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Psychology of the New Body

Authored by Jimin Kim

Art by Joan Rong


“My waist is too thick.” “My shoulders are too narrow.” Our body image is heavily influenced by social norms and what is defined as the ideal beauty type. This is especially heightened during puberty, as teenagers go through many physical changes, and thus are more vulnerable to the opinion of others. [1] We call the parts that do not align with the social norm “flaws.” In order to cover those flaws and to better present themselves to others, many people undergo plastic surgery to fix their beauty. 


Plastic surgery is known as one of the world’s oldest healing arts — allowing people to improve and restore their body form and function. However, there is a negative view of these procedures, as society labels those that undergo plastic surgery as “fake.” 

Not only does the surgical procedure change our physical appearance, but it also affects our psychological processes and our personality. 


Studies have shown that there is a difference between patients’ psychological status before and after cosmetic surgeries. Between the 1950s and 1960s, plastic surgeons at Johns Hopkins Hospital interviewed patients and found that a majority had mental illnesses. The surgical procedures significantly improved the emotional health of psychologically disturbed patients. [2]. 


From those that seek plastic surgery, “narcissistic and histrionic personality disorders and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) are the three most common psychiatric conditions.” [2] Those with BDD have lower self-esteem and higher levels of perfectionism, along with more frequent suicidal ideation and attempts. [3] These symptoms only elevate the level of distress from body image discomfort. Thus, one’s subjective perception of their appearance and any unattractive features can heavily influence their behavioral response. 

If a patient perceives the change after the surgery as positive, his or her body image and patterns of thinking, emotion, and behavior will change. Their confidence in their body will increase, improving their outlook on daily life. This emphasizes how a patient’s mood can improve when they positively perceive their body. Studies show that depression and anxiety levels significantly decreased after plastic surgery procedures and self-esteem levels increased. [4]. Moreover, “being alert to these specific psychiatric maladies in cosmetic surgery patients will hopefully enhance prompt diagnosis and effective treatment in both practice settings.”[3] In order words, plastic surgery can be an alternative treatment method for those with mental illnesses related to body image when chemical prescriptions may not offer the best outcome solution. 


However, plastic surgery cannot be the solution to all mental illnesses. [5] There must be realistic goals in changing one’s appearance, and the patient must be able to distinguish the benefits and risks of the procedure. In addition, plastic surgery cannot fully cure psychiatric conditions. It may cause the patient to be addicted to a procedure whenever they see a flaw in their body. Although plastic surgery can show better psychological performance for most patients, they should be advised that it can be a double-edged sword.


References

McGrath, M. H., & Mukerji, S. (2000). Plastic Surgery and the Teenage Patient. Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, 13(3), 105–118. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1083-3188(00)00042-5

Shridharani, S. M., Magarakis, M., Manson, P. N., & Rodriguez, E. D. (2010). Psychology of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: A Systematic Clinical Review. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 126(6), 2243–2251. https://doi.org/10.1097/prs.0b013e3181f445ae

Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2007). Cosmetic surgery and psychological issues. Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), 4(12), 65–68. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2861519/

‌Kam, O., Na, S., La Sala, M., Tejeda, C. I., & Koola, M. M. (2022). The Psychological Benefits of Cosmetic Surgery. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 210(7), 479–485. https://doi.org/10.1097/nmd.0000000000001477

Pruzinsky, T. (1993). Psychological Factors in Cosmetic Plastic Surgery: Recent... : Plastic and Aesthetic Nursing. LWW. https://journals.lww.com/psnjournalonline/Abstract/1993/01320/Psychological_Factors_in_Cosmetic_Plastic_Surgery_.3.aspx

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