertise their procedures as a means to get a "better" look and "fix" that particular body part.

More importantly, cosmetic surgery companies both promote and shape existing beauty ideals. The authors give an example of cosmetic surgery for the female genitalia.

Plastic surgery companies coined the term "labial hypertrophy" to describe the labia majora that extends beyond the labia majora and is "larger than normal."

Despite the fact that more than half of all women have naturally formed vulvas in this way, advertisements for cosmetic surgery frame "labial hypertrophy" as an "easily fixable" "problem".

The growing popularity of labiaplasty can be attributed to beauty ideals that idolize only one type of vulva, and to advertisements for cosmetic surgery other vulvas that are "abnormal" and in need of correction.

2. Media

mediaReality TV like "Keeping Up With the Kardashian" is popular across cultures and promotes beauty ideals and cosmetic surgery. The reach of these shows is growing through celebrities' social media.

Interestingly, contestants on many "seduction" shows talk about wanting plastic surgery to look "normal." These demonstrations reinforce the idea that deviations from the ideal of beauty are abnormal (eg, larger nose, smaller breasts) and that cosmetic surgery is an appropriate "treatment."

Research shows that women who watch reality TV that promotes beauty ideals and cosmetic surgery are more likely to have plastic surgery.

3. Government Policy

goverment policyInterestingly, governments often encourage cosmetic surgery as well. He cites an example from Brazil, where people can get free or low-cost cosmetic surgery.

The initiative began in the 1960s as an attempt to help people overcome low socioeconomic status, as many people who migrate to urban centers in search of work are stigmatized by their appearance (for example, faces noticeably older from working in the sun).

Cosmetic surgery was promoted as a solution to help people overcome class barriers by changing their appearance. In other countries, cosmetic surgery is promoted in government tourism publications (eg Hungary) and subsidized by the government. (for example, South Korea).

Why We Don't Like Aesthetic Surgery and Those Who Have It

aesthetic surgeryAlthough the popularity of plastic surgery is increasing, there are also widespread negative attitudes towards plastic surgery and those who have it done. So why?

1. Health Concerns

health concernsWhile complication rates are typically low, cosmetic surgery carries health risks. Unlike other medical procedures, aesthetic surgery is not considered necessary.

Also, while cosmetic surgery can increase satisfaction with certain body parts, there is not much evidence to suggest that cosmetic surgery makes people significantly happier with their bodies and that any improvement in self-esteem is short-lived.

For this reason, people may view cosmetic surgery negatively because they believe it is not justified. Indeed, studies show that people who are against plastic surgery justify their beliefs based on concerns about the harm done to people undergoing plastic surgery.

2. Unnatural Cosmetic Surgery

unnatural cosmetic surgeryIt describes the naturalistic misconception that underlies negative attitudes towards cosmetic surgery, the ingrained belief that the natural (versus the unnatural) is good and should be respected.
Naturalistic fallacy is reflected in existing ideals of beauty, where "natural beauty" is viewed as good. For example, beauty companies and fashion magazines promote products and regimens to achieve a "natural" look, and research shows that men prefer women who are beautiful without the use of makeup, effort, or tricks.

Also, while beauty ideals often idolize youth, women who use treatments to mask or "reverse" signs of aging are viewed negatively.

Indeed, numerous studies show that people view plastic surgery in a negative light because they see it as something unnatural. For example, in South Korea, a country where cosmetic surgery is common, cosmetic surgery is considered acceptable only when the result looks "natural."

In contrast, people describe facing condemnation and stigma when the outcome seems unnatural. Other research shows that people who find cosmetic surgery wrong justify their beliefs based on the fact that cosmetic surgery "violates the sanctity of the body."

3. Plastic Surgery Injustices

plastic surgery ınjusticesFinally, there is evidence to suggest that cosmetic surgery is viewed negatively as it is thought to give people an unfair advantage over others – for example, when it comes to dating or business success.

Accordingly, people may view cosmetic surgery as unfair as they consider it a “lazy way out” (for example, diet and exercise versus liposuction).

Put It All Together

beautyTo sum up, current ideals of beauty paint an unrealistic and often unattainable picture of beauty. Moreover, this beauty has to be obtained “naturally” and “acquired rightfully”.

These beauty ideals contribute to the medicalization of appearance and popularization of cosmetic surgery, for example, through advertisements for cosmetic surgery, reality TV, and social media.

At the same time, these beauty ideals contribute to the pervasive negative attitudes of those who see plastic surgery and those who do it as an “unnatural” form of beauty and unfairness, putting their health at unnecessary risk.

For this reason, many women may find themselves in a Catch 22, "You're cursed if you do, cursed if you don't."

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Written on 27/01/2022


Last Update: 04/07/2022

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