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Society is a Perfectionist

Within the scope of this research, we will elaborate on plastic surgery, the body and the body image. As one surveys the body images current in different times and places, it is impressive how often they have negative connotations. Although most people describe their body appearance in mildly favorable terms, their negative attitudes do break through in multiple other ways. For example, it is striking how often guilt is linked to one's body. Body shame is everywhere. Several studies have shown a trend for persons, especially children, to feel guilty when they become sick. They irrationally blame themselves for any body damage they experience. It is apparent that due to inherent sexuality and attempt to attract the opposite sex, plastic surgery is perceived by most of the respondents (both male and women) as something that can enhance their chances of successful attraction, which means that it has overwhelmingly positive effects on one’s self esteem.

It has been shown that when persons are exposed to a television picture of themselves, their self-esteem is significantly lower than when exposed to a television picture with no self-implications. (Henry 1999) But perhaps more importantly, exposure to one's mirror image seems to increase behavior expressive of conformity and guilt. By way of illustration, the scholars observed less cheating by college students who could see their mirror image than those who could not. (Steese 2006) Subjects exposed to images of themselves on a TV screen and asked to help unfortunate disease victims were more willing to take responsibility for assisting the victims than did subjects in a control condition who were not confronted with their own images.

Men highly focused on their own body, as defined by number of body references in their reports of the content of their immediate awareness, are often typified by a guilty outlook. (Snow 2006) This is not true for women. It is pertinent, too, that rendering persons more aware of certain body areas (for example, heart, back, head) may increase sensitivity to several classes of stimuli with guilt implications. This is illustrated by an experiment in which it was found that men who are asked to focus their attention on their heart, manifest increased selectivity in their memory for guilt as compared to nonguilt words. (Snow 2006)

Most cultures are uncomfortable with the average body in its natural state. Elaborate rules and customs prevail as to how the body must be decorated and wrapped to render it acceptable. These customs often call for radical revisions. It may be necessary to cover all visible skin with tattoos or large areas with prominent scar tissue (Steese 2006). What is striking is how frequently the culture requires equivalents of ruthless attack on the body in order to put it into proper shape. It may call for cutting off a piece of the penis or the removal of the clitoris. It may call for extreme flattening of the skull or surgical enlargement of the breasts or even chronic self-starvation to limit body bulk to an ideal. (Richards 2002)

The average individual gets the message that the body, as is, cannot be acceptable. Revisions are obligatory and repeatedly feature mutilations. One would have to say that uncertainty, negativity, and guilt usually infiltrate the modal body image. This impresses me as extraordinary. Is it not strange that one should regard one's only somatic base in the world as unworthy or wrong? Most people do not recognize the peculiarity of this phenomenon. (Henry 1999) They have adapted to their chronic sensations of body disrepute and are no longer sensitive to the strangeness. However, this is a matter clling for explanation.

In teen speak, everyone is getting plastic surgery. But everyone isn't, according to plastic surgeons and their professional organizations. (Steese 2006) There is no doubt that adults in record numbers are nipping, tucking, sucking and augmenting. Unprecedented affluence, a baby-boomer fixation on youth and an aggressive advertising blitz by media-savvy doctors have sent the number of cosmetic procedures soaring. But the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) reports that less than 3 percent of those nearly 2 million surgeries were performed on minors - a percentage that has held steady since record-keeping started in 1992. (Steese 2006)

Plus, experts say, only 11 percent of the nearly 25,000 cosmetic surgeries on minors were for such sexy procedures as breast augmentations, tummy tucks or liposuction. "It's easy for the media to take these numbers and turn it into a hot button that gets a lot of people excited," says Dr. William Little, a plastic surgeon in the District. (Frost 2004) "It turns into another media-created story that society is going to hell in a handbasket. The truth is that teens have been getting plastic surgery for generations, and that hasn't changed much." (Frost 2004) He says rhinoplasty - surgery on the nose - is a classic example of "a sound practice at the right time" and virtually all of the breast surgeries he performs on minors are to correct a problem of asymmetry or to bring an overly developed teen into proportion with the rest of her body. (Frost 2004)

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Leida Snow, a communications officer for ASAPS, says she was mystified by a rash of media reports about the growing trend in teen cosmetic surgery. Her Manhattan-based association includes among its members plastic surgeons, dermatologists and ear, nose and throat surgeons. The 5,000-member, Chicago-based American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons (ASPRS) has reported that the number of surgeries performed on minors nearly doubled from 1992 to 1998 - from 13,312 to 24,623. (Snow 2006) The number of teen-agers in the United States also grew - by 11 percent in the same time period, according to the U.S. Census Bureau - but did not keep pace with the increase in plastic surgery. (Snow 2006)

Media emphasis on breast augmentation and liposuction distorts the picture. Rhinoplasty continues to be the most common procedure, followed by cosmetic ear surgery, breast reduction and correction of breast asymmetry in girls and then gynecomastia - to correct breast development in boys. "It's far easier and certainly more exciting to look at these numbers and call it a trend and to use examples, such as breast augmentation, to tell the story, but the real story is much more complex." (Snow 2006)

The percentage of rhinoplasties on teens has increased - from 11 percent of the total in 1992 to 14 percent of the total in 1998, while breast augmentations have decreased - from 3 percent of the total in 1992 to 1 percent in 1998. (Frost 2004) Adolescent interest in purely cosmetic procedures has increased, and it is a response to unrelenting media focus on the issue. "The thing that has changed is now we're seeing teens who are looking for a quick fix to their problems," Dr. Little says. "The girl who says, `I'm a bit overweight, and why should I exercise or diet when I can just get it sucked out?' This comes from this media-generated electronic bombardment of images of idealized proportions." (Frost 2004)

Impressionable adolescents, who are still forming their self-images, are very susceptible to this media barrage. That worries Dr. Ann Kearney-Cooke, a pphysician-scholar with the Partnership for Women's Health at Columbia University. In a study funded by Seventeen magazine and Procter & Gamble's Secret antiperspirant division, she recently conducted an Internet survey of 4,000 teens. She says one of the study's most alarming findings was that nearly half of the 14- to 18-year-olds said they were not satisfied with their bodies, and a third of the teens who answered the survey said they were considering some type of plastic surgery. (Steese 2006)

"What's most disturbing to me is that this is a time when their bodies aren't fully formed, yet teens feel so much pressure to be instantly perfect," Dr. Kearney-Cooke says. "Plus, an adolescent girl's feelings about her body change as much as her body changes. One day they're the belle of the ball, and the next day they're too ugly to go out in public." A multimedia image of unachievable perfection assaults children from the time they first watch television, she says. "The teen years used to be the time to find yourself and form your beliefs. `Who am I?' has been replaced with `What do I look like?' " (Steese 2006)

Media attention is not all bad, says Dr. Allen Rosen, a practicing plastic surgeon in Bloomfield, N.J., and assistant clinical professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. "It's healthy that teens now feel that they have more control over their appearance," he says. (Steese 2006) Improvement in medical techniques, such as laser surgery, and anesthesia practices have made elective surgery safer, Dr. Rosen says. The properly motivated teen can benefit tremendously from cosmetic surgery. (Steese 2006)

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Liposuction is the single most popular cosmetic treatment. According to the ASPRS, 172,079 liposuctions were performed in 1998 - although only 1 percent of them were on teens. (Richards 2002) A recent report published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery cautioned that liposuction also carries the highest fatality rate, claiming a life for every 100,000 cases. (Snow 2006) Experts consider a single fatality for every 100,000 cases a tolerable level. Dr. Gerald Pitman, a Manhattan plastic surgeon who is considered an expert in liposuction, says he rarely treats teens, although he has had a few patients as young as 14. "Liposuction is a serious medical procedure," he says. "It sounds simple, but it is not. Every case must be considered individually." (Snow 2006)

Most surgeons evaluate their young patients not just by their age, but by their need, maturity and longtime desire for the proposed change. Some people wait their entire lives. A Catonsville, Md., woman in her 40s recently had a breast reduction and says she regrets having waited decades for something for which she had longed since her teen years. "That's my biggest regret," says the woman, who didn't want her name used. "My teen years were so painful because I didn't have the self-confidence to face down the teasing. I have a son, but if I had a daughter and she had the same problem, I'd back her all the way." (Steese 2006)

Other surgeons agree that the teen years, when bodies heal fast and psyches are fragile, can be an excellent time for a number of common surgeries. "I've a young man who came back to me after he was grown and told me that fixing his nose when he was 15 was the catalyst that changed his life for the better," Dr. Little says. (Frost 2004) But surgery should never be viewed as a quick-fix panacea, he warns. "There's a danger in any surgery, and it should never be taken lightly. When someone comes in after seeing an ad, we know that they're not a good candidate. Plastic surgery is not an impulse buy." (Frost 2004)

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