Perfectly Imperfect – Does cosmetic surgery improve emotional well-being?

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One of my favourite things to do on these cold, snowy weekends in Zug is to lie on the couch with my husband and watch the “classics”. My husband infected me with his enthusiasm for old movies. This weekend it was “Vertigo” from Alfred Hitchcock, where Kim Novak impressed me with her natural beauty, elegance and attractiveness.

Self-Reflection and Perception

When I watched her playing the role of Madeleine/ Judy, I was immediately reminded of the moral debate concerning aesthetic surgery after her appearance at the Oscars a few years back. A visage all-too-apparently disfigured by aesthetic surgery. “Disgusting, awkward, depressing” these were all the comments from bystanders…and don’t even begin to describe the media blitz.

And whilst you can objectively say that there were procedures done wrong in her case, she answered back pointing out that she feels happier after them. Although I strongly believe that cosmetic surgery should only have as main aim a nice, aesthetic result, I find it hard to judge people for their decisions. Especially when they claim it makes them feel more confident and happier.

The big question: Does cosmetic surgery make people happier?

We all have often wondered what it would be like to get aesthetic surgery. It does not matter who you are or where you live, at one point or another there has always been something that you wish that you could change about your appearance. An increasing number of people are choosing to have cosmetic surgery to change what they for themselves deem as physical imperfections and to improve their self-esteem.

Many doubt though that cosmetic surgery can improve these subjective factors, such as self-esteem or happiness. Thankfully, research provides some answers.

Schönheitsop macht glücklich - Dr. Kelly Zug

Science delivers answers

A very interesting research published in Clinical Psychological Sciencereports that aesthetic surgery patients could experience more joy in life, a higher sense of satisfaction and greater self-esteem.

When comparing the results of the psychological tests of the surgical patients to those who had not had cosmetic surgery, people who went under the knife had higher self-esteem, experienced less anxiety and felt healthier overall. Additionally, those who opted for the procedure reported that they were happier with their bodies as a whole.

Cosmetic surgery is indeed linked to self-esteem

The results of the above study are not new in medicine. It has long been known that appearance is linked to self-esteem.

When you feel more comfortable in your own skin then your outlook on life is bound to change as well. In general, you will be much happier and you will be able to concentrate more on the quality of your personal and professional life due to the fact that you will not be distracted by the problems with your own appearance. For women who have had children this can be especially true as their body might have changed in numerous ways. And believe me, I can tell you a thing or two about it – it happened to me too.

Women like me had a breast augmentation, tummy tuck, liposuction, a breast lift, breast reduction or a complete face lift, to feel more attractive.

A surgery should be very well thought of

As aesthetic surgery is in most cases body and life transforming, it is important to make sure that it is really something that you wish to have done. In addition, recovery time can range from a couple of weeks to longer than six weeks depending on the procedure that you wish to have done. It is imperative that you get adequate care and take time to rest so that all of the changes have time to heal properly.

Schönheitsoperation macht glücklich - Dr. Kelly Zug

But plastic surgery isn't the key to self-esteem.

In the world that we live in, it is difficult to ignore the social imposition on the standards of beauty. It is quite harsh, but it is a fact that the majority’s preference becomes an unannounced trend (e.g. Brazilian Butt Lift). Those who don’t fall under that standard, naturally question their image. “Is there something wrong with me?” And so they lose their self esteem. Some see cosmetic surgery as the answer to that. When I realize that in one of my patients, I address them with the question: “Would you really change your appearance just because society imposes on you?”

We are not objects that have to look perfect.

I would agree with what the psychological studies show about cosmetic surgery and how it may help some who suffer from problems with their self esteem and body image. I build with the time my own statistics supporting the published studies, when I see how happy my patients come back after an aesthetic surgery.

However, I do not recommend such a drastic approach to everyone. There are certain risks, no matter how small, to having surgery. I prefer to communicate that clearly and honestly with my patients. Sometimes I even question what motivates them, when I realize through the consultation that they are looking for aesthetic surgery to raise their self-esteem. I just tell them that the best answer to raise your self-esteem is to look at your attitudes towards yourself and your appearance. Ideally we should understand what value we have as a person. We are not objects who must look perfect. We are unique individuals and yes, some times with imperfections.