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Cosmetic Surgery the Magic Potion, Essay Example

Pages: 14

Words: 3902

Essay

Introduction

Advances in medical procedures, along with social influences also increased through technology and media, have made cosmetic surgery a massive industry today.  The options are nearly limitless, as men, women, and children may surgically alter their faces and bodies in any way they desire, in order to change their appearance.  Silicone injections in the face add “cheekbones”, breasts may be enlarged or reduced, lips are plumped with collagen, and excess fat is siphoned out of thighs.  Most commonly, age is defied and men and women in their 70s have their facial skin cut and stretched to attain the tautness of youth.  Behind this industry, media promotes the surgeries as completely valid, in that they enhance self-esteem.  The object, it is maintained, is not to appeal to others, but to gain a better feeling about the self.

Certainly, some forms of cosmetic or reconstructive surgery are rational, if not necessary, procedures.  People disfigured by accidents or diseases, or with congenital defects such as cleft palates, face severe issues in society, and efforts to restore a normalcy of appearance are clearly valid.  These surgeries aside, however, the reality remains that cosmetic surgery today is a self-perpetuating exercise in, not the elevation of personal esteem, but the destruction of it.  The culture changes when the ambitions of the people in it change, and a widespread insistence on appearing youthful and attractive must translate to how actual human worth is defined.  Then, the assertion that such surgery serves only to enhance personal identity, with no regard for how other people feel, is blatantly unsound; appearance absolutely depends upon reaction, so the claim that the work is not done to generate respect or admiration from others is senseless.   Some arguments can be made for cosmetic surgery, but they do not stand up to investigation.   As will be seen in the following, cosmetic surgery ultimately harms society by reinforcing an emphasis only on appearance, which consequently alters the value system of the society by an increased ignoring of personal character and nature.

Cosmetic Surgery Basics

A true definition of cosmetic surgery involves several points.  In basic terms, it is any surgery that reshapes anatomical features which are already healthy, in order to create an appearance considered more attractive in some way.  It then differs in definition from other surgeries because it is optional, and not required by a medical need (Sullivan  13).  Reconstructive surgery also seeks to improve appearance, but it is corrective, and in place to undo physical damage caused to the face or body.  The definition of cosmetic surgery then must include another element; as it is optional, it is a commercial procedure.  It is performed as a business service, and in a way as to create profit (Sullivan  13).  As is widely seen today, in fact, cosmetic surgeons advertise in print media and on television as frequently as car dealerships.  The surgery is, naturally, medical in base, but the practice itself is very much a commercially-driven enterprise.

This is a far cry from its beginnings.  The procedures were first developed following World War I, and only to repair the faces and bodies of the wounded (Sullivan  41).  In time, the medical community seized on the potentials of the reconstructive work and, as public consumption grew, so too were new procedures developed.  If medical technology is created to serve the ill, it is also – and quickly – adapted to perform purely voluntary operations, and cosmetic surgery today is a multi-billion dollar industry.  This impact is largely due to the variety of procedures; one individual may choose complete face, breast, and posterior lift work, with ancillary liposuction, while another may routinely only receive Botox injections to minimize facial wrinkles.  However it happens, it nonetheless occurs widely.   Over 10 million people had cosmetic procedures in the U.S. in 2009, with women in the majority (DeMello  47).  The gender disparity, however, is changing, as is the ethnic demographic.  For long decades, cosmetic surgery was largely sought by white, middle-or-upper-class, women.  Today, not only are men growing as a consumer base, but racial boundaries are breaking down.  In the last decade alone, cosmetic surgery rates for Latin Americans has tripled.  There are international changes as well, likely the result of Western influences in globalization.  In Asia, such surgeries are skyrocketing, and in Korea today one out of ten people undergoes blepharoplasty, which is the surgical modifying of the eyelid (DeMello  48).   As with other ethnic groups, it very much seems that the wider spread of Westernization in global media translates to goals of adopting Western ideals of appearance.

As technology advances, so too do costs go down, which generates greater interest in cosmetic surgery.  Once considered only an option for the wealthy, it is increasingly viewed as affordable, just as the greater variety of non-surgical and surgical procedures allows for “shopping around.”  Costs, then, fluctuate, but they remain relatively high and reflect pricing of a few years past.  In 2008, a face lift would cost between $6,500 and $9,000.  Breast augmentation surgery was at an average of $3,560, an eyelid tuck was $2,840, liposuction cost $2,920, and Botox injections were nearly $400 per treatment (Lusted  62).   With some variation, these costs are essentially the same today.  What is changing, however, is the billing.  Generally speaking, cosmetic procedures are not covered by insurance but, as is commonly known, there are ways around this.  What typically happens is that the cosmetic surgeon reports the rhinoplasty, or nose operation, done as being reconstructive, to repair a deviated septum.  Similarly, eyelid rejuvenation is billed to insurance companies as necessary to maintain vision, and even liposuction is charged as the removal of dangerous and multiple lipomas, or benign tumors of fatty tissue (Perry  295).  Insurance companies, as a rule, do not contest these billings simply because it is both costly and difficult to investigate the surgeon’s actual motives, particularly when the surgeon is prepared in advance to diagnose the procedure as, not cosmetic, but necessary.  This scenario, then, the ethics of it aside, clearly creates opportunities for more people to take advantage of cosmetic work.  There is certainly no indication that interest is lessening; the rise in cosmetic procedures in the U.S. between 1997 and 2006 increased by an astounding 446 percent (Alam, Gladstone, & Tung  1).  Further increases are then virtually inevitable, as technology advances, costs go down, and the processes themselves become viewed as more ordinary.

Advantages and Benefits

No reasonable criticism of cosmetic surgery may be offered without an understanding of how it can benefit individuals.   To begin with, it is reasonable for today’s man or woman to believe that a younger and more attractive appearance will help them in the job market.   As noted, this at least partly explains why more men are seeking these surgeries; as people are living longer, their productive years are extended, yet they then face greater competition in the form of new generations entering the field.  What is important to note here as well is that such career concerns are not limited to men.  As women are an increasingly dominant force in employment, advantages in appearing younger are the same (Wyer, Barbercheck, Giesman, Ozturk, & Wayne  290).  Recent economic recessions also emphasize the need to be as “attractive” to employers as possible, so this presents a very valid motivation for pursuing cosmetic surgery.

Then, there remains the  issue of psychological well-being, and it is clearly unreasonable to assert that most people who undergo cosmetic work are not pleased to do so, and usually satisfied with the results.  As will be noted, research reveals mixed results here, but the inescapable fact that more and more people elect this surgery clearly points to high levels of satisfaction.  Cosmetic surgeons typically claim that they “heal the soul” in their work, and restore senses of self-worth to individuals lacking it.  Seen in this way, in fact, cosmetic surgery is a type of therapy; as the patient feels better enabled to be assertive socially, they build stronger levels of identity (Gordjin, Chadwick  165).   As with employment considerations, it must be noted that there are actual benefits people perceive from cosmetic work.  As they choose to have the procedures done to look better, so too do they often feel more attractive and rejuvenated afterward.   This then creates a constructive effect on those around them, so it may be argued that cosmetic surgery enhances society, in promoting individual senses of esteem and attractiveness.

Social and Media Influences

An examination into how external forces promote cosmetic surgery, however, reveals how insubstantial the advantages to it are.  As media influences are explored, it must be remembered that the problems with the subject are completely dependent upon one another.  There can be no real separating of self-esteem, for example, from social concerns, because we define ourselves by how others perceive us. This is surgery that exists only to alter appearances, and nothing is more critical than that point when assessments of its meaning are made. Appearance gains power through society, so the exponential factor is inescapable.  The greater numbers of people undergoing surgery to look younger or “better,” the more the process is normalized, just as the basic standard of appearance itself changes.  This is society’s effect on the subject, in that it actually absorbs cosmetic surgery and translates it as a component of itself.  It also reinforces unrealistic or irrational concerns already within the society.  For example, many women choose to have their breasts enlarged to appeal to the Western, masculine idea of what renders a woman truly attractive.  At the same time, the culture also emphasizes extreme thinness as desirable in women. The result is that Western women are thrown into psychological and physical confusion, and then adopt the extremes of cosmetic surgery to create a body acceptable to all the expectations (Grogan  176). Men pay attention to them when their bodies are fuller, yet women compete to weigh less than other women.  In this sort of arena, the cosmetic surgeon has limitless opportunity for profit because the society expresses conflicting desires.

With regard to media, the effects are irrefutably damaging and clearly irresponsible. There is a sense in most people that celebrities are not meant to reflect average people, either in appearance or lifestyle. Nonetheless, their images are everywhere, and this must have a strong effect on individual feelings about the self.  It begins in childhood, which also goes to the inextricable links between media, social perceptions, and cosmetic surgery.  With TV and the Internet, children today are exposed to vast numbers of celebrities, and this has the effect of making these children believe that these appearances are what society most values.  Consequently, and during the most formative years, children are strongly encouraged to develop a perfection of appearance, and not actual being (Hutchinson, Calland 7). In plain terms, there can only be a certain amount of emphasis a child can take in, and act upon.  When that emphasis is consistently and pervasively on body and face, and not on character, the conclusions drawn by the child must reflect the reinforcement.  Simply, how he or she looks is what really matters, because every media image, promoted and embraced by the adults, sends this exact message.

It may, in fact, be argued that the power of cosmetic surgery is so firmly in place, it can now afford to assert itself for what it is. More exactly, in the past, media personalities were secretive about having had cosmetic work done. In more modern times, and interestingly, celebrities in the media blatantly talk about the cosmetic work they have done.  Country legend Dolly Parton has openly spoken of her surgeries for decades, as comedienne Joan Rivers is today more known for her undergoing extensive face lifts than for comedy (Lusted  12).  The celebrity culture, touted in media, is today creating a “new normal”, and surgery of this kind is seen, not as radical, but as ordinary as maintaining a home or car properly.  This openness allows for a different form of it, in terms of media acceptance.  If, for instance, a celebrity like Cher does not make a habit of talking about her surgeries, the candor of other stars, along with public knowledge of her age, renders the fact as absolutely understood.  The same is true of male stars like Michael Douglas.  Directly and indirectly, then, does the media infuse cosmetic surgery as a normal activity within the culture, and advertising also plays into this.  It does not actively tell women to have surgery; rather, it encourages the idea by only presenting idealized images, and  women are induced to believe that a more youthful and attractive face and body will promote romance, happiness,  and/or career growth.  The industry targets men in much the same way.  Moreover, it simply switches the cultural emphasis while promoting the illusion.  Men know that good looks attract romantic partners, and studies invariably reveal that more handsome men earn higher salaries. They are perceived as more “masculine,” and more capable than average-looking men. Consequently, advertising in media plays on men’s fears regarding both financial stability and sexuality (Luciano  160).  In this arena, no age or gender is safe because the power of the media is reshaping the way we defines ourselves as people, and focusing only on external appearances.

Cosmetic Surgery as Harmful

The arguments against the widespread and blatantly indiscriminate use of cosmetic surgery are many, complex, and often based on the rationales actually supporting it.  To begin with, as noted, it is common for people to assert that improving appearance in this way enhances their senses of self-esteem.  Setting aside for the moment just why that is, there is another concern: medical responsibility.  This type of claim is subjective.  It is the individual expressing what they believe will make them feel better or more whole.  It must be remembered, then, that there are other behaviors or choices that create such feelings, and which in no way promote real well-being.  A cigarette smoker can honestly claim that smoking makes them feel more confident, as an ambitious business person may say that earning large amounts of money satisfies them, and makes them feel valued.  In neither case is any actual well-being served (Gordjin, Chadwick  9).  With cosmetic surgery, then, the doctor is merely placating a conception by no means going to the good of the individual.  In a very real sense, and no matter the extent of the patient’s subjective perception, all that is being addressed are appearances.

From the patient’s perspective, also, there are problems.  The reality is that studies do not indicate uniformly high rates of personal satisfaction after cosmetic surgery.  Results are, at best mixed, with some patients perfectly satisfied, and others feeling deeply unhappy with themselves and their lives following the procedures (Kaminer, Arndt, & Dover  112).  This is critically important, for it underscores the essentially self-defeating purpose of cosmetic surgery.  Many people, as the research reveals, enter into the procedures because they believe they will be different afterward, or that the differences in how they are responded to will make them happier.  No matter the exact wording, this is at the heart of such motivations, and it is as flimsy a rationale as can be imagined.  It is extraordinary, but adults today rely on a kind of logic they would seek to correct in a child.  This relates to the expectation of greater self-esteem mentioned above.  More exactly, we as a culture traditionally hold that a sense of self-worth can only be had by living and behaving in ways generating inner satisfaction, or pride.  Religious differences aside, most people believe that being a good person is the most important ambition of all, and that the pursuit of it is what defines the individual.  Today, we have allowed an inversion of values to dominate thinking.  It is as though the culture feels it is so essentially good, it can afford to focus on the external, even as society and individuals are well aware of failings.  Then, and incredibly, the cult of cosmetic surgery defies every principle held by civilized humanity, in that it actually relies on a direct association between appearance and happiness.  Somehow, age-old and trusted beliefs in personal happiness as being dependent on character are eclipsed, and a completely illogical formula takes its place.  Namely: get the surgery, look younger, look more attractive, and happiness will be more readily there.  It is difficult to conceive of a way of thinking more nonsensical, yet this is the ideology holding sway as cosmetic surgery gains ground.

There are, not unexpectedly, other factors at play here.  In plain terms, a large part of “looking good” in our culture is centered on looking young.  As noted, celebrities undergo multiple surgeries over the years to combat the natural effects of aging, and surgeons today refer to these practices as “age management” (Sullivan  65).  This has more than one consequence, and one is that there are always increased risks in multiple surgeries.  No matter the topical nature of the procedure, skin and tissue is being cut and manipulated, or artificial compounds are being injected or transplanted, and more than once.  Physical risks are many and vary with surgeries, but some cross all procedures.  Problems from anesthesia may cause brain damage, as reconfiguring tissue can sever nerves.  Blood clotting and severe blood loss are also common risks in all procedures, as infection and organ perforation are more associated with liposuction (Rinzler 117).  While risk is inherent in any surgery, it takes on different meaning when, as with cosmetic work, the surgery is completely optional.  Cosmetic surgeons, then, increasingly rely on the principle of patient autonomy; if  the individual knows the risks and seeks the work, then all ethics are met (Sullivan  65)  They are not, however, because the doctor is obligated to adhere to responsibilities the patient is not, and to know when potential “gains” by no means justify invasive procedures.  The same conundrum applies to emotional damage or risks, despite the prevailing ideology that the surgeon will responsibly assess each person’s emotional readiness.  For example, “postsurgical depression” is actually ordinary because the patient is disturbed by the bruising and swelling following the work, and cosmetic surgeons tend to dismiss this.  What is less easily set aside, however, are the many cases where patients suffer from depression because the surgery, while technically successful, did not impact their lives as expected.  Documentation of such patients is difficult, ironically, because many become locked in cycles of surgery, forever hoping the next procedure will bring the desired results (Rinzler 156).

Then, surgery as a means of fighting aging changes the actual meaning of aging in the public mind.  Instead of being a completely natural process, aging is viewed as a kind of disease.  There is a great deal about aging that is not known, and it is certainly not new that people tend to resist its effects (Perry  49).  It is most definitely not, however, an illness, even if it typically leads to infirmities.  It is as natural a stage of life as adolescence, and just as universal.  With cosmetic surgery done to hide or remove the appearances of it, something of an actual  perversion of perception happens.  What is natural is then shameful, and this approach must then drastically alter the framework of society itself.  If, for example, those who resist cosmetic surgery look older than their peers who have it done, the new trend of thinking is all the more reinforced because the natural aging actually appears to be abnormal.  Consequently, and ironically, how the value of senior citizens is assessed will change, and not to the advantage of those who do not have face lifts.  Moreover, this single factor of aging as a cause for seeking surgery transcends gender and race completely, and this inescapably reveals to harmful impact of the modern emphasis on cosmetic surgery.

This in turn relates to another intrinsic dilemma of cosmetic surgery, in that the ambition for it relies, at least in part, on an unhealthy dissatisfaction with appearance.  Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is classified as a fixation on a real or imagined physical flaw, and what is striking is that the cosmetic surgery industry actually relies on such fixations.  This is validated by the fact that studies of BDD offer wildly diverse results, ranging from three percent of cosmetic surgery patients diagnosed with it to over half (Phillips 234).  Again, appearance is given enormous, and potentially devastating, weight.  It also generates cosmetic surgery addiction, in which the patient is never satisfied by the surgical interventions because they either do not conform to a mental “ideal,” or because each procedure “raises the bar” on expectations (Blum 58).  Consequently, the processes of cosmetic surgery must indirectly allow for, if not promote, BDD.

Conclusion

From its first uses to help World War I veterans scarred from battle, cosmetic surgery has expanded to enormous proportions.  As with its beginning, it serves a valuable purpose as reconstructive work for those disfigured by accident, disease, or birth defects.  It should also be noted that many people truly believe such surgery helps them to feel better about themselves, just as a more attractive appearance must be an advantage in a career.  These things noted, however, the sheer presence and activity of cosmetic surgery is causing enormous damage to both individuals and to society.   It is reversing traditional and important concepts of what makes a person “good,” by adding immense importance to physical image.  The media, in advertising and in its endless presentations of celebrities, only reinforces this effect, and the ideology then takes over that nothing is as important as being attractive.  Children grow up with good reason to believe that this is the standard their world follows, and grow into women and men desperate to represent an ideal of good looks.  Most insidiously of all, the natural process of aging is perverted and growing older is viewed as a “disease.”  In the final analysis, all assertions that cosmetic surgery acts to restore self-esteem are weak, simply because no real sense of self should rely on appearances.  Ultimately,  cosmetic surgery is harmful to society because it reinforces an emphasis only on appearance, and this  changes the value system of the society through an increased ignoring of what really matters: personal character.

Works Cited

Alam, Murad, Gladstone, Hayes B., & Tung, Rebecca C.  Cosmetic Dermatology.  New York:   Elsevier Health, 2009. Print.

Blum, Virgina L. Flesh Wounds:The Culture of Cosmetic Surgery.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Print.

DeMello, Margo. Faces Around the World. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2012. Print.

Gordjin, Bert, & Chadwick, Ruth.  Medical Enhancement and Posthumanity. New York: Springer, 2008.  Print.

Grogan, Sarah.  Body Image: Understanding Body Dissatisfaction in Men, Women, and Children. New York: Taylor & Francis, 2007. Print.

Hutchinson, Nicky, & Calland, Chris.  Body Image in the Primary School.  New York: Taylor & Francis, 2011.  Print.

Kaminer, Michael S., Arndt, Kenneth A., & Dover, Jeffrey S.  Atlas of Cosmetic Surgery. New York: Elsevier Health, 2008. Print.

Luciano, Lynne.  Looking Good: Male Body Image in America. New York: Macmillan, 2002. Print.

Lusted, Marcia Amidon.  Cosmetic Surgery. Edina: ABDO, 2009. Print.

Perry, Arthur W.  Straight Talk About Cosmetic Surgery. New Haven:  Yale University Press, 2007.  Print.

Phillips, Katherine A. Understanding Body Dysmorphic Disorder.  New York:  Oxford   University Press, 2009.  Print.

Rinzler, Carol Ann.  The Encyclopedia of Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery.  New York: Infobase     Publishing, 2009. Print.

Sullivan, Deborah A. Cosmetic Surgery: The Cutting Edge of Commercial Medicine in America.  New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2000.  Print.

Wyer, Mary, Barbercheck, Mary, Giesman, Donna, Ozturk, Hattice,  & Wayne, Marta. Women, Science, and Technology. New York: Routledge, 2008.  Print.

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