Plastic surgery helps all ethnic populations achieve individual standards of beauty
People who have plastic surgery today are a diverse population — women and men of all ages, races and ethnicities. Nearly 1 million, or 13 percent, of the more than 7.4 million cosmetic plastic surgery patients last year were minorities, according to statistics tracked by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. African-Americans and Hispanics comprised five percent each of the cosmetic surgery population, and three percent were Asian-American. The number of minorities having cosmetic surgery is perhaps higher than ever, as both the size of U.S. minority groups and the popularity of plastic surgery increase.
“Plastic surgeons have always been able to address the needs of minority patients,” says Gustavo Colon, MD, clinical professor of plastic surgery at Tulane University and Louisiana State University and head of plastic surgery at Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans. What has changed, says Dr. Colon, is that minorities, like the rest of the population, have become much more accepting of cosmetic surgery.
Also changed is the popular concept of beauty having only one standard, says Alan Matarasso, MD. The New York City plastic surgeon, whose patients are from many ethnic backgrounds, says, “Our culture and the media recognize that the ideal beauty is no longer just the tall, Nordic, blue-eyed blonde. Now ethnic individuals feel they can improve their appearance through cosmetic surgery without having to change to a standard of beauty that doesn’t fit them.”
Medical advances also have opened up greater plastic surgery choices for minorities. Today, minorities are having a range of plastic surgery procedures that is as diverse as their ethnic backgrounds — from facial surgery to liposuction, tummy tucks and breast augmentation.
“The science and art of plastic surgery have progressed, so now we’re able to offer [virtually] any plastic surgery procedure to people of all ethnic backgrounds and skin color,” says Pearlman Hicks, MD. He is an African-American plastic surgeon with a private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif.
In the past, blacks and other dark-skinned individuals may have been reluctant to have elective plastic surgery because of their increased risk of developing prominent scars called keloids. Fortunately, this potential problem is of less concern today, because plastic surgeons’ knowledge and experience have increased, according to a plastic surgeon who treats many African-American patients.
“We now know how to better prevent and treat unsightly scarring,” says Emily Pollard, MD, assistant professor of surgery in the division of plastic surgery at Philadelphia’s MCP Hahnemann Medical School. “Medical developments have made it easier for African-Americans to have plastic surgery.”
A common misconception is that African-Americans and other minorities seeking cosmetic surgery want to change their ethnic appearance. But plastic surgeons say most minority patients do not feel that way.
“Most African-Americans don’t consider their ethnic traits a negative,” Dr. Pollard says. “I don’t see too many patients asking to get rid of their full lips. They like them.”
Plastic surgeon James Penoff, MD, agrees. Dr. Penoff, who works at Straub Clinic in Honolulu, a city with a large Asian and Polynesian population, says, “Everyone wants to look their best, but they want to look good within their ethnic group.” To Dr. Penoff, plastic surgery must stay within racial anatomical boundaries. For instance, a nose that has a very high nasal bridge might look good on a white person but would appear odd on an Asian-American. “It would look like someone stuck it on with plaster,” he says.
Both Dr. Penoff and Greenbrae, Calif., plastic surgeon Roland Minami, MD, say it is uncommon for a patient to want to look like someone from a different race. Dr. Minami believes that such a request usually indicates the patient is unhappy with himself or herself. Rather than operating on these patients, he encourages them to seek psychiatric evaluation to determine the source of their unhappiness. He also explains that people who radically alter their ethnic appearance surgically may suffer a loss of identity. “Cosmetic surgery for ethnic individuals needs to be conservative, not radical,” he comments. “The objective of the surgery should be to enhance patients’ ethnic appearance, not to change their ethnicity.” That doesn’t mean that ethnic features cannot be improved. Says Dr. Pollard, “In facial plastic surgery, we refine the features and make them more in concert with the rest of the face.” “The goal is more of a natural look,” she continues. “A successful plastic surgery procedure is when you still look like you, but better.”