Summary: For a long while now, plastic surgeons have been able to effectively market their services. But is such marketing ethical? It might depend on how it’s done.
Seeing Ads for Plastic Surgery
Plastic surgery is a booming business. If you look at the latest data, you’ll see that Americans spent more money on plastic surgery in 2015 than in any year before. You’ll see the same thing abroad. From China to South Korea to Argentina and Brazil, plastic surgery has rarely been more popular. As plastic surgery becomes more popular, so too does the marketing for plastic surgery. For example, it’s not uncommon to see adverts for plastic surgery in the subway tunnels of New York or on billboards in Seoul. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
But it does warrant some discussion. There are plenty of issues associated with body image and plastic surgery. To be sure, it’s difficult to have a candid discussion about plastic surgery without also having a discussion about body image. Some will argue that plastic surgery is designed specifically to bring your body and your body image into alignment. Others might argue that plastic surgery perpetuates an unrealistic and, for most, unachievable ideal body image. Those people might then argue that plastic surgery marketing—the ads and billboards—might perpetuate the same thing. This is especially true when plastic surgery marketing is ever more pervasive .
Both Sides Have a Point
I can’t say I find either side of the discussion unconvincing. When it comes right down to it, plastic surgery on an individual level is certainly about aligning body with body image. But on a social level, on a national or cultural level, I can see how it perpetuates that ideal body image. The problem is that so does everything else. Ads for plastic surgery certainly display people with idealized bodies and forms; but so do ads for ice cream. I’m not saying that “everybody does it, so that makes it right,” but I do think it’s unfair to single out plastic surgery for what is obviously a broader social trend.
Still, plastic surgery actually has the power to change the shape of the body in some otherwise not naturally possible way. Ice cream does not have that power. So it’s true that many surgeons feel they have some added responsibility in terms of the marketing they do. That’s why you’ll find many surgeons who focus on the ability of plastic surgery to make you feel like your “real self.” (After all, there’s a whole website devoted to your “realself.”) This seems, to me, to be where plastic surgery is most effective, both in terms of marketing and in terms of results.
Rhinoplasty as an Example
Take, for example, a rhinoplasty procedure. Sure, we could talk about breast augmentation or tummy tuck or liposuction, but rhinoplasty is universal enough that it strips away some of the negative connotations involved with the other procedures. In other words, we can talk about the ideas without necessarily talking about the values. A rhinoplasty is an incredibly common procedure, and people will undergo a nose job for a wide variety of reasons. Some patients are looking for an improved silhouette; some patients are looking to breath a little easier; some patients just want to feel more comfortable.
Now, in an ideal world, everyone would just feel comfortable with the nose they have. But that’s not the world we live in, and feeling self-conscious about your nose can raise all sorts of issues. According to the website of one Los Angeles rhinoplasty expert, correcting the nose can lead to an increase in confidence and self esteem. This shouldn’t be surprising; the nose has an effect on the composition of the entire face. It’s hard to blame someone, then, for choosing to undergo plastic surgery.
Body Image and Plastic Surgery Ads
And that is my take away from all this. We should certainly have a conversation about body image in a broader context. But it stands to reason that, whatever the “ideal” body image may be, there will likely always be that ideal—I don’t like that fact, and it’s always good to challenge that ideal, but I’m not sure it will ever go away. As long as people are compared to that ideal—help back from opportunities or introduced to ridicule because they don’t meet that idea—it’s hard to blame them for seeking out a solution.
With brings us back to ads for plastic surgery. I’m not sure these ads would appeal to anyone not already seeking out plastic surgery; and it seems unfair to limit surgeons in their marketing when everyone else is able to market. But I understand where both sides of the discussion are coming from; if nothing else, it’s a discussion that should keep happening.