Is surgery cheating? Self-esteem and plastic surgery.
Self-esteem and plastic surgery go hand in hand. After all, the goal of plastic surgery is to correct form (how things look) and function (how things work). And both those attributes have a direct effect on self-esteem.
Self-esteem and plastic surgery can be an emotional topic.
In my years of practicing as a Plastic surgeon, I’ve found opinions on plastic surgery in relation to self-esteem vary widely. On one end of the spectrum, we have people who think plastic surgery is the only way to love themselves. And on the other end, we have people who think they should learn to love themselves without plastic surgery. So who is right?
Understanding my patient’s expectations is critical.
I do a lot of weight loss coaching, and I’ve got a significant interest in self development and self-improvement. (Check out my podcast to learn more). But as a Plastic surgeon my role is pretty cut and dried. I want to select out patients who:
- Desire a physical change which can be accomplished by surgery. Some people have expectations that simply aren’t achievable with surgery, like making a 70 year old look 30 again. It’s just not possible.
- Will be happy with the result. I have met patients with an achievable goal, such as a flatter stomach, who I know would actually not be happy with the result.
Low self-esteem and plastic surgery are a bad combination.
Patients with very low self-esteem often aren’t happy with the results of plastic surgery procedures, because they expect the surgery to change the way they feel about themselves. But emotions are created by our thoughts (see more below). Changing something in your physical appearance can certainly make it easier to think positive thoughts. But people who have pervasively negative thoughts aren’t going to change their thought patterns without working on that specifically.
Body-dysmorphia is different than self-esteem, but worth a mention in any article about self esteem and plastic surgery. Body dysmorphia is a psychiatric diagnosis related to OCD and anxiety, and is an obsession over a specific physical feature that either is perfectly fine, or has only a very minor flaw. So someone with body dysmorphia may obsessive over the appearance of his nose, which is actually perfectly fine. These people aren’t happy after plastic surgery either, but it’s a different issue than low self-esteem.
What if you already have great self-esteem?
In my experience, good self-esteem and plastic surgery are a great combination. In fact, patients with good self-esteem are some of my favorite patients to operate on. I’m taking something they already like and appreciate, and making it a little better. And the end result is they like and appreciate the result as well. This is how I felt after having liposuction. I had a little stomach pudge, but my relationship toward my stomach was fairly affectionate- after all, that stomach grew my two awesome kids. So when lipo created a nice flat stomach, I loved it even more. Is it perfect? Not a chance! I still have loose skin (which looks pretty hilarious when I bend over in a bikini, by the way). But again, my feelings about my stomach overall are very positive.
We create our own emotions.
We have more control over our emotions than we give ourselves credit for. You can learn more by listening to my podcast on emotions, but the general concept is that thoughts create your emotions. So if you change what you think, you can change your emotions, and thereby change your actions.
This thought model- that thoughts create our emotions, and emotions drive our actions- is a foundational tool used by many life coaches. And it’s pretty amazing to realize that any emotion is available to you right now simply by changes your thoughts.
Why not learn to love yourself without surgery?
But it can get a little tricky too. I worked with a weight loss coach last year, and I’m still in contact with many of the women in that group. Last week one of them asked me- shouldn’t she just learn to love her loose skin? After all, if any emotion is available to her, why go through plastic surgery?
This is a great question, and I promised her an entire blog post on it (see? I’ve got your back!) Because the only reason we want anything is because of how we think it will make us feel. And if those emotions are available to us now, why not just generate the emotion without changing the physical circumstance?
It’s okay to change your circumstances too.
After wrestling with this question for several days: just because we can change our thoughts, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t change our circumstances as well.
Here’s an example to flesh out that idea a little. I hate clutter. If you know me, you know that decluttering gives me great joy. So if my house is cluttered, I certainly can work through finding more positive thoughts about the situation, which will generate more positive emotions. But I also have the power to change the situation. And trust me when I tell you that decluttering makes it much easier for me to think positive thoughts about my house!
I don’t want to discount the power of changing your thoughts to change your emotions. It’s an amazing tool, especially with situations you don’t have the power to change, like a co-worker who is always late to meetings, or a whiny toddler. In fact, we often think we have way more control over life than we do, and a lot of our unhappiness is derived from trying to change things we have no control over.
Changing our thoughts and our circumstances should go hand-in-hand.
My conclusion after mulling this over is that we should always work on changing our thoughts. So if I hate my loose skin, I need to work on changing how I feel about that. If I hate my weight, I need to work on loving my body. But when we do have the power to change our circumstances we should, because it’s going to make changing our thoughts a whole lot easier. And that is consistent with what I’ve learned as a Plastic surgeon- if you already have great self-esteem, you’re going to love the results of your surgery even more.
What do you think about self-esteem and plastic surgery? Is plastic surgery a short-cut to loving yourself more, or should you love yourself regardless of how you look? I’d love to discuss it in the comments!