The risks and rewards of plastic surgery
In search of a better body, millions of people are choosing plastic surgery. But here’s what you should know before spending the big bucks and taking your chances under the knife
By Gabrielle Nomura
Imagine being so self-conscious, that even your husband of 10 years has never seen you completely naked.
That used to be Sara Hagen.
In an emotional testimonial video on a Seattle plastic surgeon’s website, the 36-year-old mother of two tells the story of how her body, and self-confidence, underwent a transformation a year ago.
That’s when she flew from her home in Bozeman, Mont., to downtown Seattle to get a “mommy makeover.” This series of cosmetic surgical procedures, that takes place during just one session, included a tummy tuck, breast lift and breast augmentation.
Hagen had been thinking about getting the makeover ever since giving birth to her first daughter in 2004. But after her second daughter was born in 2008, it was time to take action.
Despite Hagen’s slender figure, dark brown hair and killer smile, looking at herself in the mirror was “traumatic,” she says. It was past the point where diet and exercise could have helped. After her abdominal muscles had separated because of her pregnancies, what was left was a scarred, stretched surface. It was difficult to live with – despite having a husband who reassured her that she was beautiful.
Because her options in Montana were limited, Hagen set out to find a plastic surgeon who would be just one direct flight away. After a year of doing her homework of finding a qualified surgeon online, and three or four months of travel and consultations in areas that included Denver and California, Hagen found her surgeon in Seattle – Dr. Shahram Salemy.
The board-certified, Yale graduate had the winning credentials. Plus, he was just a nice guy.
“His personality was very warm, like ‘He’s not just going to tell me what I want to hear,” Hagen says. “I had some questions and he answered them incredibly well to the point where I could understand.”
Hagen was impressed when Salemy called her at home after the first consultation, just to say it was nice to meet her and that he was available for questions. Salemy further impressed Hagen when he came in to do her procedure on a day off, because her scheduled appointment ended up coinciding closely with the birth of his child.
A little tender, a little painful at first – it didn’t take long for Hagen to recover from the procedures to her abdomen and breasts.
After a week of rest in Seattle, then a couple more weeks of downtime at home in Montana, Hagen was back to work at the local Harley-Davidson dealer.
She still has stretch marks, and will always have a scar from her surgeries, but they’re fading – along with her negative body image, she says.
Now, a year after her January 2011 surgery, Hagen has paid off the $18,000 makeover. She didn’t choose the cheapest surgeon; she chose the one who had the most experience and a personality she connected with.
The thousands of dollars, pain, recovery time, and even the potentially life-threatening risk of the surgery were worth it, she says.
“Dr. Shalemy gave me a body I could only have hoped to have.”
The number of tummy tucks in 2010, up 85 percent since 2000
The number of breast lifts in 2010, up 70 percent since 2000
A GROWING TREND
The Montana mom is not alone.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the number of women electing to get mommy makeovers is on the rise.
Women had nearly 112,000 tummy tucks in 2010, up 85 percent since 2000; 90,000 breast lifts, up 70 percent since 2000; and 296,000 breast augmentations, up 39 percent since 2000.
“In the last decade, we’ve seen women’s attitudes about cosmetic surgery change,” says Dr. Phillip Haeck, immediate past ASPS president. “Today, women are not afraid to admit that they love their children, but they wish their bodies looked the way they did before their first pregnancies. And they’re not afraid to acknowledge that they may need a little help beyond a healthy diet and exercise.”
The mommy makeover is only one small piece in the soaring demand for plastic surgery.
Every year, millions of women and men are selecting surgical treatments to enhance, minimize, nip and tuck all manner of physical features. From face lifts and tummy tucks, breast augmentation and liposuction, to laser hair removal and Botox injections, there is a procedure out there that can repair, remove, lift and smooth just about every inch of the human body.
Technological advances have increased the options people can consider. Public opinion has changed, too. Once a taboo subject, plastic surgery now receives better treatment from the media, TV and popular culture. There’s even a TV show where brides-to-be compete against one another for the wedding of their dreams, expensive reception and dream honeymoon with new bridal boobs included.
HOW TO BE SAFE
Broader public acceptance and safer technology has helped bring on a demand for plastic surgery. It’s also brought on a multitude of individuals eager to cash in on a lucrative field.
When it comes to finding the right surgeon, it’s not time to bargain-hunt, says Dr. Sepehr Egrari, who has his own practice, and is also a staff member at Overlake Hospital Medical Center and Overlake Surgery Center. It’s about finding someone with the right credentials and a great track record. Doing one’s homework to find the right surgeon can mean the difference between impressive results and a botched surgery, or sometimes, even life and death.
Here’s what to do: First, when you’re interviewing a potential surgeon, ask him if he’s certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. This is the only board that certifies plastic surgeons that is recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialities.
If someone is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, it means he or she must first complete years of intensive training in an accredited program before passing the board’s rigorous written and oral exams.
The American Board of Plastic Surgery is not the same as the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, Egrari says. While it sounds similar, the latter is not recognized by the ABMS.
According to the board of cosmetic surgery’s website, this is superior to other boards for cosmetic surgery, as it is the only board certifying doctors in cosmetic surgery. However, many of the physicians so certified are oral surgeons, dentists, OB/Gyn, dermatologists, family practice doctors or internists.
Ask your doctor if he or she has privileges to perform procedures in the local hospital, as well. Hospitals only allow the safest physicians with the right credentials to operate in their facilities.
It also helps to choose someone the patient has good chemistry with.
“You have to be able to trust this person with your life,” Egrari says.
A REAL SOLUTION?
When considering plastic surgery as an option, it’s also important to realize that a little nip-tuck can’t fix everything, says Katie Miller, an Everett resident and Amazon employee.
While Miller had a type of weight-loss surgery as opposed to a cosmetic procedure, she’s another example of how someone’s appearance, health and all-around well-being can be improved through surgery.
Several years ago, after her gastric bypass operation reduced her stomach from the size of a football to the size of an egg, Miller went from a size 22 to a size 8.
No matter if the surgery is for vanity or for health, don’t use it as a quick-fix, Miller says. It’s about a lifestyle change.
“Surgery was simply a tool to help me lose weight.”
But, while a slimmer waistline and a younger appearance can result from a procedure, experts debate whether plastic surgery can improve self-esteem.
“Our capitalist society has an interest in keeping you insecure about yourself, because then they can sell you teeth-whitening, deodorant, weight loss, etc.,” says Jonathan Brown, a University of Washington psychology professor with a Ph.D. from UCLA.
Having high self-esteem is simply an individual’s ability to be resilient in the face of rejection, failure or disappointment, Brown says. It involves coping and acceptance skills.
He compares someone with low self-esteem seeking plastic surgery to a diabetic seeking insulin.
Still, diabetics may need insulin, and some people may feel better after plastic surgery, says Dr. Ernest Madhavan, a Bellevue psychiatrist who teaches in the University of Washington’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science.
Change is a part of life, and when it leads to self-acceptance, it’s a good thing, Madhavan says.
“For example, when people say, ‘I feel better after losing weight,’ what they are really saying is, ‘I find myself more acceptable.’ ”
Self-acceptance could come from positive changes including quitting smoking, giving up certain foods such as gluten that could allow a person to lose weight and feel healthier, or even getting plastic surgery.
People who continue to feel inadequate despite repeated lifestyle changes may not benefit from plastic surgery, Madhavan says. In that case, psychotherapy to promote acceptance would likely be more helpful, rather than making a physical change.
After her mommy makeover, Hagen feels like she’s gained self-acceptance.
While some are OK with their post-baby bodies, she didn’t want to live with skin that sagged and draped from her frame.
“I wanted to feel good about myself. I wanted to fit into clothes.”
And now she does. For Hagen, the transformation on the inside was just as miraculous, if not more so, than her new body.