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The Last Word


Nose jobs, brow lifts, chin implants, liposuction, fat transfer, breast augmentation, tummy tucks, CO2 laser treatment, and weeks and weeks of painful recovery.

I sat captivated, my eyes glued to the television, skeptically watching The Swan, a show where two self-proclaimed ugly ducklings, (although, I saw them as typical, average-looking women) underwent surgery after surgery to transform themselves into the “beauties” they hoped to become. I couldn’t believe that these women, neither of whom had any deformities, were willing to put themselves under the knife over and over again.

First, there was Andrea, a 29-year-old single mother with a loving boyfriend. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, her clothes were dowdy, she wore no make-up and her mouth drooped into a frown, a sign of the self-confidence she lacked. Her emotional outbursts were a clear indication of depression

And Belinda, a 28-year-old single mother who at one time was a model, remembered the days when she was thin. Several abusive relationships and a lot of stress caused her to gain weight over the years. Once the pounds started coming on she no longer took pride in her appearance.

There’s no question that both women needed a good makeover to lift their spirits…some new, fashionable clothes, a facial and tips on how to apply make-up, and a trendy haircut with some color or highlights. There’s no question that Andrea needed some counseling to help her deal with her emotional issues, and there’s no question that Belinda needed to go on a diet and hit the gym to lose the weight that she had gained over the last few years. But surgery?

At the end of the show, both women emerged, physically sculpted and transformed so much that when the mirror was unveiled and they saw their reflection for the first time in three months, they didn’t even recognize themselves.

Granted, beauty does matter in our society. The “halo effect,” when perceptions dictate that attractive people are more intelligent, popular and successful than unattractive people, is a very real thing. But what exactly does “being attractive” mean? To Andrea and Belinda it meant looking thin and sculpted, like a model or movie star. But is that really all that being attractive entails? I certainly hope not.

Last year in the United States, surgeons performed approximately 8.5 million surgical and non-surgical procedures – a 293 percent increase from 1997. Surgeons attribute the drastic rise to television shows like The Swan, Extreme Makeover, and I Want a Famous Face where viewers’ expectations are high when they see the quick results depicted on TV. But according to a plastic surgeon at Harvard Medical School, who says that the bandages of those on TV are changed right before filming to make things more palatable for viewers, those expectations come from misinformation. Recovery time on these shows is often very deceiving.

There’s also the suggestion that radical, permanent changes will improve a person’s life and make them happier. But even plastic surgeons recognize that having plastic surgery cannot transform a person’s whole life. What’s on the inside can’t be reconstructed with a knife and the problems back at home won’t miraculously go away just because someone comes home with a new face.

And it may even cause more harm than it’s worth. Like any surgery, there are risks involved. In fact, a recent survey of plastic surgeons reported roughly 19 deaths per 100,000 liposuctions. The generally accepted rate for elective surgery is one in 100,000.

I’m not saying that plastic surgery isn’t warranted for some individuals. For those with cleft palates, large, unshapely noses, ears that stick out, plastic surgery can certainly help to build a person’s self-esteem by refining and improving one’s natural appearance. In fact, when my brother was a child, he was constantly teased because his ears stuck out. The cartilage never properly attached to the bone. As his older sister, I too have to take some blame for calling him “Dumbo” on occasion. (Kids can be so cruel!) However, when he was a junior in high school, he had his ears fixed. The once withdrawn boy with low self-esteem re-emerged with an incredible air of confidence. For my brother, plastic surgery was indeed warranted. But for those like Andrea and Belinda who are just looking for the “quick fix,” I think they really ought to think about whether surgery is in fact the answer. Perhaps take a look at what’s going on inside before thinking about making permanent changes to the outside.

I know several individuals who are physically attractive, but who are nothing but ugly on the inside. What that says to me is that beauty is much more than simply looking good. In fact, I believe that attractive people possess similar traits. They maintain a positive perspective; they take good care of themselves both mentally and physically; they help others when needed; and they have confidence in themselves.

No surgeon’s knife can sculpt those attributes.

Jennifer Post Stoudt
– Jennifer Post Stoudt

is associate director of college
relations/communications and editor
of The Albright Reporter.

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