Two recent papers piqued my interest in how people come to the conclusion that they "need" plastic or cosmetic surgery. The first, by Julie Albright of the University of California, studied the notion of how the media — including news outlets, TV shows, and other cultural influences — pressures college-age women to feel poorly about their looks, to the point at which a physician is approached to "relieve" their low self-esteem via aesthetic surgery.

The other report, by PhD candidate Kristi Scott at the University of Southern Indiana, examines how people choose to undergo cosmetic plastic surgery and how their surrounding relationships are affected by their decision.

Scott also gets into the notion that people who have been manipulated by the media, peers, and the culture (in general) feel that positive outcomes validate the patient's illusion of “correction” by surgery and various genetic issues. Cheating Darwin: The Genetic and Ethical Implications of Vanity and Cosmetic Plastic Surgery:

There are many relationships to be considered with [cosmetic surgery], the first being between the individual and her inner-self. According to Naomi Wolf, “Most of our assumptions about the way women have always thought about ‘beauty’ date from no earlier than the 1830s, when the cult of domesticity was first consolidated and the beauty index invented” (Wolf, 1991). She speculates that, during this time, there must have been some kind of discovery of how to keep women continuously feeling insecure about their looks so that they would buy more products to make them look like the “ideal beauty” (Wolf 1991). The beauty industries profit by keeping this inner conflict, between the individual and her inner-self. To be motivated to purchase more products, an individual needs to be insecure about her self so that she feels the need to purchase something that will correct the perceived problem. This communication to women isn’t coming solely from the corporate industries that create and produce these products, but also from the mass media in general. They, too, are involved in perpetuating the belief in an ideal form of beauty to which women should aspire.

Read it all.