Welcome to the youth of America’s media experience.
Popular magazines such as Glamour and Cosmopolitan plaster images
of idyllic beauties across their pages and help make the idea of
cosmetic surgery more acceptable to its readers. TV shows like
“The O.C.” openly discuss the presence of cosmetic
operations in the nation, particularly for young patients.
“Extreme Makeover” and MTV’s “I Want a
Famous Face” portray cosmetic surgery as an integral part of
their participants’ makeover sessions.

With the plethora of makeover shows on television today, the
concept of cosmetic surgery has become far less taboo. Less than a
decade ago, celebrities were reluctant to admit they elected to
have such operations, fearing viewers would consider them too vain.
Jennifer Grey would not disclose that she had a nose job after
“Dirty Dancing,” but only a few years later, she guest
starred on sitcoms mocking her long-concealed operation. Michael
Jackson continuously denied undergoing plastic surgery in the past;
last year, he revealed that he did have minor work done on his
face. The culture is changing, and so is the media’s coverage
of it. However, an often overlooked aspect of the plastic surgery
field is reconstructive surgery.

William Kuzon, a professor in the plastic surgery section of the
Medical School, says, “Plastic surgery is, by far, the most
diverse of all the surgical specialties. We operate from the top of
the head to the tip of the toe for people of all ages. We treat
every conceivable kind of pathology (burns, hand trauma,
malignancies, congenital malformations, etc.).”

Reconstructive surgery more often revolves around the
restoration of an area of the body rather than an enhancement of
it. Such operations are usually part of the treatment for a disease
or trauma. For instance, burn victims can undergo a variety of
reconstructive surgeries to repair skin damage from the trauma.
Many women seek breast reduction surgeries to ease their discomfort
and aid chronic back problems. As a result, this kind of work
requires a great deal of knowledge, adaptability and skill from its
surgeons.

“Plastic surgeons consider themselves to be the virtuoso
performers among surgeons. The old saying is ‘Plastic surgery
is general surgery done better,’ ” Kuzon explains.

Despite the benefits of this field, media representation has
been relatively low compared to its cosmetic counterpart. While
stations like MTV and The Learning Channel also air programs
addressing can dates for reconstructive surgery, the frequency of
these shows pales in comparison to the popular media’s
emphasis on cosmetics.

Communications Prof. Susan Douglas says, “Every once in a
while you get these horror stories: liposuction gone awry …
I don’t know that the media adequately cover how painful some
of this can be, how long the recovery period can be.”

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the
number of cosmetic surgeries performed in 2003 rose 32 percent over
the previous year, capping at more than 8.7 million operations.
Women dominated the charts, electing to undergo surgeries for
approximately 82 percent of all cosmetic surgeries, but the trend
is growing for men as well. In fact, men were most likely to select
nose reshaping as their surgery of choice.

Though this candid media representation encourages open
discussion among famous and nonfamous people, the increased
coverage has sparked some concern among viewers. Douglas notes,
“I think two things have contributed powerfully to the
plastic surgery boom. One is increased ageism, increased fear of
getting old and the fact that more women are being allowed to age
on television … they’re allowed to stay in the
business, but they have to look young.”

Last year, patients aged 35 to 50 comprised 40 percent of all
surgeries performed. Women were more likely to choose liposuction
as their first choice of operation, but others included nose
reshaping, breast augmentation, eyelid surgery and facelifts.

“The other thing is that there’s a very particular
body type that emerged in the ’90s and the early 21st century
that was the ideal, and it’s an almost impossible body type
to have,” Douglas continues. “It’s very slim, so
it’s Twiggy with boobs … Let’s not forget that
this is a very profitable industry. There’s a lot of money to
be made in making women feel like they can never have eye bags or
wrinkles.”

“We’re continuously urged to look at ourselves and
scrutinize ourselves, scrutinize our pores, our wrinkles, our
faces. We’re supposed to look inward. I think that’s
pretty dangerous for all of us, whatever our ages … are
urged to look inward when there’s a huge important dangerous
world out there, and that’s where we need to be looking, not
at our pores,” Douglas warns.

Yet, the new ideal of youth and beauty is not the only reason
for this rapid shift in perceptions. Kuzon agrees that the aging
population and media hype contribute to an increased emphasis on
surgical beautification. He also attributes the change to the fact
that “procedures are safer and, most importantly, cheaper
than in the past.” Technological advances have allowed
surgeons the opportunity to work with smaller and smaller areas of
the body with precision, and patients are counseled on the risks
associated with their choice.

Although media coverage has helped to downplay the controversy
surrounding cosmetic surgeries in general, plastic surgeons still
encounter common misconceptions of the field as a whole. While some
surgeons prefer the cosmetic aspect of their field, others spend
the majority of their time exploring reconstructive operations,
which the media sometimes cover to a lesser degree.

Douglas concludes, “For some people, plastic surgery
really makes a difference … I think (the message)
we’re getting now is like we’re all supposed to do
this, and that’s what I think is where it’s getting
absurd.”

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