A recent study finding that plastic surgery may not make people significantly more attractive got me to thinking. Given the vast body of research attesting to the psychological benefits of plastic surgery (be it reconstructive or cosmetic), it seemed reasonable to assume that improvement in attractiveness would be the key. But this study has been widely interpreted as casting doubt on the whole business. One CBS-TV affiliate, for example, trotted out the cliché “you may be better off saving your cash and obeying the old adage to let yourself age gracefully.”
The study, published in the JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery journal this month, evaluated 49 consecutive facial plastic surgery patients in terms of youthfulness and attractiveness. The raters were independent and “blinded” to what procedures were done. They found a consistent improvement in youthfulness in the post-op photos but minimal change in attractiveness. So is facial plastic surgery really worth it?
As with all studies, this one has limitations. For example, if the procedures were facelifts, the goal would have been a more youthful appearance. Most of my facelift patients say they don’t want to look like a different person, just a refreshed and less tired-looking version of themselves. Altering features to change appearance would be inconsistent with their goals in these instances, and I suspect that was the case with this study. While it may be generally true that youthfulness is associated with beauty, at least in the abstract, but the raters in this study were specifically asked to separate the two. A study of patients who specifically requested procedures to enhance beauty would have given more meaningful information.
So we are really back where we started: plastic surgery is a personal choice, expectations must be realistic in order for the outcome to be successful, and the best work often goes unnoticed – by design.