It was only for seven months of my life, but I found the experience of working in a plastic surgeon’s rooms profoundly unsettling.
I’ve spent a great deal of time mulling over the reasons why. And if I had to bundle them into one word, it would be ‘betrayal’. I worked in an industry which exploited women’s, and increasingly men’s, insecurities at every touch point. I was also betraying myself. How could I claim to be a feminist whilst being involved in the promotion of cosmetic surgery as a means of overcoming those insecurities?
When I first started, I was staggered at the amount of money people willingly parted with for cosmetic procedures – thousands and thousands of dollars for thinner thighs, a flatter tummy, or a perkier butt. In addition to annual leave or sick days spent convalescing from surgery, what were they giving up? A family holiday, a gap year, a more secure financial future?
I started to wonder at what point the sacrifice became too great. And then, as I watched one patient sell her only asset, a car, to pay for breast augmentation surgery, I no longer had to wonder. She’d had several invasive cosmetic procedures, and was planning more. With nothing left to sell, there was only debt, and she was not isolated in her willingness to plunge into it for the sake of her appearance.
In retrospect, I’d been naive about many aspects of cosmetic surgery, but none more so than how addictive it was for some. These were the patients booking in for, or planning more procedures whilst in the early stages of recovery from previous surgery. Whilst I’ve no training in mental health, it wasn’t difficult to see they were obsessive about their appearance, and their use of anti ageing treatments and cosmetic surgery had veered into the problematic.
Watch: The Mamamia Out Loud team debate the ethics of plastic surgery. Post continues after video.
If I had my way, all patients would visit a mental health professional prior to undergoing cosmetic surgery. In my experience, I’m not convinced current screening tools are robust enough. A psychological questionnaire is only of value if the results are analysed, and those in need of help pointed in its direction. (A 2016 study published in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery indicates about 10% of cosmetic surgery patients have Body Dysmorphic Disorder and, crucially, that plastic surgeons are not adept at identifying it in casual conversations).