Whether it’s a “Zoom boom,” more time on their hands or the increasing availability and accessibility of procedures, the pandemic has created more interest in cosmetic surgery.
According to a new study published in the journal Facial Plastic Surgery & Aesthetic Medicine, when researchers surveyed 130 dermatologists around the world, they found that 85 percent of their patients named Zoom as the inspiration for their cosmetic consultation. Patients citing Zoom for their interest in cosmetic surgery were particularly concerned with acne and wrinkles.
Why are webcams so unsettling to users? “During real-life conversations, we do not see our faces speaking and displaying emotions and we certainly do not compare our faces side-by-side to others as we do on video calls,” said the study. “In addition, cameras can distort video quality and create an inaccurate representation of true appearance.”
During the first summer of the pandemic, there was a spike in searches for plastic surgery, according to a report published last October in PMC, a medical text digital archive in the US. When Google Trends analyzed search terms using a scale of zero to 100 for the first half of 2020, they found searches for nose jobs, liposuction and lip fillers also spiked last summer.
“There are many more procedures which are non-surgical; making these options cheaper, less invasive and less time-intensive,” says Catherine Frogley, a clinical psychologist at LightHouse Arabia in Dubai. “In fact, some of the newer procedures can be done during your lunch break. As such, plastic surgery and aesthetic procedures are no longer reserved for the ‘rich and famous.’ Anyone can access them.”
But what about the mental and emotional impact of these procedures? Even if they’re becoming more common, they still involve surgery, leading to pain, recovery, second-guessing and anxiety about how it’s all going to turn out.
If cosmetic surgery is something you are considering, Frogley breaks down how to prepare yourself mentally for the procedure and the aftermath and trouble-shoots how to prepare for and deal with any problems that arise.
Are people likely to regret cosmetic surgery?
Just like any other permanent decision, people can and do regret having cosmetic procedures while others feel satisfied with the results. This really depends on what is driving the individual to have plastic surgery in the first place and whether they have a realistic and healthy expectation about what the results will be and how they may affect their life.
Does psychology frown on cosmetic surgery?
Not necessarily. Cosmetic procedures can have a positive impact on an individual’s mental health. For example, if we consider breast cancer survivors having reconstructive surgery, it can bring great benefits.
However, several research studies investigating the link between mental health and cosmetic procedures have shown that women choosing to undergo cosmetic surgery were more likely to experience mental health difficulties both before and after the surgery. Furthermore, in some cases, mental health difficulties have been shown to worsen following the surgery. The women reported feeling happier about the body part that they had changed but they remained dissatisfied with their overall body image. This suggests surgery does not alleviate body image difficulties.
In my view, the problem arises if and when an individual experiences significant dissatisfaction with some aspect of their appearance and/or they struggle with their broader sense of self and self-esteem. In these cases, their expectations of the procedures may be unrealistic. Furthermore, the surgery may be an attempt to fix a broader problem and although it may help in the short-term, it is unlikely to address a deeper difficulty.
What is most important to consider when getting cosmetic surgery?
If you are considering it, I suggest that you try to reflect on what is driving your decision and be honest. You can ask yourself the following questions:
• What is driving this decision to change my body in some way?
• What do I think will change in my life if I have this procedure? Is this a realistic expectation?
Watch out for thinking patterns such as ‘I will do X only when I get my surgery.’ Don’t expect that all of your life will change following plastic surgery. You may feel somewhat better about specific aspects of your appearance, but that may not translate into feeling great about yourself all the time and/or in all aspects of life.
• What are my expectations of the results? Again, is this realistic? Am I prepared for the risks involved? Am I prepared for the possibility that I could also struggle with these positive changes to my body? Am I prepared for the possibility that it may not be perfect?
• Are there other things I could try first to improve my body dissatisfaction?
Lastly if you are unsure about whether your intentions and expectations are balanced and healthy, you can always talk it through with a mental health professional beforehand. Furthermore, I would recommend that you carefully talk through your concerns and expectations with the surgeon performing your surgery who can help you to understand what would be a realistic outcome.
What kinds of emotional problems can ensue?
Some research has shown that mental health difficulties are higher in women who have had plastic surgery. Therefore, while it is okay to improve parts of your body that you are dissatisfied with, it is important to acknowledge that making these changes may not improve your overall body image.
Furthermore, people often underestimate the impact of having surgery on both their mental and physical well-being. Depending on the type of surgery you are having, you may experience emotional difficulties as a result of the pain and restrictions placed on you post-surgery, a lack of sleep and general fatigue. You may have had to take medication which can leave you feeling drowsy and in some cases low in mood. There is also often a lot of anxiety about the outcome of the result. Finally, there is also a subset of people who struggle to adapt to their new body even when they had opted to have the procedure.
How can you emotionally prepare yourself?
First of all, try to be realistic about the recovery process and plan for this. Ensure that you have discussed post-operative care thoroughly with your doctor beforehand and that you have given yourself time to rest if you need to. It can be useful to bring a family member or friend along with you when discussing post-operative care so that someone else knows the plan of action following your procedure.
Ensure that you have your support system in place. They may support you with practical aspects of your recovery, but it may also be important to verbalize how you are feeling throughout the recovery process too. Having someone to talk to and share this experience with you will really help you feel less alone.
Give yourself permission to rest. Your doctor will be able to tell you when is the best time to get back to your daily routine.
Try to be patient with yourself and your body. Everyone is different in terms of their emotional reactions and physical healing. You won’t know this until you go through it, so try to be gentle and compassionate with yourself. As practice, consider how you would talk to a friend who was going through this same situation and use that same kind, compassionate voice to talk to yourself.
How does feeling unhappy with your body affect your mental health?
For most of us, there are parts of our body and appearance that we feel dissatisfied with and this is a normal part of being human. How we look and feel about ourselves is an important part of who we are. However, if that dissatisfaction moves from being something which happens every now and again to an intense, persistent and pervasive dissatisfaction, then this is likely to cause high levels of distress and have a significant impact on an individual’s mental health. For some, this may even develop into a mental health condition such as body dysmorphia.