The Stigma Around Plastic Surgery

When it comes to cosmetic surgery, people have a whole lot to say. These surface-level tweaks are met with a torrent of stigma from either side of the battle, both for and against plastic surgery.  

Social standards of beauty — which are firmly upheld by popular cultural practices such as social media and the obsession with celebrities — create a stigma around “ugly” or undesirable physical traits. In turn, these perceptions push people to make physical changes that give them the confidence to stand up against such harrowing social demands. While some would argue that every individual has the right to change their body in any way they like — whatever the reason — others are not as understanding. 

Facing Stigmas

Plastic surgery has often been called “fake” and “shallow” by the masses, and the idea of making such a change just to fit conventional standards of beauty is met with a tsunami of stigma. Since so much of the talk around plastic surgery relates directly to beauty standards, it often comes with a large amount of judgment about self-esteem. This tendency can, unfortunately, stigmatize people who get cosmetic surgeries for health reasons, and do just as much damage as the stigmas that lead people to make cosmetic changes for non-health reasons. 

Finding oneself in this stormy sea of social stigma around cosmetic changes can be overwhelming and confusing. While stigma itself is an abstract concept, it has the power to engender harmful attitudes and behaviors. The decisions stigma leads people to make are often life-changing, and even life-threatening. For example, the stigma around STDs leads many people to refrain from being tested or seeking help — a decision that can have grave consequences. 

Similarly, the stigmas surrounding cosmetic work — though often based in fiction — can be detrimental. When there is push-back from both sides of the spectrum, where is one expected to go? Whatever the middle ground maybe, one thing is for certain: there needs to be more empathy and understanding when approaching the subject of plastic surgery. The journal article The Cosmetic Surgery Stigma: An American Cultural Phenomenon? aptly states, “Rather than stigmatizing plastic surgery, media messages can foster acceptance and more realistic views about individuals who make this choice. If patients and the celebrities serving as culture’s tastemakers and role models are more confident and transparent about their decisions, we may experience a paradigm shift in the field.” 

Doesn’t Everybody Do It? 

What’s strange about the stigma around plastic surgery is borderline hypocrisy of it all. Many people seem to take offense with body modification, despite the fact that they almost certainly take part in modifying their own body, as people have done for centuries. While the reasons for this are still unclear, the aforementioned journal article attributes this discomfort to the classicist notion of beauty, as being something one is born with. Thus, the ability to “buy” beauty ends up cheapening its very value. 

However, it is essential to remember that cosmetic surgery is only one type of body modification. Hair-dyeing, tanning, body piercings, tattoos, and even makeup are just some of the many types of modifications that most people feel free to take part in, free from the same stigma and judgment. While there are always exceptions, the goal of any of these modifications is usually to enhance one’s beauty, in some way or another. Body modifications, thus, allow us to adhere to personal and cultural ideals of beauty, while simultaneously helping us to express both our group membership and individuality. In this regard, plastic surgery is just another vehicle that allows us to be who we want to be.

It Can Do a World of Good

A major part of the stigma around plastic surgery is the fact that people view it as a purely narcissistic, self-indulgent behavior. However, it is important to realize that cosmetic surgery can actually lead to improved physical and mental health, helping solve issues that go so much deeper than the surgical blade. In fact, the aforementioned journal article states that evidence has shown that many of the individuals that engage in such procedures, “enjoy benefits such as improved sex lives, self-confidence, and self-image.”  

Dental cosmetic surgery, for instance, is one of many examples in which plastic surgery can improve the well-being of an individual. For a person who feels hideous because of their crooked or decaying teeth, the application of veneers could give them the confidence they need to succeed. A smile can go a long way, and when a person has the confidence to smile more often, it can improve their relationships and boost their overall mental health. Cosmetic dentistry also cures the problems of decaying and damaged teeth, alleviating unseen pain, and creating a healthier mouth. 

Procedures such as these boost confidence and self-worth, making for a healthier state of being — and what’s to stigmatize about that? To quote dermatologist Doris Day, from an article on the Atlantic, “The good news is that cosmetic surgery is not all about recreating the way we were. “Interestingly, many women are saying their goal is not necessarily to look younger, but more to look refreshed and reflect how they feel on the inside.”  

Many Roads Lead to Rome

It is not wrong or pitiful to give in to social or even personal pressures that lead to bodily alterations. It is not a sign of weakness to want to make a change that will improve the quality of your life, and in turn, improve the quality of the lives around you. Making these changes, however, do not always need to entail cosmetic surgery. For instance, CBD is a phytocannabinoid derived from the cannabis plant which also helps with wrinkles, acne, and other cosmetic issues. 

Thus, turning to external sources to alter one’s image only becomes toxic when it leads to severe self-deprecation and/or extreme behaviors. Consider the example of the man who spent approximately $10,000 to completely change his face, only so he could look exactly like Justin Beiber. Instances like these make the argument of “plastic surgery addiction” more real. The extreme obsession to become the perceived “perfect specimen” is what leads to image-modifying behaviors to be regarded with disapproval. That being said, it is important to note that most plastic surgeons agree that the goal of cosmetic surgery is to fix “slight-flaws” and act as a way to “tune-up” to make individuals feel beautiful in their own skin. 

The stigma surrounding cosmetic surgery is an issue that needs to be combatted, and empathy is the most effective weapon available today. We need to understand situations, promote acceptance, and have realistic opinions of the people that choose to modify themselves, in whatever way. This is a far better alternative than proliferating strong, judgmental opinions that have a cascading effect and affect the perceptions of the masses. 

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