Will plastic surgery make you happier?

Doctors in an operating theaterStudies of plastic and cosmetic surgery have had mixed results over whether such surgery makes people happy. Professor Charlotte Markey reports in a new study that there’s no conclusive data that cosmetic surgery makes people happier, although it does create repeat customers.

What is known is that cosmetic surgery can have side effects – severe pain, disliking the results, and, occasionally, death, to name just a few. Some people are happy with their cosmetic surgery, others are disappointed, and some die from it.

Results of studies of plastic and cosmetic surgery

A recent study by husband-and-wife team Professors Patrick and Charlotte Markey examined how a TV show on cosmetic surgery affected people’s opinions about these procedures.

Nearly 200 adults, with an average age of 20, watched either an ‘extreme makeover’ program about cosmetic surgery or a home improvement show. Afterwards participants were asked what they thought about cosmetic surgery.

Those who watched the ‘extreme makeover’ show were much more likely to be interested in cosmetic surgery afterwards, and have a more positive view of such surgeries.

Women were more likely to want cosmetic surgery than men, and viewers of the cosmetic surgery show were more likely to consider the procedure for themselves compared to those who watched the home improvement show.

Responses to the cosmetic surgery show included “inspirational” and “I saw an unhappy girl get her dreams.”

Charlotte Markey said: “What troubles me is that there’s no conclusive data that cosmetic surgery even makes people happier, what has been documented is that it makes repeat customers.”

“If plastic surgery makes you feel better about yourself, then why do you keep getting it done?” she asks. “This mindset is very similar to that of an anorexic wanting to lose just five more pounds.”

The study is published in the journal Body Image.

Time Health reports on a study published in 2004 in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. A team of three authors reviewed 37 previous papers on the psychological effects of cosmetic surgery. The papers dated back to 1960 and included over 3,300 participants in total. The authors concluded that most people do feel better psychologically after having cosmetic surgery, especially breast reductions. Only 3% to 14% of women who had breast reductions are unsatisfied afterwards.

Other procedures have had mixed results. At least four studies in different countries have found that women who get breast implants commit suicide at higher rates than women in the general population. One explanation for this, however, might be that women who are already thinking of suiciding are more likely than other women to want bigger breasts.

As for face lifts, Time Health says older people — those in their late 40s and above — tend to be happy after having them, but the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery paper found that people under 40 who had face lifts were less likely to feel happier afterwards. In general, men — especially young men — who have cosmetic surgery are far less likely than women — especially older women — to be happy once they see the results in the mirror.

Heidi Montag’s issues with cosmetic surgery

What TV shows on cosmetic surgery don’t highlight are the side effects of such procedures. Twenty-three-year-old plastic surgery junkie Heidi Montag is a classic example. Last year the actress had 10 cosmetic surgery procedures in one day. The procedures included a breast enlargement, liposuction, chin reduction, ear pinning, mini brow lift, Botox, and fat injections in her cheeks and lips.

Months after her surgeries Heidi said she was still in severe pain from the breast enlargement. “I have major anxiety about it. I was taking painkillers but they weren’t working so I stopped. It hurt either way,” Heidi commented.

Heidi has problems exercising because of her huge G size breasts. The pain makes it hard to hug her dogs. Finding clothes to fit her bust is difficult, so she can only wear custom-made clothing. If this isn’t enough, Heidi nearly died from having too much of the pain-killing drug Demerol during the surgery.

She’s now thinking of downsizing her huge breasts. Heidi said, “I’m obsessed with fitness but it’s impossible to work out with these boobs. It’s heartbreaking. I can’t live an everyday life.”

Jennifer Grey’s nose job nightmare

Another well known plastic surgery story is that of actress Jennifer Grey, star of the ’80s hit movie Dirty Dancing. Jennifer had a nose job in the early ’90s that made her almost unrecognizable. Wikipedia reports that the surgery was so bad that Jennifer needed a second plastic surgery to repair the damage. The result was a face so changed that even close friends didn’t recognize her, and the major change in her appearance badly affected her career.

Jennifer said, “I went in the operating room a celebrity, and came out anonymous. It was like being in a witness protection program or being invisible. I remember going to a restaurant where I had been going for years. I ran into people I knew and would say, ‘Hey.’ Nothing. I’ll always be this once-famous actress nobody recognizes… because of a nose job.”

Liposuction kills 26-year-old woman

On a Friday morning in 2007, 26-year-old Lauren James had liposuction on her thighs and buttocks in a clinic in Victoria, Australia. The Age reports that the $8,000 procedure seemed to go well, and she was discharged from hospital that afternoon.

Over the weekend Lauren experienced increasing pain. She had diarrhea, and bleeding from the sites where the tubes that removed the fat had been inserted.

By Monday the pain had worsened. She was bruised and blistering, and her thighs were swelling.

Lauren’s partner, Simon, took her back to the clinic. She was prescribed 100 milligrams of the painkiller pethidine, and sent home.

Over the next 10 hours Lauren’s condition further declined. Simon called the clinic often, leaving urgent messages and speaking to various doctors, who reassured him that the symptoms were normal, but the doctors were wrong. Later that night Lauren died. The coroner found she died from infections and respiratory failure – complications from the liposuction surgery.

Simon hopes speaking-out will make others think twice before having cosmetic surgery. “It’s not what you see on television, or in glossy magazines where they only show the good parts. There are risks.”

“It’s marketed as a day procedure; people think it’s safe but it’s incredibly intrusive,” says Simon, who has launched a civil lawsuit against the clinic’s doctors for injury, loss and damage suffered after his partner’s death.

In August 2010 a Victorian coroner found that the post-operative care Lauren received at the Centre of Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery in North Caulfield was “wholly inadequate”.

Lauren’s death was entirely preventable. Had she received the proper after-care she needed, she would not have died from the liposuction.

Plastic surgery to boost happiness

Plastic surgery can have benefits. Deformities, caused by injuries, burns, accidents, birth defects…, can be corrected by plastic surgery, so help people lead “normal” lives, avoid being bullied and teased, and boost self esteem and confidence. You’ve probably seen in the news the amazing work of doctors who’ve performed plastic surgery on people with abnormalities so that they can live a “normal” life.

On a personal note, I know a lady whose nose was accidentally broken when she was a young girl. The break caused a large bump on her nose that children poked fun of, calling her “hook nose”. She had a nose job to straighten her nose, which removed the bump. The teasing stopped, which made her feel happier.

Positive plastic surgery stories like these are usually about people who have had such surgery to correct noticeable problems or defects, not choose to have surgery to look more like their favorite superstar, or look “better” or “perfect”, when there was really nothing abnormal or wrong with them to begin with.

Be realistic in what cosmetic surgery can achieve. Weigh-up the pros and cons, know the possible side effects, and remember that it isn’t a “cure all”; cosmetic surgery won’t make people like us, make all our problems disappear, nor guarantee long-lasting happiness.

written by Nyomi Graef

Cloud, J, 2009, Joan Rivers’ Cure: Will Plastic Surgery Make You Happier?, Time Health,

Heidi Montag is ‘desperate’ to have her breast implants removed and ‘go back to normal’, 2010, Mail Online,

Heidi Montag’s 10 Plastic Surgery Procedures: Before & After Photos, 2010, The Huffington Post,

Heidi Montag Wants Huge Breast Implants Out, 2010, The Huffington Post,

Heidi nose best? Plastic surgery junkie Heidi Montag says she now fears her nose may fall off…just like Michael Jackson’s, 2010, Mail Online,

Jennifer Grey, 2010, Wikipedia,

Pepper, S, 2010, Plastic surgery again? Heidi Montag spotted with ‘strange bandage’ on her nose [Pics], Examiner.com,

Rutgers-Camden Psychologist Links Reality TV With Teen Cosmetic Surgery, 2010, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey,

Stark, J, 2010, Senseless death leaves a life on hold, The Age,

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5 Responses to “Will plastic surgery make you happier?”

  1. Michelle G says:

    I have had boob job it made me feel like a new woman! great post.

  2. M Potts says:

    I just wanted to thank you for this guide to solve problems. I have read what you wrote over and over and it all makes so much sense. I appreciate what your wrote. I want to thank you so much for the help and advice you have shared with me. Thank you so much for your words of advice.

  3. Rena Graham says:

    I think this one is very subjective question. it depends with whom you are asking for. for hollywood stars, having cosmetic surgery has become customary,because it goes with the teritory.

  4. Carl Smith says:

    This is such a great question about plastic surgery. I’m glad that you were able to provide an objective discussion about it. It all depends on the person doing it. If they are getting plastic surgery because it’s their own decision and not because of peer pressure, then I believe there is a higher chance that they will be happy with the result.

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