Plastic surgery often gets a bad rap for being something that only those with low self-esteem pursue. It’s assumed that these individuals try to improve their physical appearance to make up for some missing psychological component. However, there could be a link between plastic surgery and self-confidence.
Improved Body Image Following Surgery
There’s a growing body of research on the psychological effects of plastic surgery, and many studies have found that those who have undergone plastic surgery do experience improved self-confidence after their surgeries.
“These are fascinating issues for psychologists to look at—from the cultural phenomena to the interpersonal phenomena to the mental health and self-esteem issues,” psychologist Diana Zuckerman, PhD and president for the National Research Center for Women and Families, told the American Psychological Association. She believes that though the research is currently thin, it will become a huge part of psychological study in the future.
A recent study from the Center for Human Appearance at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine examined the psychological outcomes following a cosmetic procedure. Researchers discovered that more than 87 percent said they were satisfied with the surgery and felt that their body had improved as a result. They exhibited fewer negative emotions towards their body when put in social situations.
The study was directed by psychologist David B. Sarwer, PhD, who is also the Director of Education, Weight, and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Sarwer reports that an improvement in body image does not replace therapy for psychological needs.
“Clearly, cosmetic surgery patients consider themselves to have an improved appearance and report an enhanced body image following surgery,” Dr. Sarwer wrote in conclusion. “It does not appear, however, that a surgical change in appearance leads to more general improvements in psychosocial functioning.”
Entering the Procedure with Realistic Expectations
Most studies that explore the relationship between self-confidence and plastic surgery indicate that satisfaction following a procedure is most often associated with setting up realistic expectations during the initial consultation.
Dr. Sarwer stated this in the study mentioned above: “Assessing patients’ motivations for and expectations of surgery is an important part of the preoperative consultation,” he wrote.
Another study headed up by David J. Castle, MSc, MD, published in The Medical Journal of Australia agrees.
“Patients who have unrealistic expectations of outcome are more likely to be dissatisfied with cosmetic procedures,” study authors wrote.
Psychosocial Effects of Plastic Surgery
Dr. Castle’s study also strongly stresses that plastic surgery is mostly ineffective in boosting confidence for those with certain psychological disorders.
“Some people are never satisfied with cosmetic interventions, despite good procedural outcomes,” the study reports. “Some of these have a psychiatric disorder called “body dysmorphic disorder.”
Overall, studies show that those with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) responded poorly to any physical changes to their body.
“The belief of imagined ugliness is often held with delusional conviction,” study authors state, pointing out that the issue is mental, and no amount of plastic surgery will change their viewpoint.
Overall, however, it appears that most individuals who are well prepared for their procedures are pleased with their outcomes. In most cases, the individual walks out more confident and socially prepared than when they walked in.