I’ve been in the business of plastic surgery for almost 30 years (longer if you count my training years) and I have noticed firsthand the life-changing power of this specialty. There are many examples from the reconstructive side of this field in restoring normal form and function to such problems as cleft lips, breast reconstruction, or facial reconstruction after trauma.
However, many people are surprised to hear that cosmetic surgery can be equally powerful and transformative. So the question is: does cosmetic surgery change who you are? Well, no…and yes.
To answer this, let me give you some examples and by the way, these are all stories of patients I have seen.
First let’s take an extreme example: major body contouring surgery after massive weight loss. This is something that I am seeing more and more. When someone loses a massive amount of weight (defined as greater than 100 lbs.) either through diet and exercise or bariatric surgery, there is always a lot of skin that is left behind.
My patient is a guy who had gone from 400 lbs. down to 180 lbs. over the period of two years with diet and exercise. He is now at a great weight and fit as a fiddle. But when he looks at himself in the mirror, he sees all this excess skin and still sees himself as massively overweight, but of course he is not.
Not until this skin is surgically removed will he begin to change his image of himself as that of someone who is at a normal weight. These observations have been scientifically validated by the Ford Foundation as I discuss on this video.
So is he a different person after surgery?
Clearly I have not changed who he is by removing 5 to 10 lbs. of skin. But, what has changed is how he sees himself and more importantly how he feels about who he is. And this, I think, is the crux of the matter. Cosmetic surgery does not change people. However, it can change how they feel about themselves and this can certainly change their behavior.
A Mommy Makeover can be life-changing as well.
A woman has had several children and is very self-conscious about her body, specifically her breasts and abdomen. She will not get undressed when the lights are on, or let the man she loves see her body when she is naked. This is more common than you might think. After a Mommy Makeover, she began to behave totally differently because now she feels good about how she looks for herself and for her husband. The love between them has not changed, nor have they. Instead, how she views herself her has changed and this, in turn, has changed her behavior – for the better, I hasten to add.
The area where I see some of the most profound changes is with women undergoing breast enlargement.
Let us, at the onset, dispense with the rare case when a woman wants to go as big as possible or look like a “porn star” (her words not mine). The majority of women I see for breast augmentation have always been small chested. Whether or not this is something that a husband or boyfriend cares deeply about, it is a huge concern for her. It bothers her when she looks in the mirror, or tries to find a dress that is flattering or a bathing suit top that will stay on when she jumps in the pool. As I have said, this is a major concern for her and not a trivial one at that.
After having breast implants I see – outwardly – almost a totally different woman in terms of happiness, confidence, and overall well-being. I have not changed who she is (and neither has Allergan), but the new image she has of herself has had a liberating effect on how she lives her life.
When the outward appearance finally matches the inner person, there can be profound changes.
Frequently these changes in how the patient feels or behaves can be infectious. Certainly it can rub off on a partner, family members, or even co-workers. These are generally very positive changes. Again, plastic surgery has not changed the inner person, but it has allowed the outer appearance to match the inner person. This is something I will often say to all of my patients.
Understanding this really underscores how important plastic surgery can be to those who chose to have it. It can be of help or reassurance to those who have concerns about seeking it. It is important. It is beneficial. It’s for real.
All the best,
David B. Reath, MD