Plastic Surgery: An Ugly Trend This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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Society has always valued beauty. In literature, ­attractiveness often symbolizes an admirable protagonist, while ugliness indicates the abominable antagonist. As children we are taught, without even realizing it, to prize beauty. People of every race and culture have gone to extremes in the name of beauty – from foot-binding in China, to dangerously constricting corsets in Victorian times, to nose jobs in 800 B.C. India. While plastic surgery has been around since ancient times, it has only recently become accepted by the masses.

Television programs that promote plastic surgery – “I Want a Famous Face” on MTV, “The Swan” on Fox, “Extreme Makeover” on ABC, “Nip/ Tuck” on FX, and “Dr. 90210” on E – expose the public to a business once kept under wraps. Reality television embraces the topic due to its shock ­value – however, the public is becoming more and more accustomed to the idea of plastic surgery.

Not only have these programs created a generation that isn’t fazed by images of blood, Botox, or bandages. Sometime during the process of beautifying average humans, they have implanted something besides silicone: the belief that cosmetic surgery will improve lives. Now, not only do people accept plastic surgery, they embrace it as a solution to personal and professional problems. While appearance has always been important, mainstream acceptance of plastic surgery has created a society that values appearance over ability.

According to Drs. Iva Sorta-Bilajac and Amir Muzur, rhinoplasty developed in ancient India due to the practice of nose mutilation as a form of public punishment for immoral conduct. Therefore, the connection between an unattractive nose and an immoral being was deeply rooted in this society. While the nose is not a vital ­organ, it is exposed to everyone’s view and has ­become a symbol of integrity as well as an important ­aspect of ­human beauty.

Only a couple of decades ago it was considered taboo to admit having “work” done, and it was not ­unusual for patients to take extreme measures – sneaking into doctors’ offices through the back door, or using fake names – to hide the fact. As noted in the New York Times article “The Doctor Will See You, and Your Party, Now” by Anna Bahney, more patients became interested in procedures after seeing them on TV and researching them online. Currently, plastic ­surgery is so commonplace that instead of scheduling secretive meetings, ­patients often bring parents, siblings, spouses, or friends to consultations.

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, nearly 11.5 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed in the U.S. in 2005. On the website The Medical Tourism Guide, readers are told, “Plastic or cosmetic surgery can help to boost confidence and vitality. In the case of cosmetic surgery, think of this procedure as an overhaul, much like you’d add that new roof or coat of paint to a car.” Some of the appeal lies in the way it is promoted, like statements that market surgery as a confidence-booster.

Our reality television shows are modern fairy tales. They all use a common formula: take an average, unhappy individual, alter her appearance, and after a surgical transformation she is magically a success. While the message is the same, there is one difference: these aren’t fictional characters, they’re real people.

The confidence that comes from a new nose, fake breasts, or liposuction is only temporary – physically (many procedures are not permanent and need to be repeated) as well as emotionally. Often, patients’ insecurities about their appearance are symptoms of underlying psychological issues, such as depression, and may be temporarily alleviated by surgery. But this temporary confidence is nothing in comparison to the confidence one can obtain by excelling in sports, academics, or a hobby. Marketing cosmetic surgery as a confidence-booster increases profits, but it also gives people unrealistic expectations. They believe that their life will change and are disappointed when it doesn’t.

After undergoing plastic surgery, many people finally feel accepted. By transforming into an ideal beauty, they earn the approval of others and receive positive attention. Some people even have “coming-out parties.” But while plastic surgery may appear to increase confidence, it’s often an illusion –
even to the patients themselves, who might confuse real self-esteem with the joy of feeling as though others approve of their appearance.

Psychologist David Sarwer believes the acceptance of plastic surgery goes beyond vanity: “We’ve become ­increasingly accepting of ways of changing our bodies. We’re much more comfortable with our bodies as malleable.” People have always altered their bodies, mainly through diet or ­exercise, so it’s no surprise that many view themselves as changeable. But what causes someone to want to alter his or her body? We all seek approval – from parents, spouses, children, coworkers, and friends. Even if it’s a subconscious desire, everyone wants to be deemed acceptable. Plastic surgery can gain the approval of others, but why should you care about the opinion of people who don’t see you for who you are on the inside?

Parents often pressure their children to do well academically, but with plastic surgery becoming so accepted, some parents are pressuring their children to have cosmetic work. Children as young as six are undergoing minor procedures, and 13-year-olds are having nose jobs. Doctors and parents who support these surgeries claim that the child understands. However, it’s more probable that she realizes her parents want her to change, and is willing to comply.

Some people feel pressured by their spouse to remain youthful or become more ­attractive. According to Donna Henderson-King, author of “Acceptance of cosmetic surgery: scale development and validation,” many women “desire to meet social expectations of beauty. Women are socialized to see themselves as objects to be looked at, and consequently view themselves from the perspective of others.” In this study, King found that the more shame women felt about not having met socially defined standards of beauty, the more likely they were to accept cosmetic surgery.

Plastic surgery constantly appears in pop culture. Many celebrities have had cosmetic surgery, and the American public is constantly exposed to images of these altered humans. In a Mike Williams cartoon, two women scrutinizing Rembrandt’s self portrait say, “You’d think that if he’d been that successful he would have had his nose fixed.” This is a perfect example of society’s belief that attractiveness is a necessary part of success. Rembrandt is a renowned artist, but the women in the cartoon are not discussing his artistic ability; they’re critiquing his appearance. Our society blatantly values appearance over ability.

This acceptance of plastic surgery, as well as the value of appearance over ability, affects youth. From a young age, children play with toys like Barbie dolls and burly action figures, with bodies that are physically impossible to achieve. Exposure to these “ideals” is damaging to the self-esteem of youths.

People have always wanted to look like society’s ideal. In the late 19th century, Irish immigrants in New York got “English” noses to transform themselves into Americans. The ideal ­appearance in society is always based on the appearance of the dominant group.

With so much importance placed on appearance, other attributes often come second. Young people are learning that they should aim to be beautiful instead of intelligent. It’s even a common practice for parents to reward high school graduates with nose jobs, breast ­implants, or liposuction. But is cos­metic surgery an appropriate reward for years of hard work and academic achievement?

In American culture, the mold of an “attractive” person is getting smaller and less forgiving of any differences. “The assembly-line look ultimately damages the notion of personal identity. We are in danger of doing something unthinkable, which is making beauty boring,” according to Dr. Nancy Etcoff. In a cartoon by Dave Carpenter, two men tell a stranger, “No, we’re not related. We just have the same plastic surgeon.” This pokes fun at the tendency for plastic surgery patients to appear generic afterward. However, there is some truth to this. On reality makeover shows, the subjects come out looking eerily alike.

Cosmetic surgery is no longer limited to the wealthy; banks offer loans for it. As plastic surgery becomes more mainstream, it’s interesting to ponder whether the value of beauty will ­decrease as it becomes something that anyone can buy.

Vanity in our culture has increased and become more acceptable. People are more open about their desire to be attractive, and plastic surgery no longer has a negative connotation. However, America is also the most medicated ­nation on earth. Ten percent of our population take antidepressants. It’s obvious that these surgeries are not ­really making us happier. Rather, they delay the process of some individuals seeking the necessary psychological help. Even the young aren’t immune to depression. More children than ever are developing eating disorders and poor self-esteem.

Happiness can be achieved, but not through surgery. People need to ­embrace their differences instead of trying to erase them. Only when we are at peace with ourselves will we be ­truly radiant.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 161 comments. Post your own now!

Hejlna said...
May 3, 2011 at 11:21 am

Plastic surgery is bad. It doesn't do anything for you. I'm glad that someone else is looking out on this subject.


-Quil said...
Apr. 18, 2011 at 9:07 am
This article was a huge reference piece for my "Body vs Society" critical issues project. Basically, how society seems to prefer surgical enhancement in the working world over someone with visible tattoos and piercings. What's the difference? A sub-dermal piercing against breast implants; both procedures require a foreign object/substance to be placed within the body. The art of "Beauty" has became too big of an issue now in today's life. So for parents pressuring their children for cosmetic/pla... (more »)
dancerchick13 said...
Apr. 11, 2011 at 9:33 pm
That was great - it's obvious how much effort and research you put into it. I was astounded when I read that some parents are getting their TODDLERS to get plastic surgery because they don't think their children are beautiful. Our society's obsession with appearance and perfection is ridiculous - if everyone could just live their lives, we'd all be a lot happier.
PaRaNoRmAl627 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 11, 2011 at 5:29 pm
This is really phenominal. I can see how much research and dedication you put into writing this paper, and you did a really good job with it. congratulations :)
browneyedcat said...
Apr. 11, 2011 at 1:29 pm
You are amazing. I used to feel like an outcast because of my nose. It was only when I started to accept myself I found that I wasn't being outcasted by society I was being outcasted by my own self. Plastic surgery fixes nothing. Don't do it. Having differences is what makes you unique and interesting.
MusicLuvsUs said...
Mar. 20, 2011 at 11:16 pm
I've heard that some people gotten plastic surgery for a job since the employers are idiots like the people that are going under that knife.
Elodie18 said...
Feb. 26, 2011 at 12:36 pm
That was amazing! You made some great points and you're an excellent writer :) When you were talking about how people get these surgeries to make themselves feel better, when in fact there are psychological issues, I thought of a disorder called Body Dysmorphic Disorder. It's where someone becomes obsessive over their appearance and resents parts of themselves that are perfectly fine.
Also, have you read Uglies by Scott Westerfield? This reminded me of that, and honestly I was hoping you wo... (more »)
ElectroMagneticPulse replied...
Feb. 26, 2011 at 2:27 pm

I completely agree with you! You're well written article proves your point with tones of references that cannot be ignored.

In reply to Elodie18's response, I've read the Uglies series too and agree that it's a really good example also.

You're a brilliant writer - keep at it!

Chibbie said...
Feb. 4, 2011 at 4:34 pm
In lost for words:)
StarGirl16 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Feb. 26, 2011 at 7:34 am

You can WRITE! That's ridiculously good! I completely agree!

Have you ever thought about journalism? You could totally do it!!

PeetaMellark said...
Feb. 4, 2011 at 2:56 pm

This is an amazing article! =) I highly appreciate the way you illustrated your opinion, it was well executed and brilliant!

This is uber ironic but on the side of my screen there were these ads:

Affordable Liposuction


Best Plastic Surgeons

Top Plastic Surgeons

Liposuction at Cooper

That's gotta be a coincidence...erm, right? LOL this is quite a sad state of affairs...

EmilyMichelle This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 13, 2011 at 4:30 pm
I wholly agree with you. I especially loved "Only when we are at peace with ourselves will we be ­truly radiant." That is one of the best statements I have ever heard. You are wonderfully talented and a very persuasive writer. Keep up your amazing work! :D
EmilyMichelle This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 13, 2011 at 4:41 pm
Also, I was just looking at another article and guess what was on the side? An ad for cosmetic surgery! Ridiculous!
Hollyss said...
Dec. 22, 2010 at 5:26 pm
I also read abook, a work of fantasy, but it had a significant truth about humanity. The main character, a supernatural being, commented on the human race: "Humans are so drawn to the surface, that they will live with Evil if it is beautiful, and hate Good when it is not." I was struck by how true that was, and I love how much evidence you piled up to support something so often overlooked. Good on you!
Detective-C said...
Nov. 30, 2010 at 4:50 pm
You are right, it seems like sociesty is based on what you look like, rather than what you are
EarthMage said...
Nov. 30, 2010 at 4:48 pm

The problem with society today is that, as C.S. Lewis said in The Last Battle (page 154, if you're wondering), "The whole idea is to race on to the silliest time one one's life as quick as [one] can and then stop there as long as [one] can."

Think about it. When we're kids, we can't wait to grow up and be able to do everything older people can do. When we're older, we wish we were young again, and long for "the good old days". This is just a further example of that fact.

Fu... (more »)

TurtleShellTristani This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm

this is amazing.

you should read Uglies by Scott Westerfield. It really pushes this point.

anonmyous said...
Nov. 30, 2010 at 11:19 am
i think the same! people need to accept themelves for who they are and ignore people when they same that they look 'ugly'. beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the beholder is yourself.
TheLegacyLives said...
Nov. 8, 2010 at 8:25 pm
I completely agree with the views represented by you in this wonderful piece. You are a really talented writer. 
hermi1rox said...
Oct. 17, 2010 at 11:48 am
I totally agree with this article and I don't understand why people can't just accept themselves for who they are.
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