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Who Gets Plastic Surgery and Why

Survey Shows Average Patient Is Not Rich and Not Old

WebMD Health News

Aug. 30, 2005 - They aren't who you think they are.

Who gets cosmetic plastic surgery? Forget the stereotype of the over-50 socialite who needs psychiatry more than a zillionth face lift.

An Internet survey shows that most people seriously seeking plastic surgery -- 71% -- make $60,000 or less. Sixty-four percent are under 50, and 81% haven't had plastic surgery before.

The findings come from a study commissioned by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Study leaders Sarah Thorne and Tanya Darisi are with Decision Partners LLC, a Pittsburgh-based research and communications firm.

Darisi, Thorne, and colleagues conducted in-depth interviews with 60 people who had contacted the ASPS referral service to find a plastic surgeon. They distilled the information into a questionnaire. A national polling firm used the questionnaire in an Internet-based survey of 644 adults seriously considering plastic surgery in the next year. The findings appear in the Sept. 1 issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

"We spoke to people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds, jobs, income levels -- there isn't really a typical person getting plastic surgery," Darisi tells WebMD.

"The only thing we found that was typical was how thoughtful people were about undergoing plastic surgery," Thorne tells WebMD. "We talked to moms who just had kids and wanted to have a few things nipped and tucked so they could feel better about themselves. We talked to young guys who had something that had bothered them all their lives and who saved money for an operation since their teens or early 20s. We talked to older women who, now that they had the time and perhaps the ability to have surgery done, wanted something fixed because it had always been important to them."

Why People Have Plastic Surgery

People who seek plastic surgery obviously want to change their appearance. But that isn't at the heart of what they want.

"It all starts with people wanting to improve imperfections so they can feel better about themselves," Thorne says. "Some spoke about improving physical features that had bothered them for some time. They felt they would be happier, that others would respond to them better, that they would have improved social lives. Men in particular thought they would have improved career opportunities."

Jafar S. Hasan, MD, resident surgeon in the University of Michigan plastic surgery training program, has studied why people seek cosmetic surgery.

"Some older studies suggested that the average plastic-surgery patient is likely to have some psychological disturbance -- especially male patients," Hasan tells WebMD. "But this is old research. I found that on average, the plastic surgery patient does not suffer from any psychiatric disorder. Those older views are outdated."

One reason this may be true is that the ASPS and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery stress that board-certified plastic surgeons should conduct extensive consultations before agreeing to operate on a patient. Mark Jewell, MD, is president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

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