Fuller breasts, a smaller tush, flatter tummy – all without a diet or breaking a sweat. That’s what cosmetic surgery can do, and mainstream magazines are happily filling pages in their publications with information about it.
A recent issue of Women’s Health Issues, a Canadian-based medical journal, took a closer look at what the media is sharing with their readers. The study, entitled: “Representations of Cosmetic Surgery and Emotional Health in Women’s Magazines in Canada”, examines how popular women’s magazines portray cosmetic surgery and associated emotional health.
Five English-language women‘s magazines were selected on the basis of their 2005 Canadian circulation rates: Chatelaine, Cosmopolitan, Flare, O: The Oprah Magazine, and Prevention.
While the content analysis showed that the articles did in fact tend to present readers with detailed physical health risk information, only 48 percent of the articles discussed the impact that cosmetic surgery has on emotional health. Most often the stories linked cosmetic surgery with enhanced emotional well-being regardless of the patient’s pre-existing mental state. Articles also tended to use male accounts to provide defining standards of female attractiveness.
According to the Canadian Society for Aesthetic (Cosmetic) Plastic Surgery (2007), the term “cosmetic surgery” refers to invasive surgical procedures such as breast implants, liposuction, or facelifts. Distinct from reconstructive surgery, which aims to fix body disfigurement, cosmetic surgery is used to alter “normal” and physically healthy bodies.
A 2007 Canadian consumer survey revealed that 20.35% of respondents had undergone cosmetic surgery and 46% would consider surgery to change some aspect of their appearance.
The findings were consistent with arguments in research literature that women‘s magazines contribute to the medicalization of the female body; that cosmetic surgery is generally portrayed as a risky but worthwhile option for women to enhance both their physical appearance and emotional health.
According to the study, some research has found positive correlations between cosmetic surgery and emotional well-being, suggesting that cosmetic procedures increase body image satisfaction and produce psychological benefits that improve one’s overall quality of life. However other studies have shown that emotional health problems, such as anxiety and depression, may arise or become amplified in some patients as a consequence of cosmetic surgery; that body image dissatisfaction may increase after surgery, and that breast implant recipients are at increased risk for psychiatric admission and suicide.
Implications for future research and public education strategies were discussed.
Image: Bitter Jug