Weight Loss & Plastic Surgery

These days our society seems to suffer from makeover mania. Countless television shows and magazine stories focus on transforming individuals from the outside in. Weight loss and “toning,” hair cuts, hair color and makeup, wardrobe changes, and even plastic surgery have become the staples of today’s mass mediated makeovers. Such stories and the accompanying “before” and “after” photos provide the audience with powerful messages. They imply that:

  • Anyone can dramatically change and improve their appearance if they have enough willpower.
  • Such transformations will be more successful with professional help. We need to purchase the services of personal trainers, diet gurus, plastic surgeons and other beauty professionals.
  • And, perhaps most importantly, makeovers do not simply change a person’s appearance: they change one’s outlook and one’s self-image. The implied promise is that a makeover will make you happier and more confident, and lead you toward greater professional, financial and personal success.

This promise—this idea that a thinner, more toned, more beautiful body is just a purchase away—is  the lifeblood of the weight loss and cosmetic surgery industries.

Americans now spend more than $40 billion dollars a year on weight loss products and programs. 90 percent of American women consider themselves overweight, and almost half of them are dieting (Naomi Wolf 1990: 185).

Ironically, contrary to the diet industry’s promises, the majority of people who diet will gain back any weight they lost within 1-5 years, and will actually gain additional pounds as well. Researchers suggest that crash diets and chronic on-again-off-again dieting cause our bodies to adjust to these self-imposed periods of “famine” by slowing down our metabolism and more efficiently storing fat. In a sense then, dieting can actually lead us to gain weight, thus making us more likely to diet again, gain more weight, and diet yet again. While this is good for the profit margins of the weight loss industry, it can take a serious toll on our health. Extreme weight loss regimens can lead to side effects ranging from bad breath to organ damage and, in the most severe cases, even death. While diet gurus seem to suggest that thinner is always healthier, recent research suggests that overweight people have a slightly lower risk of death than those who are underweight when compared to normal BMI patients (Mozes 2014).

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Americans have spent over $16.5 billion each year since 2018 on cosmetic surgery. And the number of patients and procedures is rising dramatically. From 2018-2019, the number of liposuction procedures has increased 3%; eyelid surgery has increased by 2%; and Botox injections have increased by 4% (American Society of Plastic Surgeons  2019).  In addition to the more well-known “face lift,” “nose job” or breast enlargement, patients can now undergo vaginal or labial “rejuvenation” procedures or even acquire fake bullet scars to give them street cred.  

In Beauty Junkies (2006), Kuczynski points out that the cosmetics surgery industry in the United States is only loosely regulated, and because it is so lucrative it can attract unscrupulous and under-qualified practitioners. Under current federal regulations, anyone with an MD can perform cosmetic surgical procedures—whether or not they have been trained and board certified on any particular set of skills.  There are different qualifications to become a “cosmetic” versus “plastic” surgeon and the differences are quite extreme. A board-certified plastic surgeon requires at least six years of residency training whereas a board-certified cosmetic surgeon solely requires one year of training (American Society of Plastic Surgeons 2017).  And the results can be devastating—disfigured bodies, paralysis, chronic pain, infections, and even death.

Even for those who do not get such procedures themselves, cosmetic surgery can have pernicious psychological effects. That is, as increasing numbers of celebrities, models and public figures undergo such procedures, the beauty standards shift even further away from the natural body toward more artificial, more unattainable norms.

Last update:  2 April 2021