Aesthetic Plastic Surgery in America

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Contrary to popular belief, the term “plastic” in “plastic surgery” does not refer to something artificial. Instead, it originates from the Greek word “plastikos,” which means to shape or mold (Schnur and Hait). Initially used for reconstructing the faces and bodies of injured soldiers, plastic surgery has evolved into a worldwide method for creating aesthetically pleasing new appearances. The motivation behind undergoing surgery is to undergo a transformation. Recent data indicates that plastic surgery is becoming increasingly popular among men, women, and teenagers alike. Not only is there an increase in the overall number of surgeries performed, but also in the emergence of new procedures. People from around the globe are choosing various types of plastic and cosmetic surgeries.

In the past, plastic surgery’s main focus was on improving deformities and injuries rather than enhancing beauty. Dr. Jacques Maliniac, a prominent figure in this field, migrated to the United States from Europe after World War I and played a crucial role in establishing the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). Dr. Maliniac also founded The Plastic Surgery Foundation and served as its president until 1955. According to an article by Paul Schnur and Pamela Hait titled “History of Plastic Surgery,” the Foundation’s primary objective was supporting research related to both congenital and acquired deformities ( Therefore, it is clear that their emphasis was not on aesthetic procedures.

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World War I played a crucial role in elevating the field of plastic surgery. The numerous facial injuries, amputations, and physical deformities experienced by soldiers compelled skilled surgeons all over Europe to dedicate themselves to the restoration of their fellow countrymen (Schnur and Hait). Simultaneously, doctors during this period discovered the extent to which individuals with physical imperfections or unsightly blemishes suffered due to the conscious or unconscious societal pressure, as 19th-century surgeon John Orlando Roe eloquently noted: “how much valuable talent (had) been…buried from human eyes, lost to the world and society by reason of embarrassment…caused by the conscious, or in some cases, unconscious influence of some physical infirmity or deformity or unsightly blemish” (qtd. in Schnur and Hait).

Plastic surgery gained popularity post-war, but in the 1990s it received negative attention. The safety of breast implants came under nationwide scrutiny in December 1990 when a segment on “Face-to-Face with Connie Chung” exposed perceived horrors to the public (Schnur and Hait). However, by allowing certain practitioners to appear on “Extreme Makeover” in 2003, ASPS played a significant role in improving the perception of plastic surgery (Schnur and Hait). This show completely revolutionized the image of plastic surgery by presenting it positively and highlighting exceptionally desirable outcomes.

In the United States, there is a growing trend towards aesthetic plastic surgery. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, in 2012, over 10 million cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures were performed. Breast augmentations and liposuction were particularly popular, with each procedure being completed over 310,000 times. However, these procedures come at a high cost. Americans spent nearly $11 billion on cosmetic procedures in 2012 alone. This included $6.7 billion on surgical procedures, $2 billion on injectable procedures, $1.8 billion on skin rejuvenation procedures, and over $483 million on other nonsurgical procedures such as laser hair removal and laser treatment of leg veins. It is important to note that all of these procedures were done for aesthetic reasons rather than medical necessity.

The increasing acceptance of plastic surgery has led to some absurd outcomes, as seen in South Korea which serves as an example of the negative consequences of the rising popularity of aesthetic plastic surgery. A survey conducted by market research firm Trend Monitor in 2009 found that one out of every five women in Seoul between the ages of 19 and 49 claimed to have undergone plastic surgery. The prevalence of plastic surgery in South Korea is alarmingly common, earning it the title “the plastic surgery capital of the world” according to Violet Kim from CNN Travel.Partnerships between hotels, such as the Ritz-Carlton Seoul, and hospitals offer expensive “anti-aging beauty packages” that include stem cell treatment and surgical procedures. One popular surgery is double-jaw surgery, originally intended for facial deformity repair but now sought after by South Korean women who want more than just nose jobs or cheekbone reduction. Dr. Park, who has completed 3,000 double-jaw surgeries in the past six years, aims to enhance individuals who are already considered attractive. However, this casual attitude towards altering natural beauty raises concerns about the increasing popularity of plastic surgery in Korea. A highly desired procedure is “v-line” surgery favored by young Korean pop artists. It reshapes the jawline to create a V-shaped appearance associated with youthfulness and a childlike look strongly desired in South Korea (Stone).

The “double eyelid” surgery, also known as Blepharoplasty, is a widespread procedure in Korea. It involves cutting the upper eyelid to create a double fold or crease. The origins of this surgery can be traced back to Japan, with the first operation performed in 1896 by surgeon Mikamo. This surgical technique is viewed by Asians as a means to achieve larger and rounder eyes. Makeup artist Ms. Chang, who intends to undergo the procedure, emphasizes that enduring pain is necessary for beauty and considers it a routine process rather than true surgery.

The surge in plastic surgery in South Korea has raised the question of what led to this phenomenon. Zara Stone, a writer for The Atlantic, provides background information in her article “The K-pop Plastic Surgery Obsession.” She explains that American plastic surgeon Dr. Ralph Millard conducted the first double eyelid surgery in South Korea. Dr. Millard was sent to Korea during the Korean War as the chief plastic surgeon for the US Marine Corps, with his primary focus being to treat accident and burn victims. However, he recognized that the double eyelid surgery could assist them in assimilating more easily into the developing international economy by giving them a more Western appearance.As per, the initiation of this surgery initially appealed to Korean prostitutes who desired to attract American soldiers. However, it rapidly transformed into a prevailing cultural phenomenon, with aesthetic surgeries becoming increasingly popular. Zara Stone mentions that the inaugural cosmetic surgery clinic in Korea was established in 1961, and over time, the number of women choosing to undergo cosmetic procedures consistently and significantly increased, doubling and then tripling each year.

Overall, it appears that the increasing prevalence of plastic surgery in America and Korea stems from our inherent desire to be the best version of ourselves. With the advancement of technology empowering us to achieve our desired aspirations, it only makes sense to fully utilize its capabilities. As surgeons become bolder and individuals become more covetous, the popularity of plastic surgery will undoubtedly continue to rise. Eventually, the concept of natural beauty will become obsolete.

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Aesthetic Plastic Surgery in America. (2017, Jan 04). Retrieved from

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