Importance of Plastic Surgery in Our Society Research Paper

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Plastic Surgery in America

When people hear the term "plastic surgery," they almost immediately think of the negative connotations of that phrase. While it is certainly true that many Americans have had elective plastic surgery, there are far more types of medical procedures that fall under this category than the stereotypical nose jobs or breast enhancements. There are pros and cons to the debate about plastic surgery and its importance in this society. Most of the arguments against plastic surgery focus on the cosmetic aspects of this field and thus overlook some of the real world positive applications. Plastic surgery is overused in this country in terms of people who have unnecessary operations in order to alter their physical appearance to create some perceived ideal or to better match what the media portrays as beautiful. It is definitely true that this branch of plastic surgeries has had negative side effects in this country, coercing young men and women to go under the knife when the procedures are unnecessary. However, plastic surgery can also help in the healing process of people who have had serious diseases like cancer or who have been severely injured in fires, car accidents, or assaults. There is a difference between unneeded, cosmetic surgery and reconstructive surgery. What differentiates the two is the purpose for the surgery. In elective plastic surgery, the patient is unhappy with their appearance and desires surgery. There is nothing physically wrong with the individual. It is all about superficiality. For those who get reconstructive surgery, they are literally and metaphorically rebuilding their lives. This latter type of surgery is important to the continuation and betterment of the life of the patient (Reconstructive Surgery). In America, it would be best if the more popular, cosmetic and unneeded medical procedures were limited so that funds, time, energy, and research could be better utilized by being applied to cases of plastic surgery which help people rebuild their lives after tragedy.

The practice that is known as plastic surgery has been performed throughout known history. Plastic surgery as it is known today gained popularity at the beginning of the Second World War (Erhardt). After the First World War, soldiers around the world who had lost limbs and had been severely damaged physically and emotionally during their time in Europe, began looking for ways to treat their injuries and disabilities. By the time of the Second World War, it became evident that weaponry had become sophisticated beyond the ability of modern medicine to treat and heal injuries. New technologies and treatments were researched and investigated by medical scientists around the world in order to provide aid for the new war's casualties. Soon, the practice became advanced enough to the point where the surgeries can be performed at hospitals outside of the jurisdiction of the military. By the middle of the century, plastic surgery had become a specialty and the only people certified would have to show expertise in general surgery.

As stated, there are some negative sides to the concept of plastic surgery which must first be addressed. In the article "The Empire of Images in our World of Bodies," author Susan Bordo illustrates the ways in which our lives are saturated by the visual iconography of our consumerist society. Specifically, Bordo is concerned with the ways in which perceptions of the human body tend to conform to the saturation of body types in the visual culture. Everything in society is valued by comparing it to some visual ideal which no one can achieve through natural means. "Aging beautifully' used to mean wearing one's years with style, confidence, and vitality. Today, it means not appearing to age at all. And -- like breasts that defy gravity -- it's becoming a new bodily norm" (Bordo 1). The modern sense of the word beauty is defined by massive amounts of cosmetic plastic surgery which alter an otherwise naturally beautiful woman into a homogenous countenance where those considered beautiful all have to look like they came out of the same mold. Anything that ventures outside this modern normative, such as remaining a natural look are unnatural beings to the public mindset and thus undesirable. Bordo's thesis is that the celebrity iconography of the popular culture dictates the self-perception of the population. Although the authors point is a pertinent one, she seems to leave out the implications of choice and the culpability of the parents in the destruction of self-perception and understanding. Bordo derides psychologist Sheryl Lamb and her theories about young children. Lamb tells mothers to allow their little girls to wear "thick blue eye shadow, spaghetti straps and bra straps intertwined, long and leggy with short black dresses" because they are "silly and adorable, sexy and marvelous all at once" (Bordo 1). The author is visibly disgusted by Sheryl Lamb's writing and yet Bordo makes no remark about the culpability of the parents of these children. It is after all the responsibility of the parent to secure the self-esteem of their children, particularly their daughters.

Now, although there are some definitive downsides to advancements in the technology of plastic surgeries, there are also a plethora of benefits which aid people with physical deformities which were either caused by birth or by some lifetime trauma (Erhardt). For researchers investigating this branch of plastic surgery, they are not interested in finding new procedures for altering a person's natural features into some socially-dictated ideal. These medical procedures are called reconstructive surgeries because they rebuild the person to a state that they were physically before their accident or illness. They are also used to fix or prevent deformities or physical abnormalities in the individual. Because this country is so obsessed with superficiality and a person's looks, people who have physical features which are not considered part of the norm are made the object of ridicule. A physical condition can lead to severe emotional illnesses because of the pressure that is involved in living every single day outside the boundaries of what American media says is beautiful.

Tumor removals are the most common reason for reconstructive plastic surgery in the United States (Erhardt). Among the list of reconstructive surgeries which are performed for patients in need are: breast reconstruction, breast reduction, cleft lip and palate repair, hand surgery, scar revision, skin cancer repair, and for treatment of burn victims (Reconstructive). All of these procedures are designed to provide physical and emotional healing to an individual through medical intervention.

Breast reconstruction is a medical procedure wherein a woman's breast is rebuilt following a mastectomy. A mastectomy is a medical treatment for breast cancer. Often when the tumor within the breast is too large or if the patient's tumor does not respond to either radiation or other forms of treatment, the patient will need to have the tissue in the breast removed. Many times this requires the removal of the entire breast. After the patient has recovered from her surgery, the doctor may advise or encourage her to have breast reconstructive surgery (What). There are several forms by which breast reconstruction can be performed but it most often involves expansion of the skin and the insertion of a breast implant, such as one would have if undergoing the more routine cosmetic breast enhancement surgery.

Breast reduction is a surgical procedure which reduces the size of the breast which can solve some medical difficulties which arise as the result of overly large breasts. There are many dangers to a woman who has macromastia, the medical term for a woman who has breasts that are too large for her body. Among the medical problems that can occur in a woman with macromastia include chronic pain in the head, neck, shoulder, and the back. There can also be secondary health difficulties including poor blood circulation, difficulty breathing, and can lead to severe chafing and abrasions of the skin of the chest and lower breast. In addition to the medical considerations, women who have macromastia can have hindrances in their daily activities which limit mobility and can lead to anxiety and depression.

Males can sometimes require breast reduction as well. There is a rare medical condition called gynecomastia. This causes the male to produce excessive tissue within the chest. Often the condition appears in adolescence, a time when males are already going through massive physical and emotional changes. At the same time as the males are turning from boys into adults, they are especially psychologically sensitive to differences between themselves and others (Gary). When a young man has a chest which is overly large, it can lead to ridicule from others within the same age group. For these young men, breast reduction surgery can not only alleviate a medical condition, it can cause a cessation in the amount of teasing and bullying that the boy receives.

Cleft lip and palate repair is one of the most common forms of reconstructive plastic surgery that is performed. A cleft palate can result in a cleft lip also, but can occur without continuation…

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