Choosing Cosmetic Surgery

Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005
The Cleveland Clinic

Cosmetic surgery has increased dramatically in popularity over the past 10 years. With this increase in popularity, attitudes have changed as well. Fewer people are growing older gracefully, while more and more are accepting the cosmetic surgery alternative.

Like nearly all fields, cosmetic surgery has undergone significant technological and conceptual changes in recent years. The conceptual changes have altered the approaches to facial aging, especially as they relate to the forehead, eyelids and lower face. Technological changes include the increasing use of the laser for facial cosmetic surgery, and minimally invasive techniques for face, breast and body contouring surgery.

Finally, while any elective surgical procedure carries some risk, the advances in cosmetic surgery have translated into faster patient recovery and more natural appearing results.

Why Do People Seek Cosmetic Surgery?

People undergo cosmetic surgery for many reasons.

  • They may want to look younger for professional or personal reasons.
  • They may want to change a feature they never liked.
Whatever the reason, the data doesn't lie. There were nearly 8.5 million cosmetic surgical and non-surgical procedures performed in 2001, an increase of 304% from 1997, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

The decision to undergo any type of cosmetic surgery is intensely personal. After all, this type of surgery is completely voluntary. Unlike other necessary surgeries, we're often driven to consider cosmetic surgery from a combination of social and emotional factors. Our body images in part are shaped by society.

Setting Realistic Expectations

Although cosmetic surgery will not change your life, it may give you greater self-confidence and add to your sense of well-being. Do not make this decision lightly. It will not solve personal problems or make you look like someone else.

When it comes to successful cosmetic surgery results, this is often dependent on the communication between you and your surgeon. Make sure you feel comfortable with your surgeon and that you feel you can communicate openly and honestly with him or her.

Although people have many good reasons for seeking cosmetic surgery, some people seek cosmetic surgery for the wrong reasons and should reconsider their decision.

The ideal patient is a well-motivated individual who has considered cosmetic surgery for some time. Most patients have seriously thought about having cosmetic surgery for 5 years or more.

Commonly stated good reasons for seeking cosmetic surgery include the following:

  • "I want to do it for myself."
  • "I look into the mirror and I don't recognize that person."
  • "I feel young, I exercise, but I don't look the way I feel."
  • "People keep telling me I look tired or angry."
Ill-advised reasons for seeking cosmetic surgery include the following:
  • "My husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend is leaving me. I'm looking for a boost."
  • "My husband/wife has died and I'm looking for a pick-me-up."
Why Do I Want Cosmetic Surgery?

It's very important to be honest with yourself about why you want to correct a certain part of your body. You may be doing it for reconstructive purposes, either because of congenital defect or that developed as a result of trauma or injury. Or, you may be doing it to slow the aging process. In any case, here are some questions to ask yourself about wanting cosmetic surgery and remember: be honest!

  • What is your motivation? Do you think your spouse will love you more? Or, are you doing this for yourself?
  • Ask yourself: What is it about that flawed part of my body that I want to correct and why? When did I start thinking about cosmetic surgery? Was it because I wanted to do something about it or was it because someone else made a remark?
  • What are your expectations from cosmetic surgery? Are they realistic? That is, are there just slight aging irregularities that you seek to correct, or is this a way to make up for deeper issues?
Cosmetic surgery is a significant investment in time, effort, and emotion. It probably will not change your social life or your outlook on life. Take a minute to assess why you really want cosmetic surgery, and whether you have realistic expectations.

Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic, Department of Plastic Surgery.
Edited by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD, Sept. 2003.
Portions of this page © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2003.


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