Plastic Surgery, What Does it Say About Society For many, the bikini season means one thing: anxiety over what can be done about a body that has surreptitiously expanded under a winter wardrobe of thick sweaters and black tights. This is also a season for fashion magazines to publish all the new plastic surgery developments for those unsatisfied with their bodies. Diets and rigorous exercise are the mainstream options. But for those with several thousand dollars to spend, plastic surgery can mean body morphing without the effort. It used to be that if you didn't like your body, you went on a diet, and if you didn't like your face you put on make-up.

Not any more. Today, an enormous industry stands ready to suck the fat from you thighs, create breasts to fit your fantasies, move your brows, enlarge your lips, iron your wrinkles, and reverse the forces of gravity. Gradually more and more people are opting for cosmetic surgery. According to the American Society of Plastic Reconstructive Surgery, in 1994 some 393,049 Americans had some aesthetic defect, real or imagined, surgically fixed. Of those 393,049 Americans, a large percentage was male. According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, "more than 7,000 U.S. males had facelifts last year, and that's in addition to the more than 2,100 laser resurfacing and close to 130,000 eye lifts" (Wood 84).

One stimulus for both male and female plastic surgery operations is the intense competition in the business world. There is often a perception, correct or not, that an older person is less up to date and efficient. In an effort to remain young looking, many men and women have turned to cosmetic surgery. Thus, the increasing number especially, in male plastic surgery operations demonstrates the greater acceptance in society of plastic surgery What plastic surgeons tend to call "aesthetic" surgery and rival specialists refer to as "cosmetic" surgery, has broken through technological, medical, and economical barriers to revolutionize expectations for the human body. In general, a plastic surgeon's work falls into two broad categories, functional repair and aesthetic repair (Camp 8). Functional repair fixes human organs that don't work.

The problem may be congenital; the patient was born with the problem, or may have been acquired in war, by accident, through other forms of violence, or from a disease. Breast reconstruction after cancer falls into this category. Burn repairs, which attempt to cover open wounds with new skin, are also in this category. Aesthetic repair attempts to improve appearance that might otherwise fall near the limits of the normal range. Rhinoplasties, facelifts, tummy tucks, breast enhancements, and breast reductions are some examples. "Maybe fashion models or movie stars could justify their face lifts on professional grounds, but for the rest of us, it was just vanity, self-indulgence, and a crime against nature" (Kazanjian 250).

Kazanjian makes a very good point when she says that for the rest of us plastic surgery would be nothing more than a "crime against nature". The "crime" being the cutting, sucking, and slicing of the human body. Instead of the human body being revered, it is cut and sliced in order for an image conscience society to accept it. The problem then becomes, at the outset of plastic surgery, how much to alter. Most of us would not alter anything, yet some change everything about themselves.

For instance, one woman in her sixties recently had her face lifted, fat removed from her eyelids, a chin implant and a nose correction. What most plastic surgery patients don't know is that cosmetic surgery is not a stable solution to the aging process. Most surgeons, while they are proud of their results, concede that they are not permanent, and the periodic and costly "tune-ups" are called for, "One in five aesthetic surgery patients in 1994 was a repeat patient" (Wood 84). That's a lot of money, considering the price range for plastic surgery is between $1,500 to $6,400, none of which is covered by insurance. The motivation for cosmetic surgery most often cited by women is that they want clothes to fit right. Indeed the demand for cosmetic surgery is highest in those areas that also are given to a greater preoccupation with fashion, such as Southern California, New York and Florida.

Most of the aesthetic surgery patients are not rich, nor are they entertainers looking for a touch-up. Most of the aesthetic surgery patients are ordinary people, who have become intensely aware of the penalties of poor personal appearance. They are willing to undergo financial hardships and, quite often, a substantial amount of pain to achieve an improvement in their appearance. Many plastic surgery patients know how much they are going to pay, but very few know how much pain they will have to endure after the expensive operation.

Following surgical procedures, some degree of bruising, swelling, dimpling, and lumping is expected and normal. Although different procedures produce variety of postoperative results, the swelling generally decreases by 50 percent during the first three weeks and 70 percent after six weeks. The remaining swelling will show symptoms of numbness; some areas may feel hard and tingly, and occasionally itchy. This last phase may persist for 6 to 12 months and more, following the procedure. Some surgeons stress that the procedures are not for everyone and warn their patients not to expect too much change in their lives as a result of the surgery. Many surgeons spend more time with patients discussing the pros and cons of the procedure than in the actual operation, and require a signature on an extensive and detailed consent form.

They also stress that this is major surgery that ought to be carefully considered. Plastic surgery, like any other surgical procedure, involves serious risks-scaring, less-than-desirable results, infection, complications with anesthesia, and in extreme cases, blood clots or even death. The need for such caution seems obvious when one realizes that the vast majority of such operations are performed in a doctor's office out of sight of state and federal regulatory agencies. It should be noted that it's not legal in most states for any physician with a medical license to advertise as a plastic surgeon. Also, there are a lot of official-sounding certifications and organization that don't mean anything in terms of qualification. While cosmetic surgery may be an enormous boon to some patients, it has been a disaster for others, and many professionals fear that there is little reason to expect the two types of patients and surgeons to be carefully sorted out in today's overheated market of beauty.

Extensive advertising in the trendier magazines, together with societies inability to accept the aging process, has created an aura that renders cosmetic surgery both respectable and inevitable, and many in the field expect it to be as common as orthodontic work in the near future. In some circles, it is even now an expected aspect of the successful lifestyle. Often, plastic surgery tends to be packaged as something that is both healthful and a requirement for success. Like it or not a cosmetic surgery revolution is upon us and unstoppable.


Camp, John. Plastic Surgery. Henry Holt and Company: New York, 1989.
K amps, Louisa. "Honey, I Shrunk The Hips". Elle, June 1997: pp.
168-169. Kazanjian, Do die. "Shopping For A Plastic Surgeon". Vogue, June: pp. 248-251. Macgregor, Frances. Transformation & Identity. Quadrangle: New York, 1974.
Wood, Dana. "Changing Lanes". W, June 1997: pp.