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Cosmetic Surgery

Cutting a path to confidence

The fat kid finally loses weight in college and lands a bid to join a fraternity. The girl whose face was masked by acne miraculously outgrows her malady and takes her first dip in the dating pool. The brainy boy gets his ears pinned, his braces off, and his first pair of contact lenses. The shy girl gets a nose job, pierced ears, and a butterfly tattoo. It's all just part of growing up, right?

So when is that magic moment when growing up shifts to getting old? When the college diet is replaced by liposuction, and the skincare regimen includes collagen and Botox®? When contacts give way to LASIK surgery? When Rembrandt® toothpaste is bested by DaVinci® porcelain veneers? When the nose job is nothing compared to the chin implant and the eye lift and the breast augmentation and the tummy tuck? It's all just part of getting old, right?

For some, cosmetic surgery is about forestalling the inevitability of aging. For others, it's a way to correct a flaw perceived to lie at the root of a socioeconomic problem such as getting passed over for a promotion, sitting home every Saturday night, or receiving premature invitations to early bird specials.

Will cosmetic surgery resolve that? And if so, is it the updated appearance or the confidence purchased at the plastic surgeon's office that actually lands the job, the date, the best table in the restaurant? Does it matter, as long as it does the trick?

"A lot of older people come into my office not wanting to look like a different person, but to look just as young or as vibrant as they feel," says Dr. David Morwood, a Monterey plastic surgeon who serves as the vice chair of the Maxillofacial/Plastic/Dental division at Community Hospital. "Some patients believe it will give them a competitive edge to look more youthful in the workplace. Others feel it will be good for their relationship. They tell us in training that a plastic surgeon is a psychiatrist with a knife. It's about building self-confidence, which addresses a core issue of human nature - our desire to look normal, to look good, to be accepted."

Certainly, some people do want to look dramatically different. Others just want to look younger. But many, says Morwood, particularly the older they get, just want to look refreshed and healthy. It's OK to be 60 and OK to look 60, but it is universal to want to look your best.

"People should think about what they want to change before they come in," says Morwood. "They should seek a board-certified plastic surgeon who is experienced in the procedure they want. And they should be open and willing to tell the doctor exactly what they want. Even if they don't know the procedure they need, they can describe the changes they're looking for. The responsible surgeon will tell them exactly what can be done realistically and safely, and what they can expect."

Did you know?

  • "Plastic" surgery stems from the Greek root "plastikos," meaning to shape or mold. 
  • 11.5 million cosmetic procedures were performed in the United States in 2006, up 7 percent from 2005. Americans spent $12.2 billion on these procedures.
  • In the same year, 5.2 million reconstructive operations were done in the United States.
  • More than 100,000 facelifts were performed in the United States last year.
  • The most common operations for women are breast enlargement, liposuction, nose reshaping, eyelid lifts (blepharoplasty), and tummy tucks (abdominoplasty).
  • The most common operations for men are nose reshaping, eyelid surgery, liposuction, hair restoration, and breast reduction (gynecomastia correction).
  • About 10 percent of all cosmetic operations are performed on men.