Dangers in the quest for beauty

Cosmetic surgery has made the quest to achieve cultural beauty ideals all the more accessible.
Photo / Thinkstock
Cosmetic surgery has made the quest to achieve cultural beauty ideals all the more accessible. Photo / Thinkstock

The quest for eternal youth and beauty is an age-old one, with history replete with strange forms of body modification from bone-crushing corsets to foot binding.

Cosmetic surgery has made the painstaking quest to achieve cultural beauty ideals all the more accessible, a commodity that is up for sale to those willing to pay.

But is the explosion of plastic surgery, once the domain of the rich and vain but now affordable to many, an insidious trend that will change the landscape of how we perceive ourselves?

And what are the risks?

Lauren Edgar, 28, paid the ultimate price for perfection.

The South Australian Coroner's Court opened an inquest into the Adelaide's woman death in November, with her grieving parents the first to give evidence.

The slim and smiling blonde woman who appeared radiant in pictures died after developing gangrene following liposuction surgery in March 2009.

The inquest heard her parents tried to dissuade her, saying she was not overweight and assuring her exercise would fix her physique after her illness.

"She said she was doing it for herself, something to make her happy," her emotional father told the inquest.

Cosmetic surgery researcher Meredith Jones from the University of Technology in Sydney says the pressure to fit a narrow ideal of beauty was ubiquitous.

"So in order to fit it perfectly or even approximate it, you need to so something drastic to yourself," she said.

Jones said most people did not realise the risks of surgery, especially liposuction, which often involves multiple wounds and leaves patients open to infection.

"One of the problems with cosmetic surgery is that it is completely trivialised in our culture," Jones said.

"In many ways it is on a par with fashion, it's just something you do, it's part of your good grooming regime."

Patients idealised glamorous surgical make-overs but were rarely aware of the risks and pain.

Jones said Edgar being sent home on the day of her surgery "should be criminal".

She sees a brave new world where cosmetic procedures are as common as dying grey hair, and those who don't join the culture's call for surgical sculpting are the odd ones out.

"You really would be the odd one out and maybe the ugly one or the one that doesn't take good care of herself if you haven't done it," she said.

Trends in surgery will emerge in different cultures, with the decision to forego the knife an active choice.

"We already associate beauty with a kind of manufactured look," Jones said, pointing to Kim Kardashian's botoxed, polished skin and fake eyelashes.

Now beauty was not something you were born with, but a status symbol you worked at and deserved because you've spent the time and money.

Jones says she respects the right of women do what they wanted with their bodies but urged at least one year's research before a procedure.

Roseanna Biviano's nursing experience could not save her from a botched gastric bypass operation.

Biviano, 28, had the stomach-dividing surgery at 19 after tipping the scales at 166kg - at her gastric surgeon's urging.

It is a decision she regrets, despite losing more than 80kg.

The doctor ended up stapling rather than stitching her blood vessels. The staples fell out, leading to hemorrhaging and extending her initial eight-hour operation to 24 hours.

It was the beginning of a three-year nightmare.

Biviano suffered seven additional operations after being racked with infections, twisted bowels and a hernia.

She sank into a depression, suffered morphine addiction and was put on on life support.

The surgeon's lack of post operative care meant Ms Biviano was once sent home with a cyst the size of golf ball that later burst causing more infection.

"They never told me the complications I would face afterwards ... his negligence I think was a big part of it."

Biviano urges those considering surgery to talk to those who've had it done.

"They (doctors) can do 100 operations a day but if they haven't had it done themselves, they don't know exactly how it feels like," she said.

Biviano still suffers stomach discomfort and admits social pressures induce young people to make radical choices.

"When you're self confidence is just shot down to the ground I suppose you'll do anything," she said.

"It changes your life. It's irreversible. I can't take it back now."

Dr Jones says cosmetic surgery was a feminist issue, despite many women asserting it is an empowered decision.

"Ninety per cent of cosmetic surgery recipients are still women. Ninety per cent of cosmetic surgeons are men," she said.

"It is men changing women. Men having control over women's bodies. Men being the arbiters of what's beautiful and what's ugly."

- AAP

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