These days, almost everyone knows somebody who has had cosmetic surgery. Besides the obvious reasons – people want to improve their look less tired or more youthful – researchers today are exploring the underlying psychology that motivates people to undergo cosmetic surgery. Equally important is new research showing that cosmetic surgery makes a positive difference in people’s lives by improving their quality of life and sense of well-being.
“Body image dissatisfaction is extremely prevalent in our society,” says psychologist David B. Sarwer, PhD, a leading researcher on body image. “One recent body image survey suggested that 56 percent of American women reported dissatisfaction with their overall appearance, and 34% reported dissatisfaction with their breast size.” Prospective facelift patients, on the other hand, score lower on body image dissatisfaction and significantly higher than the average American in their investment in appearance, fitness and health.
Research has shown that cosmetic surgery can improve a person’s psychological functioning by modifying their body image. In one study, supported by a research grant from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), 105 cosmetic surgery patients between the ages of 18 and 70 participated in written questionnaires designed to measure psychological factors such as coping, personal resources and quality of life. Participants completed the questionnaires two weeks before surgery, and then again at one month and six months following surgery.
The results showed a very significant improvement in the quality of life at six months following surgery, compared to the quality of life before surgery. In addition, patients’ perception of their own well-being increased over time. Patients also had significantly lower scores for depression following surgery, compared to their preoperative levels.
“While dissatisfaction with one’s appearance was often dismissed as trivial vanity years ago, research has demonstrated the importance of appearance in everyday life,” says Dr. Sarwer. “Not only are more physically attractive individuals perceived more favorably than those who are less attractive, it also appears that they receive preferential treatment in interpersonal and social situations. Given this knowledge, improving one’s appearance through cosmetic surgery can often be a positive, healthy self-care strategy.”