Australian women seem to know precious little about what to expect from cosmetic surgery or the real risks attached. Consequently they tend to make poor decisions and suffer unintended outcomes, says health sociologist Rhian Parker from The Australian National University.
For her book Women, Doctors and Cosmetic Surgery: Negotiating the 'normal' body
, Associate Professor Parker conducted a wide-ranging review of information about cosmetic surgery practices in Australia and around the world, including procedures like nose jobs, breast implants and face lifts. She also interviewed 32 women who have undergone a cosmetic surgery procedure, and 19 medical practitioners who carry out these kinds of operations.
"Cosmetic surgery stories saturate the media, with many of these articles suggesting that the procedures are entirely safe, normal and commonplace," Associate Professor Parker said. "Yet we know very little about what women say of their experiences of cosmetic surgery, why they want it and the risks they are prepared to take to have it done.
"What we do know is that the patient base for cosmetic surgery is overwhelmingly made up of women, and the medical practitioners are predominantly men. This must inevitably contribute to inconsistent, contradictory and divergent assumptions about the nature of women's bodies and what is meant by female beauty and physical acceptability."
In her study, Associate Professor Parker found that women were motivated to change a part of their body that they felt was at odds with their sense of self and with societal norms of beauty. Yet many of those same women reported that they went into cosmetic surgery with very little information about risks and without appreciating that they may not get the outcome they wanted.
Despite the lack of available information, research suggests that the number of cosmetic surgery procedures is increasing rapidly, with cosmetic surgical procedures numbering in the tens of thousands in recent years. Associate Professor Parker says that this surge in procedures, coupled with a lack of general information and discussion, should be urgently addressed.
"Cosmetic surgery needs to move from the peripheral shadows of medicine, to be made accountable and to lay itself open to critical scrutiny. It is only then that there will be enough publicly available information for informed choices to be made about cosmetic surgery and about where the power lies in the cosmetic surgery process."