Cosmetic surgery is bad. That women feel the need for it is worse

The pressure to look attractive can be the worst part of being female. Now even the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons is demanding change

Share
Fact File

A friend went to the wedding of a British man and his Texan girlfriend. She looked across the aisle and saw a whole row of identical-looking women. “I didn’t know Diane had so many sisters,” she said to her neighbour. “Oh, they’re not family,” came the reply. “They’ve just all gone to the same plastic surgeon.”

Scroll forward 10 years, and that’s what we might be seeing in Britain: the normalisation of cosmetic surgery and the plasticisation of our faces and bodies. For the increasing number of us going under the knife has been scarily unaffected by recession. Borrowing for cosmetic surgery is now the third most common reason for getting into debt.

This week, the Government published the responses to its consultation on regulating the industry. For a medical process that can cause disfigurement and even death, the rules are astonishingly lax. Any doctor can practice as a cosmetic surgeon, with no specialised experience or training. When patients go for a consultation, it’s as often with a sales rep as a surgeon. There is no cooling-off period to allow people to change their minds, and some clinics take non-refundable deposits on the spot. They offer buy-one-get-one-free deals, as if boob jobs were packets of cereal, and they even bombard 17-year-olds with texts offering them procedures at their next birthday.

If that weren’t shocking enough, turn to the back pages of any women’s glossy magazine. You’ll be promised happiness, confidence, self-esteem, and a better you. The ads are not, of course, selling psychotherapy or meditation lessons.

Prescription medicines can’t be advertised. So why do we allow advertising of major surgical interventions with questionable physical and psychological results? Yes, some people may be thrilled with their nose jobs or bigger breasts. But many aren’t. Some simply alight on another part of their body to hate. Some find that their smoother forehead doesn’t solve their relationship problems. Some have unsightly scars, eyelids that won’t shut or implants that rupture. Most chillingly, a whole clutch of studies has found that women with breast implants are three to four times more likely to commit suicide than those without. Whichever way the line of causation runs, it’s alarming.

Even the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons has called for a ban on advertising. Its President, Fazel Fatah, says, “ In no other area of surgery would one encounter Christmas vouchers and two-for-one offers – the pendulum has swung too far, and it is time for change… The Government is deluded if they think that the commercial sector will exercise self-regulation.”

So there is a lot that ministers can do to tighten up the industry. But we also need to look deeper and ask why women hate their bodies and faces so much that they are prepared to spend a fortune, suffer pain, and take serious risks in going under the knife. For this is an overwhelmingly female problem: women comprise 90 per cent of plastic surgery patients. And it starts early: Girlguiding UK found that 47 per cent of girls said that the pressure to look attractive was the most negative part of being female and half of young women aged 16 to 21 would consider cosmetic surgery. They’ve watched extreme makeover shows on TV, they’ve read bitchy criticism of any female celebrity’s slightest imperfection and they’ve been bombarded in the media by a narrow definition of beauty which the vast majority of them can never attain.

We are constantly being told that the ideal woman is an impossible combination of slender body and big tits, that she has flawless, unlined skin and freakishly long legs. The model herself doesn’t even look like that in real life – her features have been airbrushed and digitally manipulated to “perfection”. No wonder the rest of us feel inadequate.

Then we see women being chosen, as TV presenters or celebrity WAGs, entirely on the basis of their youth and beauty, not their intelligence or wisdom or kindness or humour. Men can age and be ugly in public life; women can’t. If we find that we’re invisible over the age of 50, possibly even 40, it’s not surprising that some of us are prepared to take drastic action just to make ourselves seen again.

It doesn’t have to be like this. For it’s actually in the fashion industry’s business interest to act differently. Studies have shown that women are more than twice as likely to buy an advertised outfit if the model is their size or age. They say they can better picture themselves in the clothes and they feel more beautiful and confident when the model reflects them.

Any doctor can practise as a cosmetic surgeon, with no specialised experience or training.

It would be good to see similar research on TV viewing figures. There’s a huge and growing older demographic, who are more likely to stay in and watch TV. I am sure ratings would go up if more older women appeared on their screens. When I conducted an informal focus group on this subject with younger women, even they said they wanted older role models and would prefer to see older women presenters.

So we could have a virtuous circle. If there were more body shapes and ages in ads and magazines, women would feel better about themselves and manufacturers would make more money. If female TV presenters were chosen for their talent and charisma (just as male ones are), not just their age and looks, women would feel better about themselves and viewing figures would rise. If broadcasters stopped showing programmes that normalised and sanitised plastic surgery, we would feel under less pressure to try it.

And then, perhaps, women could stop looking at themselves through a filter of self-hatred. They might start thinking, “I’m a fun person”, rather than “my nose is too big”. Instead of obsessing about how they look on the outside, they could start thinking about who they are on the inside.

For the truth is that no surgery in the world is going to change that, whatever the industry may claim. The “new you” comes from changing the way you think, not from the surgeon’s knife. It’s cheaper, it’s healthier, it’s safer and it’s longer-lasting. Don’t take it from me; listen to the President of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons himself: “There is an industry making money out of making people feel inadequate.” Yuck.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced