In recent years rates of plastic surgery procedures have gone up dramatically as have the rates of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (a disorder in which a person worries excessively about or has strong negative feelings about their body). It may surprise you to hear that as a therapist who specializes in body image and eating disorders, I’m not against plastic surgery.
We all want to look our best and I understand that this can mean different things for different people. However, I also know that healthy body image has very little to do with what your body looks like. I also know that trying to “fix” your outsides (how you look) to fix the insides (how you feel) rarely works. You may be so unhappy with a certain area of your body that you genuinely believe your stomach or breasts or whatever are the problem. You may truly believe that once your body is “fixed” you’ll feel better.
However, attempting to “fix” your appearance through plastic surgery or any other means can make your body image worse. The reason for this is that your thinking patterns and feelings won’t change even if your “problem” nose or breasts change. Your self-critical thoughts will shift to a different part of your body and the cycle will continue.
Body image is a complicated thing. Our body image is how we relate to or feel about our body. It’s made up of our memories and experiences, our internal talk (what we say in the mirror or in our own head) the media we’ve taken in, and the comments and reactions other people made about our bodies. People with healthy body image don’t have “perfect” bodies. Healthy body image means you don’t focus on your body excessively or think the way you look is the most important thing about you. In fact, people with healthy body image see their appearance as a simple joy. Maybe it’s fun to get your hair done or put on makeup but it’s not what defines you. Therefore, focusing on “fixing” your body won’t improve your body image. By trying to “fix” things you’re making how you look more important and more a part of your identity. This can only lead to you feeling worse about yourself.
I’m not against plastic surgery, shopping for new clothes or wearing makeup if these things make you feel good. Our personal appearance can be a healthy, simple joy in life. Choosing to style your hair or wear certain clothes can be a form of self-expression. All these things, including plastic surgery are personal choices. It’s important though to determine if you are acting from a place of self-love or self-hate. When we’re acting from self-love (positive body image) we enjoy the simple pleasure of our body. How we dress, groom or shape our body is an extension of who you are. It’s fun, simple and pleasurable. We don’t obsess about how we look. It’s just a part of who we are. When we’re acting from a place of self-hate, we feel the need to “fix” ourselves, we obsess, we may have painful memories we focus on and feel that how we look (or don’t look) defines us and is a problem.
Ultimately the decision to have plastic surgery or make any other change to your appearance is personal and private. Everyone has the right to decide how they want to present and groom their body. Before taking any action, I would simply encourage you to ask, “am I fixing or am I loving my body with this choice?”