In real life the body image problem is bigger and goes far beyond the way plastic surgeons portray themselves and their patients.
As a leader in my field, I always strive to use my skill to make a profound positive impact on the lives of others. In doing so, I enhance the body positivity, self worth and empowerment of people. I believe, Plastic Surgery is neither the cause nor does it offer a solution to a complex social and psychological issue. Plastic Surgery was never intended to be a quick fix or a path to personal growth.
As a advocate for patients, I have two choices. I can either divide and conquer or choose to rally the troops and unite those around me. The obvious path for me is to unite everyone who believes in body positivity, self-worth and empowering those around them.
Plastic Surgery is a medical discipline, not a commodity. Specialist Plastic Surgeons support patients, by educating them throughout their surgical journey. Significantly more time is spent talking and learning about our patients then the time it takes to perform a procedure. Patients should not be trivialised or sexualised. However, at times without the context of the patient journey, this is a common assumption. We abhor and strongly advocate against commercial entities who sell a procedure with a one size fits all model to a vulnerable demographic without any ethical checks and balances.
To respect patient privacy, some surgeons use stock images as their patients are conservative and do not want to share their surgical journey on social media. Other surgeons can’t keep up with the sheer volume of patient images being sent in. There is no difference in the calibre of the surgeon nor the quality of the surgery, this is simply a reflection of the demographic. As medical professionals, we believe that Plastic Surgery is a medical discipline not a retail commodity. We do not sell surgery. The decision to have surgery is a major one and since it comes with risks, it is not a decision to be made whilst scrolling Instagram. Surgery is not the answer to self-worth, and those who believe a quick nip and tuck will solve all their problems are often the ones who are more unhappy post-surgery. Especially when the same psychological problems still exist.
We recently spoke to a surgeon who informed us his consult days are spent talking people out of surgery, he operate's on young children with birth defects and adults with mutilating facial trauma. Operations often involved repairing a severed finger or hand or rebuilding a face requiring complex microsurgery. In every operation restoring function and aesthetics was equally important. Cosmetic Surgery requires more critical thinking and insight. Not because a breast augmentation is more complex then repairing a cleft palate but because the psychology is vastly more complex.
In a simplified world it is assumed that patients visit plastic surgeons because they desire something more or want something taken away. Sadly, it is far from the truth. If only surgeons could video their consultations and show what really goes on behind closed doors. I believe many would be surprised. The reality of most consultations is vastly different to what you see on television with celebrity surgeons. If only you could let the world be a ‘fly on the wall’ in the consultation room for a day, what you would see would bring most people to tears. Patients explain their motivations for surgery and this often becomes emotional and is deeply private. Surgeons listen to stories from women who have endured years of domestic violence and men who have been bullied by their own families. There are mothers full of guilt and shame and daughters who don’t want to share their insecurities with their mothers. Post chemotherapy patients that just want to ‘be normal’. There are victims of childhood abuse, women with eating disorders, women with body dysmorphia, women & men who have had unsuccessful surgery overseas or with an unqualified surgeon. The list goes on and on.
The one thing that everyone has in common, is courage. The courage to book a consultation and divulge their deepest darkest secrets. It is not easy to speak to a stranger about what keeps you up at night, why you won’t wear a swimming costume, or have sex with your partner. There are so many stories that would break your heart. There are patients who cannot access surgery as they require further support psychologically before considering surgery.
Weight loss patients are particularly special to many plastic surgeons as the transformation is incredible. There are patients who have been over weight for years but have managed to turn it all around and finally reach their healthy goal weight. There is no question that they are much healthier. But whilst they are not suffering all the side effects of obesity, they still carry the psychological burden. These patients often have functional issues related to excess skin and reoccurring rashes. The surgery for these patients is quite often life changing. Even though they have lost the weight, it’s not until the excess loose skin is removed that they feel like the weight has been lifted off their shoulders. They finally have something to celebrate. Then they share an image of themselves at the beach for the first time ever. They are confident, happy and wearing a costume of their choosing. This for me is worth sharing and flaunting. When the before and after image is posted together the post is incredibly inspiring, motivating and empowering to see the transformation these patients go through. However when just a bikini shot is posted it is immediately viewed out of context and sexualised. From someone who hid in the shadows all their life, to now being excited to go the beach and being in the spotlight. It is easy to judge a woman in a costume on social media, but every woman has a story. These women have a journey behind that image and most often surgery was not the answer to a complex problem.
I hear many stories of patients from surgeoons and patients, Dr Anh spoke of a patient at Breast Masters who wore a bra to bed and never showed her husband her breasts. After 25 years of marriage she finally had her breast asymmetry reconstructed. The surgery addresses functional medical issues such as back-pain. However, the patient was so proud of her result she finally felt free enough to not wear a bra to bed and was excited to show off to her partner, and in fact the world. This type of scenario is all too familiar in plastic surgery patients.
Plastic Surgeons do not share pictures of a woman’s labia on social media, this is far too private. But it is interesting to note that there is a sharp increase in the demand and incidence of vaginal surgery. Why, you may ask. Simply it comes down to unprecedented access to porn and our youth being obsessed with perfection. Young women view what they believe is perfect online and are embarrassed with their genitalia and seek surgery to ‘fix’ the problem. I believe the porn industry has a lot to answer for here. There are patients who have discomfort and functional issues related to their labia, other patients who have normal anatomy but compare themselves to a photoshopped images in porn. As a woman, mother and ethical nurse I do not and would not condone anyone operating on anyone, without sound reason let alone underage women seeking genital cosmetic surgery to create the “designer vagina” – like a barbie doll - “neat and tidy with a single fold” – because that is what is depicted in pornography – and cultivating unrealistic expectations. I am very considerate and educate patients where I can. Education is key and Plastic Surgeons provide education to every single patient.
However, we do live in a world where physical ideals are splashed everywhere and this I believe cultivates dissatisfaction with our appearances and self-consciousness. When all we see is beautiful, sexy, attractive, flawless, perfect on TV, in print, on billboards and on social media, this can and does affect how we see ourselves. What many don’t appreciate is that how we see ourselves is so much more important than how the world sees us.
I’m no psychologist and don’t claim to have the answers to the problem of poor body image but I do believe that for some of us what we see of ourselves in the mirror can be disheartening, even depressing. Seeing an aged face that was once young and vital, seeing a body that has changed after multiple children or massive weight loss, seeing a receding hairline, seeing scars that remind of a traumatic event, seeing the opposite of what is celebrated in print, TV and social media can negatively affect our self esteem and impacts on our overall wellbeing.
On the converse, looking in the mirror or at a picture of ourselves and liking what we see helps us feel good about ourselves, and when this positive image of ourselves keeps recurring, we may get to the point that we don’t worry about what others think of us or how they see us or how they may judge us because we like ourselves, dare I say, with regards to our appearance, we have discovered self love, self worth and self confidence – and take more and more selfies which we want to share with the world. How we get to this point should not be for anyone to judge. So what if it takes makeup, filters, hair makeovers, fashion, plastic surgery, life coaching or psychological counselling to get to this point. Why can’t we celebrate this rather than criticise, judge, shame and troll each other? What ever happened to kindness and tolerance and accepting everyone as they are?
Let’s come together and unite on the shared value that every woman is beautiful. There is no such thing as perfect. Every woman has a different body, different flaws and different features all of which add to her character. It is your uniqueness that is attractive, it is your personality and beautiful nature that attracts others. If we can all praise each other on the posts we see, regardless of the journey behind the post, a true movement can occur. Just like our bodies, these posts come in all shapes and sizes. There are posts of the sexy women, the conservative women, the business women, proud mums, the fitness selfies and so on. Regardless of whether you have had plastic surgery or not, we should all see the beauty in everyone. By supporting and empowering each other, together we can change the world.