There are many reasons why people undergo plastic surgery. The desire for self-improvement is the most compelling but the underlying motivation for such an emotional decision is never quite that simple. In a recent study in a prestigious plastic surgery journal, it was reported that nearly 80 percent of patients surveyed said that part of their decision to have plastic surgery was triggered by television and other media exposures. One television influence prominently noted was that of reality programming. The influence in the last decade of the reality TV concept is undeniable and has focused on everything from cake baking to child rearing..
The early success of ‘Doctor 90210’ and the now defunct ‘Extreme Makeover’ has fueled many copycats and there does not appear to be an end to the public’s desire for this form of reality plastic surgery. Whether the appeal is similar to the transformations seen on ‘Yard Crashers’ and ‘Rock Solid’ or the fascination of watching others subject themselves to an extensive makeover is undoubtedly part of it. I am all for increasing the public’s awareness of the benefits of plastic surgery but the ‘reality’ shown in the little bit of these programs that I have seen doesn’t really reflect the real life experience of the plastic surgery process.
Just like the entertaining but tragically distorted plastic surgery show, ‘Nip/Tuck’, television is all about entertainment and getting you to watch and rarely about truth. Only the highlighted moments of excitement and results is portrayed, leaving out all of what the producers consider dull filler material. This unshown filler, however, is really what plastic surgery is about. Boring accurate information, such as risks and complications and realistic outcomes, are never portrayed. What may happen when the plastic surgery doesn’t turn out so well is rarely if ever shown. In fact, some of these shows focus almost exclusively on the eccentricities of the plastic surgeons or their patients. While Dr. Ray may be entertaining, it is never revealed that he has never taken the effort to be board-certified.
Not all plastic surgery programs on TV, however, are badly done. There are some that are especially informative and insightful. This is the case with the Discovery Channel’s “Plastic Surgery: Before and After.” It is clear in this type of programming that their intent was educational, not a festive diversion to keep your eyes glued. Rather its intent is to teach, educate, and give us a greater explanation of what cosmetic surgery is all about. That is meaningful time spent about a serious TV subject.
In reality, most patients are not primarily driven to get plastic surgery because of these reality TV programs. They do it because they have physical imperfections that are bothersome to them. These TV programs are an extension of the often distorted Hollywood world where the pursuit of physical perfection and the fighting of father time is taken to sometimes ridiculous levels. They promote unhealthy desires such as teenage girls possessed about enlarging their breasts or changing their nose in the hope that this make them famous or get them noticed. Most people may be able to see through the façade of these shows and see them for the trivial entertainment that they are. But impressionable teenagers and insecure adults may not be so discerning. Just like the recently passed Health Care Reform bill, the devil is in the details. The real reality of plastic surgery is in that boring stuff that is hardly worth watching…but is really worth knowing.
Dr. Barry Eppley