Research Paper

by Alyssa Reeves
March 13, 2006 for Senior Honors English 

Mirror, Mirror:

The Price of Perfection

            Since ancient civilians first noticed their reflections on the surface of a pond or river, people have been obsessed with their physical appearance.  A recent survey done by a popular magazine proved nearly half of teenagers reported feeling dissatisfied with their bodies (Alagna 13).  Young people most often have someone whom they admire or an ideal image of how they want to look.  According to “Smooth Operations,” an article in Newsweek, Tanisha Rollins spent several years desiring to have a body like Janet Jackson’s.  When her abdominal workout routine failed to produce results, she paid $50,000 for a tummy tuck (Carmichael and Samuels 48). 

Every year, an increasing number of Americans are turning to aesthetic procedures to fix flaws that may not even exist in the first place.  Cosmetic surgery is an increasingly popular yet unnecessary practice that should be discouraged.

            Until recently, cosmetic surgery was fairly uncommon.  “. . . 8.3 million Americans had procedures in 2003, up 20 percent from the previous year and nearly 300 percent from six years earlier” (“Facing Off Over Plastic Surgery” 60).  This strong statistic of escalating popularity confirms beliefs that this surgery is effective. 

Cosmetic surgery, which is used to reshape natural parts of the body, includes procedures such as abdominoplasties (tummy tucks), blepharoplasties (eyelid surgery), rhinoplasties (nose reshaping), breast augmentations, dermabrasions, and liposuction (Alagna 22+).

            Since current advertisements are constantly stressing the importance of losing weight and getting in shape, liposuction has become the most popular procedure nationwide.  “Liposuction is the removal of fat.  People get fat sucked from under their eyes to make the bags under their eyes go away” (Alagna 12).  Liposuction, more formally known as lipoplasty, is used when dieting and exercise simply do not produce desired results.

            Weight loss is just one of the motives behind opting for cosmetic surgery.  “Putting Your Best Face Forward,” an article in Psychology Today, asserted that Americans’ obsession with changing their looks has been “a part of American life” for as long as our founding fathers have been around (48).  In an age where technology lies at the fingertips of nearly every person, the media has an enormous influence on the way people determine what is attractive.  “[T]he average American spends four hours a day watching television. . . . [F]our hours a day spent watching television means four hours a day of unconscious reinforcement that genuine human worth dwells in the phenomenon of being watched” (“Putting Your Best Face Forward” 49).  As a result, companies develop marketing schemes such as showing the transformation that may occur with the use of a single bottle of makeup.

            In Hollywood, one expert argues that cosmetic surgery is more essential than excessive.  “‘For actresses, their looks are their jobs,’ Dr. Guanche explains. ‘People come in saying they’re losing auditions.  It’s not an issue of vanity.  It’s a necessity’” (qtd. in “Facing Off Over Plastic Surgery” 60).  With technological advancements being made every day, one would believe computer touch-up and alteration programs would substitute an actor’s need to actually change his or her body.

            Not only do the media encourage physical renovations through commercials, cosmetic surgery is now being encompassed in reality television.  Some doctors claim reality shows such as Fox’s The Swan or ABC’s Extreme Makeover actually help prove plastic surgery can enhance one’s self-esteem (“Plastic Nation” 7).  This may be true.  Teens going under the knife sometimes see successful results.  One girl who was unhappy with the size of her nose got a rhinoplasty for her seventeenth birthday.  She “no longer gets teased. ‘I look normal now,’ she says” (qtd. in Springen 59).

            But is it really necessary for teens to get surgery in the first place?  Perhaps cosmetic surgery is an attempt to correct psychological insecurities that are more than skin deep.

Our sense of ourselves . . . is formed by our imagination of the way we appear in the eyes of others.  Other people are a looking glass in which we see not merely our own reflection but a judgment about the value of that reflection. . . . If we are lucky, we feel pride in that imagined self; if not, we feel mortification.  (“Putting Your Best Face Forward” 48)

Maybe patients seeking to transform their lives by receiving a nose job over Christmas break should first sign up for an appointment with a psychologist.

            Another common yet more understandable stimulus for surgery is health reasons.  One of the most common procedures, breast reduction, may be performed for medical purposes.  Teens who choose to decrease their breast size can “ease strain on the back, help them stand up straighter,” and have an increased self-esteem (“Plastic Surgery”).

            As suggested by the growing number of teen patients, plastic surgery is no longer solely for the rich and famous.  People from nearly every walk of life are going under the knife. 

Obviously race plays no factor in the decision to choose cosmetic surgery.  Mary Carmichael and Allison Samuels support this detail with a staggering statistic: “The number of blacks seeking facial or reconstructive surgery more than tripled between 1997 and 2002, reflecting both the growing affluence of African-Americans and the subtle easing of some long-held cultural taboos against such procedures” (48).  In the present time, blacks are but a percentage of those choosing to change.

            Stereotypically, Hollywood bigwigs are another group of regular patients.  Celebrities are often signing up for cosmetic procedures, seeing these as common as fake tans or teeth-whitening.  Nicole Richie, costar of The Simple Life, asked, “‘Why grow old gracefully when you have the technology to prevent it’” (qtd. in “Facing Off Over Plastic Surgery” 60)?  Not all icons feel the same about this issue.  Gwen Stefani, a popular pop star, finds motherhood a good enough reason to avoid going under the knife.  She says she hopes her children “will save me from my vanity . . . It sucks to grow older.  We all have to accept it” (qtd. in “Facing Off Over Plastic Surgery” 61).

            Nevertheless, gender does attest to being a dynamic of cosmetic surgery patients.  “Among the 8.2 million cosmetic procedures conducted last year, 87 percent of them were done to women” (“Repaint, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand” 45).  Though a universal typecast would hold women as being the vainer of the two sexes, an increasing number of men are heading to the clinics.  “Last year more than 99,000 men signed up for liposuction, eyelid surgery, and face-lifts” (“Our Quest to Be Perfect” 55).  Cosmetic surgery is becoming increasingly popular.

            Though common motives behind cosmetic surgery include a desire to look more youthful, teens find bliss in receiving procedures as birthday or graduation gifts.  “A teen may decide to have his ears reshaped if they stick out from his head a lot or opt for cosmetic surgery to correct a large bump on his nose” (“Plastic Surgery”). 

It is not a surprise that young people feel the need to improve their looks.  Their parents, perhaps the biggest influence in their lives, account for nearly half of plastic surgery or cosmetic surgery patients (“Repaint, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand” 44).  Doug Podolsky and Betsy Streisand, two writers for the U.S. News & World Report reported that “[T]he baby boomers, surely the most self-indulgent and youth-obsessed generation in history, are turning 50 at the rate of one every 7 seconds.  This is a crowd whose self-image does not include a turkey neck” (72).  A number of younger critics laugh at these statistics.

[I]t seems at least a bit ironic that the very generation that so recently bemoaned their children’s tendency to decorate their torsos and appendages with body-piercing rings and colorful tattoos should be rushing in such number to tummy tuckers and lipo suckers. (“Repaint, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand” 45)

Nevertheless, no social group is liberated from low self-esteem or an obsession with oneself.  This risky surgery is becoming a family tradition among the races.

            As with any medical practice, the fees are substantial.  Most people are willing to pay anything to improve their looks.  They turn to cosmetic surgery for “luscious lips” and a “flatter stomach” in order to feel attractive (Alagna 14).  With surgeries reaching into the thousands of dollars, patients often give up vacations or other luxuries to afford their new look.  U.S. News & World Report offered the price tags of several of the most common procedures: face-lift ($5,600 to $12,100), liposuction ($2,650 to $9,100), tummy tuck ($4,900 to $7,800), calf implants ($3,000), breast enlargement ($4,500 to $8,500) and pectoral implants ($4,000) (Podolsky and Streisand 74).

            The drive to be perfect seems untamable.  In her book Everything You Need to Know Abut the Dangers of Cosmetic Surgery, Magdalena Alagna insisted:

These people are led on by the goal of perfection as it is pitched to them by movies, television, magazines, billboards, and the advertising that brings home the message that our culture does not value anyone but the thin, the young, and the attractive. (9)

For those who view surgery as an only option, there are several factors to consider.  First, be sure a patient really wants the surgery.  If the patient is a child, he or she must have realistic goals and sufficient maturity.  A major determinant in selecting surgery is the cost.  And finally, patients should seek the advice of their doctor or pediatrician (Springen 60).

            A number of surgeries go as planned.  A patient feels as though he or she has a new grasp on life and approaches with more confidence.  However, not all surgeries are completely successful.  A thirty-nine year old woman getting liposuction went into cardiac arrest and died.  Her husband was devastated.  “‘It was supposed to be a touch-up procedure. . . . [A]ll she had was a fatty area above her belly button’” (qtd. in Alagna 50).  The reason for such tragedies may be lack of training by doctors.  “Board-certified plastic surgeons spend years in specialized training, but anybody with a medical degree can perform cosmetic procedures” (“Our Quest to Be Perfect” 53).  Despite this horrific fact, people still see beauty as worth the risk.

            Decades ago, cosmetic surgery was not even an option.  A’ine McCarthy offered several suggestions to help stop negative messages which encourage plastic surgery including picking up a magazine and sharing with friends the intent behind the messages, writing complaint letters about the way girls and women are portrayed in the media, building others up, and loving oneself (13).  For a person with low self-esteem who is considering surgery, he or she should first bear in mind that self-consciousness fades over time.  Also, weight control and exercise are the keys to keeping in good shape; a good method for dealing with emotional problems, a common force behind surgery, is through a therapist (“Plastic surgery”).

            An article in U.S. Catholic asserted the importance of seeking alternatives to cosmetic surgery.  Instead of reality shows such as The Swan and Extreme Makeover, producers should pursue a series titled Fresh Veggies and Fruits for the Junk Food Guy.  Extreme measures could be taken such as destroying fast good franchises to build food co-ops.  For those living close to their desired destinations, a bike could be ridden to work in place of driving.  Perhaps a national trend could lead to an increasing popularity of taking the bus (“Repaint, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand” 45).

            Some argue cosmetic surgery is simply morally wrong.  As children of God, every person needs to realize attractiveness is more than skin-deep.  The Bible is full of verses stressing the importance of inner-beauty.  In Bible times, makeovers were considered fairly popular, too, but came in a different form.  “Jesus was into makeovers. . . . When Jesus encountered people, he called them to radically change their lives, to transform their basic ways of thinking, feeling, and acting” (“Repaint, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand” 46).  The ideas and ways of thinking in today’s society are warped in comparison to those of the past.  People need to see themselves through God’s eyes, as being worthy based on their heart, not their physical appearance.

Our consumer culture sees makeovers as a commodity, something we need to purchase on a regular basis. . . . [b]ut the makeover Jesus wants is different.  This makeover is a change of heart, a metanoia, or conversion, that reverses the very direction of our lives. (“Repaint, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand” 46).

If a person needs to find a good reason to opt out of surgery, perchance her faith will prove to be enough.

            Thus, cosmetic surgery is a dangerous and unnecessary practice that should be discouraged.  “Many Americans have given up on changing the world and have decided to change themselves instead” (“Putting Your Best Face Forward” 49).  Anyone considering cosmetic surgery needs to first consider the alternatives.  Remember, there are a plethora of complications that often accompany surgery which can be as severe as death.  Also, the costs of procedures run into thousands of dollars. 

            Cosmetic surgery may not even be necessary.  “Some people become obsessed with the way they look, having multiple plastic surgeries, sometimes to correct nonexistent or minimal flaws.  Surgery might change your face, but it can’t magically transform your life” (“Plastic Nation” 7).  Is spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on fixing something that is not broken worth it?

            The motives behind all groups who select cosmetic surgery most often include distorted vies of what is attractive.  “[F]or many people, plastic surgery is about looking good to feel better.  The Hollywood images may help perpetuate the idea that everything from subtle changes to more involved procedures will improve your life. . . .” (“Why More Blacks Are Choosing Plastic Surgery” 101).  The fact is clear: cosmetic surgery is a decision made for all the wrong reasons.  Until the world can live in an environment free of reflections, society will forever be paying the price of perfection.


Works Cited

Alagna, Magdalena.  Everything You Need to Know About the Dangers of Plastic   Surgery.  New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 2002.

Carmichael, Mary, and Allison Samuels.  “Smooth Operations.” Newsweek 5 July 2004:    48-49.

“Facing Off Over Plastic Surgery.” People 18 Oct. 2004: 60-64.

McCarthy, A’ine. “Cut It Out.” New Moon Mar./Apr. 2003: 12-13.

“Our Quest to be Perfect.” Newsweek 9 Aug. 1999: 52-59.

“Plastic Nation.” Teen Newsweek 19 Apr. 2004: 7+.

“Plastic Surgery.” Teenshealth 1 May 2003: n. pag.

Podolsky, Doug, and Betsy Streisand. “The Price of Vanity.” U.S. News & World Report 14 Oct. 1996: 72-74+.

“Putting Your Best Face Forward.” Psychology Today May/June 2004: 48-49.

Repaint, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand.” U.S. Catholic May 2004: 44-46.

Springen, Karen. “Kids Under the Knife.” Newsweek 1 Nov. 2004: 59-60.

“Why More Blacks Are Choosing Plastic Surgery.” Ebony Aug. 2004: 100-2+.