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The Mental Health Effects of Plastic Surgery

Man looking in mirror with blurry reflection - what are the mental health effects of plastic surgery?

Most people choose to have plastic surgery because they want to feel better – either physically or mentally. Some aspect of their appearance bothers them enough that it makes them self-conscious or uncomfortable. Plastic surgery may offer a way to resolve those issues.

Previously we talked about the physical health benefits that plastic surgery can provide. These include restoring balance, improving vision, and easing breathing issues. Many individuals also experience mental health benefits from pursuing a well considered plastic surgery procedure.

When someone is bothered by a specific aspect of their appearance, it can influence how they feel about themselves in general. This will vary widely from person to person, though. Some women think the changes in their body after childbearing contribute positively to their appearance, while other women miss certain aspects of their pre-child body. Some men embrace hair loss and grab a razor to help it along, while others choose to fill in their hairline and boost their confidence with hair implants.

Nobody is wrong in these scenarios – the key is acknowledging what it is that is bothering you and making an educated decision about how to address it. The boost in self-esteem that comes from taking steps toward self-improvement is powerful. This can make you feel more attractive and self-confident.

In fact, research in the journal Clinical Psychological Science compared people who had a plastic surgery procedure to those who were interested in one but didn’t have it. Those who chose to go forward with their procedures reported mental health improvements across a wide range of factors, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Social phobia
  • Goal attainment
  • Quality of life
  • Life satisfaction
  • Attractiveness
  • Well-being
  • Self-esteem

Some of these, like attractiveness or self-esteem, appear to have a direct connection to plastic surgery, but others reveal some surprising effects. Why would plastic surgery improve your goal attainment? Well, if you feel better about your appearance and your self-esteem is improved, you may be more willing to take the risks needed to achieve your goals. Regardless of the relationship, it’s safe to say that feeling good about one’s appearance has an effect beyond looking good in your favorite swimsuit (which is great, too!)

There are some caveats to these effects. Research published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery revealed some circumstances in which the psychological and psychosocial outcomes of plastic surgery were not positive. While most people in the study did report improved mental well-being, certain groups did not experience good psychosocial effects, even when their surgical results were as planned. Specifically, individuals with unrealistic expectations, previous unsatisfactory plastic surgeries, and a history of certain mental health disorders – including body dysmorphic disorder – did not gain the psychological benefits that others did.

Again, most people in this research did have positive results, but these exceptions emphasize the importance of having any cosmetic procedures performed by a surgeon certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. These surgeons, like Dr. Slack, are trained not only to perform plastic surgery to the highest standards, but also to help patients understand the results they can expect from surgery. They are skilled in identifying those who are least likely to experience the positive mental health effects of plastic surgery and able to counsel them on how to move forward to achieve their goals.

When performed by a board-certified plastic surgeon, plastic surgery most often has positive effects on both physical and mental health. If you wonder whether you can benefit from plastic surgery, go ahead and schedule a consultation with Dr. Slack. There is no obligation to move forward with plastic surgery, and he will offer honest counsel on the results plastic surgery can achieve for you.

The Trouble With Snapchat Filters and Selfies

Woman observing a selfie - selfie dysmorphia can lead inappropriate plastic surgeriesIf you’ve been watching social media at all lately, you’ve no doubt seen the rampant use of FaceApp by people hoping to see what they will look like as they age. As you might imagine, this is not the typical request of those who visit Dr. Slack’s office! But that doesn’t mean social media isn’t an influence on what happens in the plastic surgeon’s office.

Snapchat or Selfie Dysmorphia 

We’ve addressed a psychological condition called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) here in the past. Individuals with BDD can suffer severe emotional distress over real and perceived problems with their appearance. When someone with realistic expectations undergoes plastic surgery, they are typically pleased with the outcome. Individuals with BDD, on the other hand, rarely find satisfaction after plastic surgery because they are conditioned to see only their flaws.

While BDD is not a new issue, it has been amplified by the rise of social media. In fact, a new term, Selfie dysmorphia or Snapchat dysmorphia, has been coined to describe the impact of social media on body image. Snapchat is the popular social media app that allows you to share pictures and short videos with your followers. One of its more popular features is its selection of filters that allows users to tweak their appearance toward some imagined ideal. Frequent Snapchat users become accustomed to their filtered appearance, and the “flaws” that are an inevitable part of reality become unacceptable. But this issue is not limited to Snapchat users – anyone who spends significant time scrutinizing their selfies is vulnerable. 

Dr. Slack explains it like this, “Part of the problem, as I see it, is the prevalence and ease of being able to take a picture of yourself. So much more to look at and scrutinize than 20 years ago. My dad was an avid photographer when I was growing up, and I remember him saying it usually took two rolls of film (64 shots) to get one or two good pictures of a person. Variables such as light and expression can conspire to make us all look worse than we really are.”

Is Selfie Dysmorphia Really Such a Big Deal?

It might seem harmless enough for people to play with selfies and add bunny ears and big eyes, but a recent survey of 7th grade girls shows that “girls who regularly shared self-images on social media, relative to those who did not, reported significantly higher overvaluation of shape and weight, body dissatisfaction, dietary restraint, and internalization of the thin ideal.” In addition, the same survey showed that a higher investment in manipulating images for social media correlated with body image issues and eating concerns, while excess media exposure did not. This is significant, as traditional media usually gets the blame for creating this unattainable ideal. Turns out it’s got nothing on social media.

Dr. Slack points out the need to understand that selfies aren’t reality. We don’t live in a ‘selfie’ world where we are viewed under the microscope of a milli-second of a shutter opening and closing. We live and are viewed in a world of constant motion and animation. No matter how good a surgery turns out you can make it look better or worse by altering camera angle, lighting or expression. We are living entities, not selfies!” 

That’s Great for Plastic Surgeons, Right?

From a financial standpoint, it might seem that selfie dysmorphia is a windfall for plastic surgeons. However, this is not how ethical plastic surgeons work. A good plastic surgeon is already skilled at recognizing BDD, and by extension the effects of social media on self-image, and how it can lead to unnecessary plastic surgery. Members of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) follow ethical guidelines to educate patients and guide them toward procedures that are best for them. In many cases this means no procedure. As an example, one-third of patients choosing rhinoplasty have body dysmorphic symptoms. This means a qualified plastic surgeon should have to say no somewhat regularly. Like other physicians, plastic surgeons took the Hippocratic oath and agreed to do no harm. Their goal should be the best outcome for their patient, and surgery doesn’t always yield that result.

Choose a Trusted Plastic Surgeon

For the best results from plastic surgery, the key is to find a skilled and ethical plastic surgeon you can communicate with comfortably. If you are at ease being honest about your desires, your surgeon can provide a realistic idea of whether they are possible or even desirable (what looks good on someone on social media might come off in a completely different way on you).

Be sure that your surgeon is a member of the ASPS so you know that he has agreed to certain ethical standards that will protect you as a patient. After your initial consultation, don’t rush your decision. It’s okay to mull over your options and make sure your health, finances, and mind are in the right place to take the next step. And it couldn’t hurt to take a break from selfies while you do that.

When Plastic Surgery Won’t Solve the Problem

Achieving Perfection!

When was the last time you looked in a mirror and said, “Dang, I’m just perfect the way I am.”

Was it this morning? Good for you.

Was it…never? You’ve got company.

Most of us have things we don’t like about our bodies, and sometimes plastic surgery is a terrific solution–but sometimes it’s not. Either way, it is a personal decision that takes time.

Advancements in medical technology and techniques have made plastic surgery an option for more people than ever before. In 2016 alone, “there were 17.1 million surgical and minimally-invasive cosmetic procedures performed in the United States.” That’s according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Read more