Cosmetic Surgery

The Pursuit of Perfection

"Imperfection is Beauty" - Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe famously said, "Imperfection is beauty," but to many, her beauty is perfection. Not only do people want it, but they will go to great lengths (cosmetic surgery) to have it. Cosmetic surgery is defined as, “the maintenance, restoration, or enhancement of one’s physical appearance through surgical and medical techniques" (1).

Swami V, Chamorro-Premuzic T, Bridges S, Furnham A. Acceptance of cosmetic surgery: Personality and individual difference predictors. Body Image. 2009;6:7–13

The Past of Altering

Altering our bodies in order to fit an ideal is, “neither a new, nor Western pursuit”(2). There are many past instances that qualify, as cosmetic “modifying” that were precursors to procedures.

In China, until the first ban in 1912, young children’s feet were bound in order to keep them at a dainty, childlike size. Unfortunately, this process resulted not only in lifelong pain, but also in life long deformation and disabilities(2).

Although close in geography, the Japanese did not share the feet binding tradition, but had a modifying practice of their own: skin lightening. This process was adopted by nearly 60% percent of Japanese women, because fair-skinned women were praised by men, and therefor paid higher wages for “their company” (2).

Another example is the whalebone corsets, which were worn until the early 1900s. These corsets made women’s breasts appear larger and their waists radically smaller, resulting in shifted organs and making deep (normal) breathing only a fantasy. Sadly, because of displaced organs and limited breathing ability, many women developed heart and digestion problems.

Perhaps the most extreme practice of cosmetic modification is the one preformed by the Kayan women of Thailand. They are called “giraffe” women because of the rings they wear around their necks to extend their silhouette, even though this practice results in significant bodily harm (bruising, discoloration, and disfiguration of bones) (2).

The Present, Still Altering

In 2013 in the United States:

- An increase of 279% in cosmetic procedures since 1997

- 15.1 million cosmetic procedures

a. About 2 million surgical cosmetic procedures

b. 13.4 million minimally-invasive cosmetic procedures

- Americans spent $12 billion on cosmetic procedures in just one year!

- People 25-50 years-old had the most procedures: over 4.7 million (42%)

- People < 18 accounted for 1%

- People > 65 accounted for 10%


- account for 91% of total cosmetic procedures

- 471% increase in women pursuing cosmetic procedures since 1997

- The top five surgical procedures for women in 2013 were:

a. breast augmentation

b. liposuction (fat removal)

c. abdominoplasty (tummy tuck)

d. breast lift

e. blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery)

Unsurprisingly, women are disproportionally represented in the cosmetic surgery/procedure statistics . . . BUT WHY?!?!?!?


Markey and Markey recently studied American women’s interest in pursuing cosmetic surgery. They found that all four factors they investigated were associated to the desire to get cosmetic surgery.

- body dissatisfaction*

- physical appearance

- teasing (Tayler's Story)

- media influence (5 hours of TV a day, 35 a week, 140 a month, 1,820 a year!)

- different treatment (Makenzie's Story)

- being image conscious (The "selfie": SnapChat, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)

The Costs (and not just the monetary ones)

- the confusing/ironic stigma (Bradley/April's Story)

- physical complications (Lindsey's Story) . . . quite literally, people are dying to look good.

The Sociological Point

“Before we see a change in the amount of women pursuing plastic surgery, we must first see a change in our society’s (and in our individual) attitudes and actions. When we, as a society and as individuals, stop treating people differently, and more adversely, based on things that they cannot change, we, hopefully, will see a reduction in the amount of people who pursue plastic surgery for self-esteem issues. If people do not feel embarrassed about how they look, if they do not feel targeted, or picked-on, they likely will have no motivation to change anything, because they will be content with the way look they look and the treatment they currently receive” (Peacock).

The connection between our society’s value on physical perfection and the individual lives of women is undeniable. My life, my sister’s life, my best friend’s life, your life, they are all affected by this larger social force, this cultural ideal, this social norm.