When discussions of “plastic surgery” arise, we often picture someone who’s “had work done”: women with oversized breasts and pumped up fish lips and men with facelifts that look downright windblown. We generally consider plastic surgery only in the shallowest terms, as something people do for only cosmetic reasons.
The “plastic” in plastic surgery comes from the Greek word “plastikos,” which roughly means “able to be molded” (Princeton). So, “plastic surgery” refers to a surgery intended to “mold” or alter the body in some physical, visible way. The problem with out perception of plastic surgery is that the umbrella term of “plastic surgery” actually covers to very different kinds of surgeries: reconstructive and cosmetic.
Not only that, it gets complicated when these surgeries get blurred. As it turns out, many of those who seek plastic surgery may be doing it to improve their confidence, but also to improve their success in the workplace.
What is “Reconstructive” versus “Cosmetic” Surgery?
The key here is “reconstructive” versus “cosmetic” surgery.
“Reconstructive” surgery refers to surgery that alters the body in appearance but is intended to fix something that reduces the quality of life of the patient on a physical level. For example, correct cleft palates, breast reductions, and skin grafts are all considered reconstructive surgeries (American Society of Plastic Surgeons).
“Cosmetic” surgery refers to surgery that alters the appearance for cosmetic reasons but does not have a functional value. Examples of this are facelifts, breast implants, and tummy tucks.
Should Plastic Surgery Be Covered by Insurance?
However, at times, both “reconstructive” and “cosmetic” surgeries fall into the “plastic” surgery category. Sometimes they even overlap, which is what makes it difficult to determine whether or not plastic surgery should be included in an insurance plan. And sometimes the line gets blurred.
For example, 14-year-old Nadia Ilse suffered merciless teasing at the hands of her classmates for her large, pronounced ears, among other things. She received $400,000 in free cosmetic work, from a foundation called the Little Baby Face Foundation, which works with children with deformities. The Little Baby Face Foundation says that they gave her the confidence she so desired (ABC). While Nadia didn’t suffer any physical issues from her features, they were considered to appear “deformed” and caused intensely negative self-esteem.
In a study done on children who’ve had their ears pinned back, a look at 30 children who’d had the surgery found that it improved the well-being of 90% of the children (British Journal of Plastic Surgery). And other studies have demonstrated that those with mild deformities are often ostracized from society and suffer socially for their appearance, even if they’re appearance isn’t out of the realm of acceptability for their culture (British Medical Journal).
Nadia Ilse’s story represents the strange in-between in plastic surgery. None of her features were detrimental or non-functioning, but they did affect her life to a debilitating degree. This begs certain questions: What is “deformed”? How far must one deviate from the norm to be considered “deformed”? Is there really a definitive line between necessarily and cosmetic?
Is There a Stigma Against People Who Are Unattractive?
While we may tout acceptance, there is a social stigma against people who are not conventionally attractive. These individuals face the same sort of economic and interpersonal issues as women and minorities in many ways. For example, they’re less likely to be hired and less accepted in general (Psychological Review). Those with physical deformities are less likely to marry and suffered more teasing at the hands of their peers.
Overall, researchers find that adults considered attractive are more popular and more successful than their less attractive peers (Maxims of Myths of Beauty). And children considered attractive have an easier time with dating and also perform better. And while there is a long-held belief that there isn’t an agreement on who is attractive, research seems to suggest that there actually is a general agreement on who is attractive.
Does Plastic Surgery Help Success?
Researchers have found that plastic surgery can alter the overall perception one has of one’s self. This seems evident, but elective cosmetic surgeries can improve the overall satisfaction that patients have with their appearances. Those who were likely not to feel this way were factors associated with “poor psychosocial outcome included being young, being male, having unrealistic expectations of the procedure, previous unsatisfactory cosmetic surgery, minimal deformity, motivation based on relationship issues, and a history of depression, anxiety, or personality disorder” (Plastic Reconstructive Surgery).
Why does this matter?
There are a few reasons. One study found that attractive workers had more confidence that equated into more wages. It also found that employers tended to think that attractive workers were more competent, even when they weren’t. And, finally, attractive workers had better oral and social skills, likely because they were, and had been, more popular throughout their lives (The American Economic Review).
Attractiveness affects not only how others perceive you, but also how your perceive yourself. Having more confidence and also actually being more attractive helps in terms of social, career, and romantic success. For those who feel they have physical features that are not considered attractive, plastic surgery is a viable option for remedying the issues that low self-confidence and perhaps very deformed features might cause.
Confidence and attractiveness can make you more successful. Attractiveness affects not only how others perceive you, but also how your perceive yourself. Period.
For some, certain features appear to be very far from what is considered “attractive,” which can make them less confident and also take away from their potential success. For these people, cosmetic surgery is a viable solution for these problems.
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