Option of Vanity: The Appeal of Cosmetic Surgery

Americans believe in what Ponce de Leon discovered in 1513 in St. Augustine, Florida, the fountain of youth. Today it is disguised as cosmetic surgery.

Research shows that in 2003 cosmetic procedures have increased to nearly 8.5 million according to ASAPS, The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. Statistics further show that there has been an increase of 48% compared to the previous years’ total of 5.7 million (2/02 report ASAPS). A consumer survey also conducted by ASAPS showed that 55% of Americans approve of cosmetic surgery. In a five-year study ASAPS has released procedures performed during 1997-2001 with a remarkable find of a 304% increase in cosmetic procedures. Most procedures made substantial gains, but the greatest increases were among the non-surgical procedures. Topping the list was botulinum toxin injections (Botox®), where the number of procedures rose 2356% over five years, with more than 1.6 million procedures in 2001, at a cost of $350-400 per injection. The other two most popular non-surgical procedures are chemical face peels at $70.00/treatment and collagen injections at $326 per 1 cc injection. It seems that those with only early signs of aging opt to go in this direction first and later have proved to have surgical procedures that offer longer lasting results.

The five most popular cosmetic surgical procedures in 2003 were 385,390 lipoplasty at $1254; 246,338 eyelid lifts at $2230; 216,754 breast augmentations at $3116; 177,422 nose reshaping at $2852; and 117,034 facelifts at $4591. In 2004 the latest trend continued to show liposuction as the most popular form of cosmetic surgery with approximately 690,000 patients; blepharoplasty with 500,000 patients; breast augmentation with 290,000 patients and facelifts with 250,000 patients in that order of appeal.

In 1965 at a Johns Hopkins Hospital research study revealed 65% of facelift patients, after surgery, had an improved sense of well being, a greater sense of social ease and were less self-critical of themselves and others. One-fourth of the patients reported salary increases and new or better jobs, which they claimed attributed to their enhanced appearance.

Dr. Malcolm D. Paul, M.D., president of the 35 year old American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery says, “The steep increase in cosmetic procedures since 1997 reflect Americans recognition that cosmetic surgery performed by a qualified plastic surgeon in an accredited surgical facility is safe, effective and for many people contributes substantially to their quality of life.” According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, AACS, California, Florida and Texas remain the most popular areas for cosmetic surgery assuming these states have a high percentage of baby boomers retiring there, noting that baby boomers are at the perfect age for cosmetic surgery.

Dr. Ivo Pitanguy, who practices in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is considered the godfather of plastic surgery and the inventor of modern breast surgery. He states, “The purpose of cosmetic surgery for the aging face is to allow the individual to live the experience of commuting between youth and old age in an active and harmonic manner and knowing that plastic surgery is a means that may help a patient find his/her inner self, finding a dynamic equilibrium with the outer world.”

Cosmetic surgery is not new. As far back as 1558 classes of people thought hemlock could prevent excessive breast growth and that Cleopatra used milk in her baths and peeled her skin with lactic acid, similar to glycolic acid of today. African women of Bantu forest still put mud on their faces and ancient nomads along the Nile, 5,000/10,000 BC used primitive forms of cosmetics for protection from the sun. Egyptians, 2,000 BC, used primitive dermabrasion techniques and made face masks from plants, grains and honey to apply to the face. The first breast reduction was performed in 650 AD and the first breast implants were developed in the 1950’s, silicone implants in 1962.

Dr. Alan Gaynor, M.D., author of Body Sculpture-Plastic Surgery of the Body for Men and Women, states a case study of a 36 year-old female who worked in a bank where her department was closed down. She thought that she would be transferred to another department but instead she was let go, citing they were looking for someone ‘younger’. Eventually she went to Dr. Gaynor who filled in some wrinkles and performed an upper and lower eyelift. She looked younger, fresher and more attractive. She shortly obtained a new job and she felt she became the best she could be and therefore “stopped trying to be perfect.” Dr. Gaynor states in his book that “much of our physical appearance is due to heredity and many aspects of the way we look are out of our control.” This is where we must learn to know the difference as to what we can and cannot change. A qualified doctor will reiterate that point.

Many prominent cosmetic surgeons have become the benchmark to assessing their patients’ needs, perceptions, motivations and expectations along with a close examination of their anatomy.

When choosing a surgeon, their total preparedness criteria should include integrating body, mind and spirit including exercise, diet, stress management all working together to compliment the process through proper balance, preserving results. Some doctors even determine patient success through blood analysis testing and anti-aging biomarkers. It’s these specialists in their field that serve to show that in choosing a cosmetic surgeon we must be vigilant in our efforts to seek the most qualified practitioners. Learn what questions to ask, where to find verification of qualifications and look to see if whom you choose is truly interested in your total well-being.

The predictability of cosmetic surgery does not preclude it from being a serious undertaking. Understand that qualified surgeons should always be more than welcome to put your mind at ease. Surgical experience and specialization, number of procedures performed, viewing before and after photos of past patients, board certification and of which board, are among some of the areas that should be scrutinized carefully. Checking the American Board of Medical Specialists for credentials is also a prerequisite as you will find their criterion very comprehensive and asking to see the surgeon’s curriculum vitae is not an unusual request. Being comfortable with your surgeon’s staff and satisfied with their services is also important.

Ultimately, you should seek data from The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgeons, who maintain a consumer information service. Last, but certainly not least cost should be discussed. Make sure that you know exactly what is being charged based on what procedure is being performed. Keep in mind as long as the consumer continues to use logic in knowing that no doctor can guarantee perfection or complete safety, will we remain vigilant in becoming well informed.

Appropriateness for this process must be reviewed. There is a clear-line criterion for the proper reasons to proceed. Never seek surgery in the hope to influence or change someone else. After surgery, know that you have to have time to adjust to the change and make sure to have someone help you physically and emotionally during the recovery and recuperation period. An inappropriate candidate for surgery does include patients in crisis and concludes that cosmetic surgery is not a panacea for solving patient problems.

There is no better feeling than having the confidence of knowing that when we look the best we can, that coincides with how we feel. It is nothing new that certain types of individuals want to attain the ultimate in the journey between youth and old age. These are the ones that feel cosmetic surgery is the answer and have embraced it with unwavering enthusiasm. In our youth-oriented society, more and more baby boomers are seeking alternative methods of staving off old man time. Many of us want to be accepted in social circles, pursue youth-oriented business positions, evoke a higher level of self-esteem and develop self-acceptance to a better quality of life. Our culture almost insists that we continue to pursue ways of looking our best well into old age and thanks to modern technology there are many options.

Knowing we cannot stop our running age, cosmetic surgery has seductively teased us into seeking ways of slowing down the exterior process of physical aging. There are those that hum along content with the natural route to old age and for them that is okay. But then there are those that will not acquiesce to the inevitable and choose to take the scenic route, the route of desire, conviction and means. For them they will take a long drink from the fountain of youth of cosmetic surgery where they just might find that it is easier than kissing a frog or squeezing into a glass slipper to make their dreams come true.