‘Psychiatry With A Scalpel’

Out with friends a few days ago, we were playing  the ‘what would you buy if you won the lottery?’ game.  (The fact that I don’t buy a ticket detracts not a jot from my outrage at never having won).

I’ve rehearsed this scenario with friends in varying forms since I was little, but whilst the premise may be unchanged, our ambitions are now slightly different.  From ‘Dress Your Own Barbie’ to the heady world of plastic surgery, these days it’s not just Mr Potato Head who’s going under the knife.

The question today is not  so much ‘would you have it done?’ as, ‘what bits would you change?’ and ‘where would you stop?’

I’d love to say that this is a problem confined to Z-list celebs and those with too much money or a lack of purpose.  But – articulated or not, I suspect that it’s a topic of fascination both within and outside the church. Me being me, my mouth tends to roar into action before the starting whistle’s blown.  But in broaching the topic, even I’m aware of basic etiquette. Observe;

I’ll prepare the ground by opening with insightful observations of global concern. ‘What do you think of X’s policy on the exportation of goats? Fascinating article in the FT.   And great feature on Newsnight on er – Jordan.  No, not the place.  The celebrity, of course.  She’s just got another nose..’)

Next to hedge around with necessary caveats.

‘Of course as a Christian I’d never even consider plastic surgery’.

(Friend nods vigorously, whilst avoiding eye-contact).

‘Disgusting.  The very idea!’

(A delicate pause).

‘Aside from anything else, I couldn’t afford it’.

(Brushing away an imaginary crumb)

‘. . But just say, for the sake of argument, I was abducted by the brilliant plastic surgeon –  Charleton Carver. In fact, (warming to my theme), we both are. He’s gorgeous and he’s whisked us away to his Monte Carlo surgery. Seriously, these things happen.  What can we do? He’s Demanding we get something done.’

(Friend expresses horror whilst licking lips and murmurs,

‘.. Yes, I see what you mean.  Oh my…’

(A moment to reflect)

‘..  Boobs or butt?’

And we’re off..

This is purely as an imaginative debate.  An exercise in irony.  After all, what self-respecting woman would really think her life could be improved by lopping bits off her anatomy or adding them on?  That’s like saying ‘if you look better, you’ll feel happier’.  Ha! As if  a generation of intelligent women are gonna fall into that  – ooooh, hang on.  Just spotted something in Boots – it’s the moisturiser that plumps your lips, no kidding.  I’ll be right back..

In some senses, plastic surgery really is a global issue, exposing  complex values and beliefs that are more than skin deep. Recently, Time Magazine ran an article on the astonishing growth of such procedures in Asia, where even toddlers are booked in to have their eyelids done and at least one in 10 Korean adults have received some form of surgical upgrade. Closer to home, in 2009 the UK plastic surgery industry was worth £1.2b –  and this is a fraction of the US, where around 12 million cosmetic procedures are carried out each year.

Every year in the UK, there are around  100,000 operations, (not including non-surgical options like Botox). 90% of these are carried out on women, (with the most common being breast enlargements and eyelid surgery). That said, in 2009, 7% more men opted for plastic surgery than in the previous year.  (The most common operations for men are nose jobs, followed by breast reduction to deal with the dreaded ‘moobs’ or ‘man boobs’).

Plastic surgery has come a long way since its beginnings in WW1, where it was developed as  a  response to the horrific facial injuries suffered by soldiers.  But by the end of the Second World War, the US was left with a problem – a surplus of highly specialised cosmetic surgeons.  The solution  was to create a demand based on supply – by shifting the focus from men to women.  This is a pattern which is coming full circle, as today increasing numbers of men are joining what has been a female-dominated industry.

In the 1920s psychologist Alfred Adler gave the practice a huge boost, by claiming that our national ‘inferiority complexes’ justified plastic surgery as a form of therapy, (aka ‘psychiatry with a scalpel’). By the end of the 1980s, new technology and aggressive marketing made plastic surgery more accessible.   And today it’s not only cheap as chips, but just as common. Disgusting.

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