Psychological Aspects of Plastic Surgery

People choose plastic surgery for many reasons. The majority of our patients are realistic; they want to enhance their physical appearance, normalize deformities, or restore youthful contours. They are happy and thrilled with the results of their surgery. Others are searching for something they lack and hope that plastic surgery will make them happy.

The majority of patients do experience life-changing results, including more self-confidence, improvements in self-esteem, and quality of life. This often results in joy that their inner beauty shines through. Research just published in Clinical Psychological Science reports that plastic surgery patients experience more joy in life, a higher sense of satisfaction and self-esteem; they experience less anxiety and feel healthier overall.

It is important to realize that while plastic surgery can fulfill and assist with self-esteem improvements that are a huge help for patients, things like love and happiness must come from within. Plastic surgery can wonderfully help patients obtain improved self-confidence and inner joy, but some patients simply lack the inner beauty or peace required for it to be as effective as possible.

Being satisfied with a particular procedure requires that you have realistic expectations. Cosmetic surgery makes you an enhanced and improved version of your self. There is no such thing as perfect symmetry, or perfectly smooth contours. A 60 year old is not going to look like a 20 year old after cosmetic surgery. An overweight person is not going to loose weight and be a thin person after liposuction. Asymmetric widely spaced breasts are not going to be perfectly symmetric breasts with a close cleavage after a breast augmentation. Our face and bodies are naturally asymmetric. Underlying musculoskeletal anatomy cannot be changed with the superficial skin and subcutaneous tissue work characteristic of our specialty, so results are variable and dependent on the patient’s presenting anatomic features.

Why is it that most women feel a sense of disappointment after breast augmentation when the swelling goes down and the implants drop and settle? The result can be as good as it gets, and it doesn’t matter who the person is. It could be the priest’s wife who doesn’t want anyone to know, or the timid and cautious woman who tells me, “no larger than a small B cup”. It also doesn’t matter what size I put in someone; the emotional roller coaster sets in soon after surgery: First its, “I’m too big”, then its, “I’m too small”, or “I should have gone with a 500 cc implant”, and on and on and on…. They hear the lecture about complications associated with larger implants including tissue stretch, thinning and rippling, damage to surrounding breast tissues, unnaturalness, sagging, and propensity for a poor long-term outcome that is difficult to correct. They still say, “I want more, more, more…”
Larger breasts are not the answer for happiness. Just like drugs, alcohol, and other addictions are not the solution for a person’s inner turmoil or sense of emptiness.

On a similar note, why do you think you see those women with overfilled chipmunk cheeks and beady, slanted eyes? They have lost a normal perception of what they look like. If a little filler helps, then more is better.

Having a plastic surgery procedure can alter an individual’s perception of themselves and cause inner psychological issues to surface. When spending a large amount of money on a procedure and going through the discomfort and recovery process, it is natural to want the best possible result. However, there is no such thing as perfection. Staring the in mirror under 10X magnification for hours per day in different body positions and different lighting, using measuring tapes and scales while looking for imperfections is pointless, unhealthy, and not normal. Imperfections that only the patient sees become magnified and they easily loose perception of reality. Most of these patients have excellent results, yet they become consumed with these perceived imperfections and project their inner unhappiness on the surgery and the surgeon. For us plastic surgeons, we attempt to address patient’s goals and expectations and deliver excellent results along the way, yet some patients continue to be dissatisfied. Many of these people are empty inside and will continually search for whatever they lack, blaming others along the way. Plastic surgery is not the solution for those who seek “happiness”, “youth”, “peace”, “security”, “love” and “success”.

We might be able to improve the superficial portion of “beauty” and appearance, but what is just as important is what’s inside the patient – and what they “see” in their mirror that often cannot be fixed so easily. Plastic surgery is rarely the answer for marital issues, emotional trauma or personality disorders. In fact, plastic surgery or any “fix” provides the patient with a focal point for their frustration.

I take pride in my work and strive to obtain surgical results that are as good as possible for an individual. I want my patients to be satisfied and happy with their results, and will do whatever it takes to optimize any result in a realistic, stable patient. Plastic surgery can play a large role in helping with self-esteem, but sadly it cannot fulfill all voids and impairments – perhaps only the superficial ones.

Dr. Hayley Brown MD, FACS
Board Certified Plastic Surgeon
Desert Hills Plastic Surgery Center serving Henderson and Las Vegas, Nevada…

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