Psychological Risks of Cosmetic Surgery Ignored: Study

VANCOUVER, December 16, 2008 (AFP) – Magazine stories about breast implants, nose jobs and liposuction too often downplay the psychological risks, including suicide, of invasive cosmetic surgery, reports a Canadian study.

Surgery is portrayed as part of a “normal” beauty regime in best-selling North American women’s magazines, in stories alongside clothing and diet advice, researcher Andrea Polonijo said.

While the physical risks of surgery were sometimes reported, emotional risks were mentioned in only 18 percent of stories, said Polonijo.

Her research at the University of British Columbia, and co-authored by her sociology professor Richard Carpiano, was published in the December issue of Women’s Health Issues journal.

Research is ongoing into “whether cosmetic surgery has positive or negative effects on emotional wellbeing,” said Polonijo, and consensus is lacking about whether surgery causes psychological distress, or “women undergoing cosmetic surgery might be predisposed to that already.”

But Polonijo said some studies suggest “anxiety and depression can be emphasized and general body dissatisfaction can actually increase after cosmetic surgery.”

“Some studies linked (having) breast implants with increased risk of psychological problems and suicide,” she said.

The researchers examined 35 articles about invasive cosmetic surgery – not including surgical procedures such as Botox injections – published over a five-year period in Canadian and US magazines Chatelaine, Cosmopolitan, O: The Oprah Magazine, Flare and Prevention.

“These magazines are promising an emotional health boost and that’s not necessarily going to be the outcome,” said Polonijo. “They might want to consider presenting a more balanced view.”

People undergo surgery to increase self-esteem or attract a partner, she warned, and “when these expectations don’t live up to the reality it can take its toll on emotional health.”

In the United States, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported an increase of eight percent in cosmetic surgeries in 2007, to nearly 1.5 procedures. Liposuction was the most popular.

The numbers of cosmetic surgery procedures in Canada are not tracked.

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