Jeffrey Frentzen

Increasingly, the media, as well as plastic surgery practices and medical spas, are promoting aesthetic procedures as “commodities almost everyone can afford,” as opposed to the old approach of soft selling to a high-end clientele.

As the industry expands into new markets, the pool of potential patients is likewise increasing as the so-called other classes gain access to surgical procedures and the artists that perform them. Until relatively recently, these artists (you) were exclusive to the rich and/or famous, and were kept away from the masses due to the exorbitant price of plastic surgery.

Well, the masses now get the message that plastic surgery is not only less expensive than before, but preferred. They want one thing: to look like a favorite beautiful model, celebrity, or movie star.

The advances in cosmetic surgery and the popularity of many procedures among mainstream Americans certainly allows more opportunities for surgeons across the US. However, a big concern is over the obsession with beauty that can cloud the judgment of those seeking surgery. Overall, surgery can be risky, and cosmetic surgery is meant to be considered seriously and carefully.

Although an informed patient is the best kind, what is the quality of information that reaches this patient via the media?

The mainstreaming of plastic surgery has led the industry to lower the overall quality of that information, and to increasingly rely on negative marketing tactics to sell plastic surgery to all classes, not just the super rich. The media’s message is a negative one about consumers’ lack of self-confidence and their insecurities about their own bodies.

Even in the practice’s consult room, physicians may default to using these same tactics, albeit in milder forms: A patient will come to you with a wish to look more like Angelina Jolie, and you may draw comparisons between the patient and Jolie to help make a sale.

But what if? What would the face of plastic surgery look like if imagery and media that glorified the bodies of beautiful actors and other celebrities were banned for use in marketing aesthetic procedures?

Be you with a new patient looking for a better look or performing as a spokesperson on TV and reaching millions of home viewers, you would have been ordered by your medical society—or perhaps by the government—and took a legally binding pledge to use only to your own before-and-after shots or use images from common-license libraries.

Such an order would be an affront to the First Amendment of the US Constitution, of course. But let’s put that aside for a moment and suggest what we might be missing if the media (and you) were kept from exploiting people’s self-doubts, fears, and movie-star envy to gain new patients.

For instance, there would be strict limits on what kind of celebrity plastic surgery references you could make publicly or in ads for plastic surgery practices or medical spas. Sound extreme? In many cases today, plastic surgeons are already the ones who must talk patients out of having XYZ procedure done (the one a TV charlatan had recommended on the air). You frequently already have the job of educating patients away from the marketing hype that brought them to you in the first place.

Why not simply formalize the arrangement to remove references to celebrities and plasticized movie stars during your marketing of services and consultations?

Just think, we would probably not have to read as many headlines that are like the following:”Heidi Montag’s Cosmetic Surgery Obsession”

“No Cosmetic Surgery for Pamela”

“5 Plastic Surgery Disasters That Made Young Celebs Look Old”

“Ali Lohan’s Rep Denies Plastic Surgery Reports”

How bad would it be for you (and the entire industry) if all references to models and movie stars were not made when speaking with your patients? What is the marketing alternative to this tried-and-true but basically dishonest approach?

The result might be more honesty, for one. The overuse of celebrity-type imagery to sell plastic surgery has reached an epidemic stage. It’s to a point where a growing number of actual beautiful celebrities have come out in public to denounce plastic surgery. In a recent video, actress Jamie Lee Curtis recently called plastic surgery “genocide.” (See Smart Practices in this issue)

Though some of the celebrity remarks are not helpful, many are convincing prospective patients to reconsider the value of so much plastic surgery. And they are asking themselves, increasingly, will it really make them feel better about themselves?