Dr Eileen Bradbury is a consultant psychologist who has been working with cosmetic surgery patients for 20 years.
Big life changes such as marital breakdown or losing your job are often triggers for cosmetic surgery.
Breast augmentation patients are a particularly vulnerable group. They are much more likely to have had multiple partners and a history of psychiatric illness.
Research shows that if you assess people six months after they have had cosmetic surgery, they are delighted (assuming all has gone well). Two years down the line, they may be more or less back to where they were pre-surgery.
But if people are self-conscious about their nose or breasts, have a reasonably stable life, are clear as to objectives, and no longer feel self-conscious post-surgery, there is a long-term beneficial effect.
When cosmetic surgery goes wrong, the psychological consequences can be catastrophic. Patients feel stupid, embarrassed and guilty. They chose to have the treatment and when their perceived vanity leads to humiliation, they see themselves as undeserving of sympathy. You don’t often hear or read about them because they are too ashamed to talk about what they are going through.
Some patients become addicted to the ‘high’ of surgery. They go into a private hospital where they are well treated. They are full of optimism and afterwards they feel fabulous. But that post-procedure high fades because life carries on and isn’t so different after all. Rather than change their lives by going to the gym or dieting, they think they’ll have someone change it for them again by going back for another fix.
Surgeons worry that their patients will be insulted if they suggest a psychological assessment, but in my experience patients are glad that their doctors are thinking of their psychological wellbeing and not just grabbing their money.
We live in a body-conscious culture. The growth of celebrity magazines and camera phones have made us more narcissistic. A recent study showed the more we look at ourselves, the more discontented we become. That photo taken at 3am when you are not at your best might be the one that persuades you to go for surgery. My advice: Women have always done things to change their appearance. My job is to help them think those things through. If you have recently gone through a major life change, such as divorce or redundancy, and see cosmetic surgery as a way of enhancing your future relationship or job prospects, you need to be realistic about what it will help you achieve. It is also important to question whether you are considering surgery for yourself, or to please somebody else. Cosmetic surgery can alter your appearance, but it won’t change who you are.