A 23-year-old woman who'd wanted a breast augmentation for years was upset because her parents opposed her surgery. "I wish you loved your body the way it is," "That’s so superficial," "You’ll regret it!” they said. She was living with them while she built a house, so their lack of support mattered. In desperation, she wrote to Dear Abby, signing the letter "Tired of Waiting." Abby responded, “The decision about whether to have plastic surgery is a personal one. No one should make it ‘for’ you; the choice should be yours and yours alone.” But even if the woman went ahead with surgery, her disapproving caretakers could inflict further emotional (and even physical) trauma while she recovered.
We’ve all seen horrific plastic surgery photos dispersed in the media. It's easy to infer from the unnatural and sometimes deformed results that only a weak person would have plastic surgery, that we should all accept ourselves just the way we are. Family members and close friends may not know their opposition can have a negative emotional impact, impeding a patient's recovery. Feasting on media stories, they may be unaware of transformations like the high school kid who had his dumbo ears corrected, or the college student who had her large nose reduced to fit her feminine face, or the mother who traded her hanging tummy skin for a flat contour.
What the Opponents Don’t Know
When a feature, such as breasts, is hidden from view, a family member’s opinion may be based on ignorance. Breasts seen in the media are hardly representative of the vast array of shapes that exist. A number of people looking at before-and-after photos in my practice often point to a photo of a particular patient. "Isn't that a boy?" they ask, having no idea that women can look like that. Or their eyes grow wide as they see tubular breasts like two Portobello mushrooms on a chest. Or a breast with no volume and a small nipple on one side and a C-cup, drooping breast on the other. A graduate student in her twenties described what living with tuberous breasts was like. When she was in middle-school, a boy asked her why she wasn’t developing like the other girls, “delivering a further blow to my already low self esteem.” She grew up “having to keep a deep, dark secret that no one could know about….I couldn’t even bear to look at myself in the mirror.” She felt like she was “cheating” her first boyfriend out of being with a “’real’ woman.” After her surgery, she said, “I went to the mall, and for the first time in my life, I felt a type of confidence…I now have something that no amount of reading, working, or wishing could have given me.”
The Impact of Not Having Plastic Surgery
The family members who tell their loved ones to accept themselves often consider only the risks of surgery. In their black-and-white view of plastic surgery, they may fail to understand the emotional weight of not having a procedure. With the limited evidence available in the media, it’s easy for family and friends to live by the mantra that only superficial people go under the knife. But every once in a while, after a patient has healed from surgery, a reluctant family member comes in for a consultation. Plastic surgery isn't right for everyone or for all situations. Patients should have realistic goals and realistic expectations. The best plastic surgeons turn away those who fall short on either count. But when plastic surgery can improve a feature and add self-confidence to a person's life, maybe the right response should be, "Go for it! We'll take care of you while you recover." As more and more studies analyze and quantify the impact of aesthetic surgery on patients, the stigma of plastic surgery may someday subside. In my own practice, when I ask my patients how their surgery has impacted their lives, the most common answer is the boost in their self confidence. Is that such a shameful thing?