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Plastic Surgery Horrors: Is Cosmetic Surgery Finally on the Decline?

Despite the best efforts of the beauty industry, the number of cosmetic surgeries stalled around 2004-2005.

It was a shock to find after I had a squamous cell carcinoma removed from the side of my nose, that I needed cosmetic surgery . As I feared, the repair didn’t go well: the scar is red and bumpy, with a "pincushion effect" so common it has a name. The pleasant symmetry of my face is not what it was. Aging I can accept--a splash of white reminding me of Susan Sontag; a fine set of laugh-lines. But I can’t believe anybody undergoes this voluntarily.

It may be hard to believe, but like me, American culture is turning against cosmetic surgery. Even in the movie business. In the cartoon  Sylvia, two "Bad Girls" are chatting. One says, "Actresses used to have plastic surgery to be beautiful enough to get the good parts. Now if they’ve had surgery it works against them." She holds a newspaper saying, "Only actresses with natural breasts need apply."

‘Natural" is beginning to look good. Websites make fun of botched surgeries, showing photos of people’s unwanted post-op appearances--men as well as women. People report they look worse After. Characteristic consequences--the "wind-tunnel look," the mismatched tiny chin, "waxworks," skin like plastic wrap–are now uncool.  America the Beautiful , one scary documentary, lets a former anchor describe how facial surgery gave her permanent neuralgia, destroying her health and career. Many users do it only once. "Never again."

Potential clients rationally fear death. When Kanye West’s mother died, and Olivia Goldsmith, author of the  First Wives’ Club , the lethal consequences began been piling up. Although there is still no register of mortality statistics, there are more exposes, like HBO ‘s special, "Plastic Disasters." Even finding a surgeon who is certified and experienced is no guarantee. Sherwin Nuland, the author of  How We Die , pointed out the irony that "doctors who choose to perform an operation that is solely cosmetic are willing to accept mortality and complication rates significantly higher than those who restrict their interventions to those required for the treatment of disease."

Ageism is a killer in this as in other ways. Most cosmetic surgery is driven by fear of aging-past- youth. In 2007 the average age of those receiving cosmetic surgery in the United States was 42.6 . Most were women. "Passing" as younger was promoted for decades by surgeons who didn’t have enough reconstructive work. The Federal Trade Commission under Nixon and then the Supreme Court made it illegal for the AMA to forbid surgeons from advertizing. Third-party financing of procedures brought operations within the reach of lower-income women.

Fashion and celebrity magazines made seeking slender youthfulness seem obligatory. "Forcibly lowered self-esteem looks to the sufferer like real ‘ugliness’," Naomi Wolf explained. It began to be said that every narrow departure from the ideal, including normal processes of female maturity (e.g., change in size after pregnancy, wrinkles) could be sold to consumers as a deformity. Other kinds of doctors without appropriate training or certification moved to supplement their practices by pursuing anxious patients’ discretionary income. Promotors said, gaily, This is an unstoppable trend. Feminists, gagging, agreed.

This should be considered a public-health emergency, since the ugliness effect impinges on people only because they are growing older, people who would never visit a surgeon.

Yet the good news is that the trend is finally going the other way. Fact: The number of cosmetic surgeries stalled around 2004-2005. Surgical procedures dropped from a peak in 2005, and the total of all procedures from a peak in 2004. Breast augmentation numbers dropped 11% from 2007 to 2008. Liposuction rates dropped 5% and chemical peels 50% in one year. The numbers dropped even before the economic crisis of 2008.

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