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Plastic surgery

Plastic surgery is the umbrella term for reconstructive surgery, to correct injuries or birth defects, and cosmetic surgery to change appearance. If you're tempted, here's what you need to know.

Girl looking sad

Plastic surgery is a big step - think about why you want to do it first.

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Why do people have surgery?

There are a multitude of reasons why people opt for plastic surgery. Sometimes it’s for a better body or perhaps for health reasons, but at other times it’s to boost self-esteem or please someone else.

“Knowing why you want surgery is important and should either justify your decision or ring warning bells for you,” warns Dr Linda Papadopoulos, a psychologist specialising in body image issues. “This is because the success or failure of plastic surgery is linked directly to your reasons for having it in the first place.” So if you’re hoping a procedure will turn you into magnet for the opposite sex you are more likely to see the operation as a failure.

Questions to ask before surgery:

Am I having surgery to conform to an ideal?

We are all affected by the pressure society puts on us to look a certain way, whether thinner, bigger or more like everyone else. If you feel pressurized or obliged to opt for surgery in order to help you fit in, then think again. While surgery can enhance your appearance, and improve an aspect of yourself you feel needs ‘fixing’, it can’t and won’t change who you are on the inside.

Am I having surgery to please someone else?

Having surgery to impress your friends, attract a partner or please a loved one is never a good idea. Firstly, surgery to gain approval rarely works. And secondly, you need to be realistic about how much your looks can influence your life for better or worse.

Am I having surgery in the hope it will make me perfect?

This is an important question and one of the signposts on the road to plastic surgery addiction. Surgery can definitely help boost your confidence but if you feel it’s the way to bodily perfection it’s likely you won’t know where to stop.

Am I having surgery because I think it will bring me fame and fortune?

Trying to follow fashion in the hope your face or breasts, biceps or flat stomach will bring you fame and fortune is a waste of time. Fashionable bodies swing from Kate-Moss-skinny to Marilyn Monroe’s generous 1950s curves. Today’s perfect body is tomorrow’s washed-up one.

Am I having surgery to improve a physical part of myself?

If you are opting to have surgery to improve just one area you are unhappy with, or fix something you feel isn’t right, then you are probably thinking about surgery for the right reasons.

When can surgery help?

While it’s obvious how reconstructive surgery can help change people’s lives, it’s also worth knowing cosmetic surgery can do the same, albeit to a lesser degree. Cosmetic surgery can correct things you may feel hugely uncomfortable with, such as large breasts that give you back ache, or improve a nose or ears that you have always been teased about. The result can help boost your confidence and enable you to start making changes in your life and becoming happier.

Will surgery help me to be less self-critical about myself?

If your self-esteem is so low that you are depressed and view yourself as ‘ugly’ or ‘beyond help’ then all the surgery in the world isn’t going to change matters. Instead you need to work on changing the way you view yourself. Ask your doctor (GP) for a referral to a counsellor.

Will surgery help if I have BDD?

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is defined as a person’s preoccupation with one or more perceived defects in his or her appearance that causes a large amount of anxiety and distress. Surgery doesn’t improve BDD as this disorder is about your perception of yourself. If you think this may be a problem for you see your GP for advice and to get a referral to a specialist NHS BDD clinic.

Who can help me decide if plastic surgery is right for me?

Aside from gathering as much information as you can on the procedure and talking to other people who have had plastic surgery, any good plastic surgeon will talk you through your reasons for wanting surgery and be honest with you about the outcome. The Find A Surgeon section on the BAAPS (British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons) website has a list of surgeons that are held to strict ethical standards by BAAPS. You should also talk to the people who know you best and ask for their honest opinions.

What are the alternatives to plastic surgery?

If you are living with an injured appearance or one you consider disfiguring, the charity Changing Faces can offer advice, support and information on how to enhance your self-esteem and confidence.

Photo of girl by volunteer photographer Rebecca Hancock

Next Steps

  • Visit Madly in Love to discuss mental health and relationships, share stories and get support and advice.
    • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
    • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

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Updated on 07-Aug-2014

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