Plastic Surgery: America’s Popular Pastime?

December 7, 2012 | Elizabeth F.

According to a recent news story reported by the Dallas-Fort Worth Local CBS news station, plastic surgery is becoming the latest mother-daughter pastime. Entitled “Mothers & Daughters Bonding Over Beauty,” and filed under the “Health” section, the article highlights a not so pretty reality about the growing popularity of plastic surgery.

Plastic surgery is a fairly controversial subject that often elicits one of the following four responses:

  1. People shouldn’t do it because it is only available to the rich. Therefore, anyone who gets plastic surgery should be taxed heavily with a vanity tax.
  2. People shouldn’t do it because it is vain and we should be happy with the bodies we have.
  3. People should be able to do it because they should be free to use their resources as they please.
  4. People should do it because it is culturally necessary to stay young and healthy-looking in order to be successful.

As a supporter of economic freedom, I certainly subscribe to number three, (though number two is a close second). Individuals should be free to engage in mutually beneficial exchange as they see fit. Individuals, as rational beings, are competent to understand either the costs or benefits of their transaction, as well as the opportunities foregone. This given, the recent trends in the plastic surgery market reveal that more and more women are seeing the opportunity cost for plastic surgery go down and the benefit from it go up.

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, over 9 million cosmetic procedures were performed in 2011, with 1.6 million of those procedures surgical. Since 1997, there has been over a 197% increase in the number of cosmetic procedures with a 73% increase for surgical procedures and a 356% increase for nonsurgical procedures.

The top five plastic surgeries of 2011 were liposuction, breast implants, tummy-tuck, eye-lid lift, and breast lift. The top five nonsurgical procedures were botox, hyaluronic smoothing acid, laser hair removal, microdermabrasion, and laser treatment. Of all of the cosmetic procedures of 2011, female patients constituted 91%.

The problem with plastic surgery, then, is not whether the decision to go under the knife is rational; clearly it is becoming so as demand is on the rise. The problem lies in the factors increasing this demand. In other words, what has made plastic surgery a rational option so that more and more women are choosing it?

According to Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, human action is dependent on three steps:

  1. A sense of unease.
  2. Vision of a better state.
  3. Belief that undertaking a certain behavior can lead to that better state.

Following this then, women who pursue plastic surgeries theoretically are increasingly uneasy about their appearance, they have a vision of a better version of themselves, and they believe that going under the knife will lead to that better version. For many women, this is case, and they are able to achieve a better state through plastic surgery. In fact, some plastic surgeries, such as breast reductions or cleft-palate reconstruction are medical imperatives that allow individuals to live healthier, more comfortable lives. What is apparent in the statistics, however, is that it is not these types of surgeries that are in high demand.

I will reiterate that each individual is capable of determining for him or herself whether plastic surgery is the right choice, but here are a few recommendations regarding the human action model of plastic surgery:

  1. A sense of unease? Read Nancy Carlson’s I Like Me, and read it to your daughters. Instilling confidence and self-appreciation in girls at a young age has become severely underrated. Avoid shows like Big Rich Texas (yes it has its own blog), which portray plastic surgery as something to do when you’re bored. This is reality TV with a loose interpretation of reality.
  2. Vision of a better state? Explore different hobbies. You don’t have to undergo surgery with your daughter and rush ice to her aching, inflated lips to bond with her. A simple movie and dinner night, perhaps with some genuine conversation, will suffice.
  3. Belief plastic surgery will achieve a better state? Beware unintended consequences. While some studies have shown that many women express a feeling of improved “self worth” and “quality of life,” other studies reveal that patients often suffer from anxiety, disappointment, depression, and sleep disorders following cosmetic surgeries.

Overall, plastic surgery is not a bad thing; it just isn’t a good hobby.

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