Can Plastic Surgery Make You More Successful?

Skin Care
Going under the knife could help improve your success in your social, work, and romantic life.

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?

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether something is reconstructive or cosmetic.

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?

One common plastic surgery operation is to pin back ears on children, which has been shown to improve self-image.

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?

How attractive you are can play quite a role in how popular you are.

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?

This woman has an easier time gaining success because she’s attractive.

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.

Bottom Line

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.

What are your thoughts on this issue?  Let us know in comments below!

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  • Angela Elizabeth

    There have been a lot of studies (which seem to have mostly been done between the 70’s and 80’s) that have shown how much being unattractive affects a person’s lives. Most studies were focused on how being attractive affects someone’s lives, but there are many that do look at both sides. The saying is “What is beautiful is good” where being attractive also comes with positive associations, like kindness and intelligence.

    Even small “disfigurements” like birth marks or acne lead to stigmatization. Less likely to be employed, lower wages if they are lucky enough to be employed, given less appealing jobs and tasks, seen as less competent, less intelligent, less social, less friendly, etc.

    Even parents and teachers have been shown to apply positive traits of attractive children, and apply negative traits to unattractive children. Studies were done using photos of children attached to information about the child, although the information was fabricated and all the children were given the same information.

    In cases of mental health and criminal activity attractive people are seen favourably, and unattractive people are seen unfavourably. Unattractive people are given longer sentences, and seen as less mentally stable.

    In the case of children with birth defects, it seems they are more likely to be accepted by their parents than children who were just born with unfortunate features. But unattractive children are more likely to experience abuse by their parents than average or attractive children.

    These studies were done before social media, so imagine what it is like for kids now. If you have any sort of “defect” it can be photographed and spread online. More than just classmates can pick apart your flaws. People call other people ugly when they do not have any physical defects. It’s going to be even harder for children who do. And the bullying doesn’t stop when you’re an adult. The stigma and mental health issues will continue.

  • Maggie

    It didn’t feel as if it was so long ago when people were discussing having a special tax for cosmetic surgical procedures. I think one of the proponents against this sort of measure was one of the top feminist organizations–bc it was believed that many women do indeed get cosmetic surgery to increase their chances of success.

    In some ways, I agree with Julia mostly because I don’t think there is a solid definition of what a “minor” deformity is–beauty standards change so much through time and space. It’s more important to teach young children to discover and embrace themselves and to suss out their own standards in life rather than trying to mold them into someone else’s. If it remains an issue when they’re older–that’s a different story.

    I remembered reading an article going into how some agent insisted that Lea Michelle (Glee star) should get a nose job when she was just a child–and luckily, Michelle’s mother put her foot down, citing that if Barbara Streissand didn’t need it, then neither did her daughter. Lea Michelle is now quite gorgeous and successful–even with her slightly larger nose. I’m also quite glad that her mother cited a good role model for her daughter.

  • I read about that girl somewhere else and I have to say, I was horrified. The doctor seems to have suggested other procedures as well – to a kid. In what kind of society do we live that we would rather operate on a child than teach our children that bullying isn’t acceptable?

  • Alyzze

    I’ve been saying this for years. Thank you for affirming it!

  • Natalie Bell

    Thank you, Tiffany! I’m not sure there’s a straight answer on how it compares to other therapies because I think it often depends on the extent to which someone is considered “deformed” and subsequently ostracized. However, it appears that having counseling even if one choses to get surgery can be extremely helpful.

    And in addition to ear pinning, the doctor worked on her nose and chin. I’m sorry that I didn’t make that clear in the article!

  • Great piece, Natalie! I think I’m sold on paying for people to get some plastic surgery for appearance remodeling. Is it just as good as other therapies/techniques to build confidence or superior?

    Also, any idea how ear pinning surgery cost 400k? Did they have to build her new ears?

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