To understand whether cosmetic treatments can improve our sense of satisfaction with our lives and selves, we must understand the idea of self-conceptualisation and how we decide if we like something or dislike something about ourselves.
Self-conceptualisation is the collection of mental images that we create as the ideal for ourselves. This is an important area when we think about cosmetic surgery outcomes, since we really must invest some time in understanding what we are trying to achieve and why.
What we call ‘body image’ is a major part of self-conceptualisation, with two sections: ideal self-conceptualisation and perceived self-conceptualisation. That is, what we think we should be, and what we think we are.
People who are obsessed with their appearance tend to have abnormally formed ideas about themselves, with a very negative perception of themselves, coupled with a very idealistic view of what their appearance should be. Research has suggested that the greater the discrepancy between the perceived and the ideal, the more confused the person is.
Drawing the perceived closer to the ideal is, in essence, what cosmetic surgery patients pursue, since cosmetic surgery may help to change the negative perceptions by creating a perceived physical presence that is more in line with their idealistic views. Joining the perception closer to the ideal, or vice versa.
While it might seem obvious that the general point of cosmetic surgery is to look better – and feel better about how you look – there are few studies that look at what subjective improvements there are for those undergoing cosmetic surgery. The psychology of cosmetic surgery is an important element, since joining the dots between what we are shown and told is beautiful, then what we are faced with in the mirror, may (in our perception) be contrasting.
A study on young Chinese women undergoing eyelid and nose surgery suggested that the women’s self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities improved in the months after the surgery. The authors of the study examined patients’ psychological traits, their decision to undergo cosmetic surgery, and how much these traits changed after the surgery. The study involved 161 patients and 355 control subjects who had not had surgery. The study used questionnaires and photographs.
Self-esteem and confidence in the women’s abilities were lower before the surgery in young women who had the surgery, compared to women in the general population who did not visit a plastic surgeon, however, six months after surgery, those levels in the surgery group were nearly normal.
There wasn’t a great deal of difference reported between cosmetic surgery patients and women from the general population in the general assessments of facial appearance, but the average scores for the cosmetic surgery patients’ self-assessments were lower for the eyes, nose and overall facial appearance.
An Iranian study found that self-esteem increased significantly after cosmetic surgery, however, self-conceptualisation did not improve significantly. At younger ages, another study found that plastic surgery didn’t do much at all to change negative self-perceptions – after following 1,500 teenage girls for 13 years (none of whom had had surgery at the outset, and who would or wouldn’t wasn’t known) found that the 78 girls who did have surgery were more likely to be anxious or depressed, and had a greater increase in those symptoms during the study period than non-patients. The surgery did not impact their anxiety or depression. Overall, at all ages, research seems to point with the person being happier with the area treated, but not any happier overall.
We can’t make you happier in life, but we can help you be happier with something.
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