The new you?
Body embellishments are nothing new to human societies. What’s in and what’s out, however, has changed throughout human history with big breasts or small breasts, tiny waists or rolls of fat being prized or scorned as the ultimate in beauty.
Today’s cosmetic surgery can give a person a cuter nose and sexier thighs. Research has shown people feel better about the body part they had fixed, said psychologist Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families. But, she added, there isn’t as much hard evidence for whether self-esteem or even a career get a boost.
One past study found that nearly 90 percent of patients reported satisfaction a year after receiving cosmetic surgeries, including boosted overall body image.
“There’s this idea that if you look better you’ll be happier. You’ll feel better about yourself,” Zuckerman said, “and logically that makes so much sense because we live in a society where people do care what you look like.” But there are limits to what surgery can do.
While physical attractiveness could woo a hot guy, for instance, Zuckerman points out the difference between a “7” and an “8” on the looks scale is not so noticeable to the eye. “Most people getting cosmetic surgery don’t go from being a 3 to being a 10,” Zuckerman said during a telephone interview. “People do have these unrealistic expectations about how this is going to change their life and how it’s going to change how they feel about themselves.”
Why do they do it?
It’s easy to be shocked by the accelerating market for cosmetic surgeries and enhancements, but the larger question is why people do it. The reason is simple: The fairest of them all, at least by advertising and marketing standards, is today’s big celebrity on the covers of glossy magazines and featured on “Entertainment Tonight.”
“We are bombarded with images of people who’ve had plastic surgery,” Zuckerman said, “and our sense of the ideal of what we’re supposed to look like is so unrealistic that you really can’t achieve it without plastic surgery.” She noted, for instance, these ideals include a “Barbie-doll body, which just about nobody has naturally, or a 60-year-old woman who looks 35.”
Not even the stars can achieve perfection, hence the need for the pit-crew of make-up and other stylists, the ideal lighting and then the digital enhancements. Zuckerman calls this the trickle-down effect, because it’s the finished product seen by the everyday TV watcher.
Back at the body level, not only aspiring actors or rich socialites sign up for a boob job or pectoral implants. Psychological problems, such as low self-esteem, depression and body-image disorders play a role, say scientists.
Many people getting cosmetic procedures have an exaggerated sense of their flaws and their appearance, a medical diagnosis called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), according to Zuckerman. “There’s a tendency that, now their hips are too big, their ears stick out or their chin is too small,” Zuckerman said.
Perhaps the most extreme case of BDD, she said, is Michael Jackson.
“There’s a large psychological component, as you can imagine, to this,” Volandes said. “The toll that body image disorders can have on people, this truly can be just as traumatic to people as physical ailments.