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The cosmetic surgery myth

9th March 2012

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Lauren Conrad isn't a fan of plastic surgerySo, a leading Harley Street plastic surgeon is claiming that his industry significantly improves the self-esteem and body image of women.

Professor Laurence Kirwan, who has also worked in New York, bases this declaration on statistics gathered from his former patients.

He studied the patients (we don’t know how many, or what procedures they had undergone) three, six and 12 months post-op, and found that 97% would recommend cosmetic surgery to friends. The same percentage would also have surgery again.

And herein lays my first issue. If such a massive percentage are ready to go back under the knife, doesn’t this suggest that their self-esteem has not improved one single iota? Surely if Professor Kirwan is all about empowering women and making them feel good about their bodies through surgery, then they should be body confident and satisfied with themselves afterwards?

I have to conclude, then, that it is 3% of Kirwan’s patients, not 97%, who were satisfied with their body image and buoyed with self-esteem after their operations.

Let’s also talk about the time period of this study.  “Patients experience a significant and lasting improvement in appearance and body image following surgery,” says Professor Kirwan, after gathering the feelings of his patients 12 months after their procedures.

Some might not see an issue with this. However, I don’t think many of us would class 12 months as ‘long-term’. What about how patients who had cosmetic operations five, 10, 20 years ago? I’m not saying that all of them will have regrets about their decision. But it would provide a more interesting insight than a study taken at 12 months, which hardly justifies its ‘long-term’ claims.

I’m also going to throw some celebrities into the mix. No one would dispute that Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, and Rachel Weisz are some of this country’s most respected and successful actresses – they have all won Oscars, after all. Is it a coincidence that they have all spoken out over their distaste for the cosmetic surgery industry?

Thompson, Winslet and Weisz launched the British Anti-Cosmetic Surgery League last year. Winslet declared that the industry goes against her morals, her up-bringing, and her perception of natural beauty, whilst Thompson criticised a society “where everybody needs to look 30 at 60.”

Weisz said that “People who look too perfect don’t look sexy or particularly beautiful.”

Fellow Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett, meanwhile, has revealed that seeing the results of surgery “fills me with pity.”

Across the pond, Lady Gaga has also spoken about how she believes that surgery promotes insecurity, saying that people should craft the way others see them through the way then present themselves, rather than through their bodies.

Lauren Conrad, who has forged a successful career post-Hills, has said of her fellow celebrities and the media: “They put them on this platform, and they tear them apart and then they criticize them even more for changing themselves.

"I think you just try and be confident with the way you are.”

In the light of the negative results of cosmetic surgery that Conrad may have seen firsthand through her work, Professor Kirwan’s claim that “There is certainly no worsening of depressive symptoms or other negative emotional outcomes” hardly seems to hold weight.

I’m not criticising, in any way whatsoever, any woman who chooses to undergo cosmetic procedures in order to boost self-esteem. Neither am I saying that she will necessarily suffer negative consequences, or that she will be taken less seriously in her work. We are all bombarded with highly enhanced, glossy images every day – it would be counter-productive and potentially cruel to shout down those who might see cosmetic surgery as a way to boost their confidence. It just saddens me that so often it appears to be viewed as the only way forward. In the long-term (longer than 12 months) will genuine happiness be found because of a cosmetic procedure? I can’t possibly say. It is a personal thing, something that Professor Kirwan hasn’t acknowledged in his claim that all patients are satisfied with their decisions for evermore. But if a desperately depressed woman does believe that surgery (rather than directly addressing the problem at hand) is the answer, it’s a sad conclusion for our society – and especially for the entertainment industry, which appears to pile on the pressure to be cosmetically enhanced, before deriding those who succumb and giving its real accolades to those who have avoided this trap. 

That cosmetic surgery is the path to confidence and fulfilment may very well be true for some women. For plenty, it will doubtlessly prove a disappointment. 97% of women returning for surgery does not suggest an increased body confidence to me. The scary thing is that, in declaring that their confidence has improved as a result of surgery, this 97% has clearly been taken in by the idea that surgery equates to happiness – without realising that if this was true they wouldn’t be electively heading back under the knife. Professor Kirwan, with his line that surgery is the key to all ills, is a peddler of this dangerous myth.


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