Beauty and Cosmetic Surgery

One area of human life which has been unnecessarily medicalized is our perceptions of beauty. In today’s society people often feel that the way their body physically looks is never complete. Shilling (2003) calls this the ‘body project’ in which people are constantly looking at ways in which they can create a better body, through things such as losing weight. This is in a bid to have what is considered a ‘normal’ body. Here it will be considered how the medicalization of beauty affects women in particular, as women are left with an image of what is ‘normal’ with anything other seen as ‘deviant’.

Cosmetic surgery is one way in which people choose to change the way they look, through the use of medical ways. Cosmetic surgery is now the third most common reason for people getting into debt (Sieghart, M, A. 2013), with the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons carrying out 50,00 procedures in Britain from 2012-13, with over 85% of those being women; breast augmentation is the most common (bbc.co.uk. 2016; accessed 7th March. 2017). What is a particularly worrying concept about cosmetic surgery, is how minor it is treated, despite the fact that this can disfigure or even kill people. No specialized training is needed, meaning any doctor can carry out cosmetic surgery; buy one get one free is even a ploy that is used, as if getting a medical procedure were as simple as going shopping (Sieghart, M, A. 2013).

In Switzerland, a study was carried out on 145 women to find out how much of an impact cosmetic surgery advertising has on body image; most of the women were Caucasian, with an average age of 23 (Ashikali, et al. 2017). The women were placed into various groups, such as advertising with offers, or advertising which tells the consumers of the risks, and some unexposed to the adverts. It was found that women exposed to the adverts showed more “weight-related (43.8%) and appearance-related (67.9%) self-discrepancies” (Pp. 17). However, overall, it was found that exposure to cosmetic surgery adverts did impact to an extent in which Swiss women felt it would be beneficial to have. It was found that those with materialistic traits in general, were more likely to perceive cosmetic surgery as beneficial (Ashikali, et al. 2017). Does this mean that those who do have cosmetic surgery, do so at their own choice, without being coerced into it?

Social constructionists believe that the body is based on social or historical context of that current time. Whilst social constructionists do see that the body has a material base, they believe that it is shaped and altered by social context (Connell, 1987). In theory, this may contrast with the findings of the Swiss study, as it would seem that as cosmetic surgery is now something widely used and accepted, then this context would encourage people to use it.

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