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Cosmetic surgery offers no salve for the psyche

Patient’s motivation for procedure has to be clinically evaluated beforehand

Gulf News

Dubai: A cosmetic surgery may improve one’s appearance, but it can be a potentially life-changing procedure even when the results are not as desired. In light of this, mental health experts have cautioned against the promise of easy glamour which has built-in psychological side effects.

Dr Melanie Schlatter, health psychologist at Well Woman Clinic, Dubai, advised residents to opt for psychological screening to ascertain the true need for surgery.

Speaking to Gulf News, she said, “Although cosmetic surgery is elective, it should be considered a serious decision like any other medical undertaking. Surgery is not the solution to healing underlying psychological inadequacies. Screening can protect both the surgeon and the patient in the long term.”

She explained that the need for cosmetic surgery could be based on various psychological inadequacies. “It could be based on problems such as misguided motivation [to please someone else], unrealistic expectations [to be ‘perfect’, significantly younger, or to look like someone else], a history of anxiety or depression [so they go for surgery to feel better], or even the more serious body dysmorphic disorder [when one is preoccupied with an imagined physical defect or a minor body defect].”

She added that issues with confidence and low self-esteem associated with body image, or anxiety, and depression, can also be the genuine result of living with a physical problem such as scars, a crooked nose, loose skin from extreme weight loss, etc. “These concerns need to be addressed accordingly.”

Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and director at the The LightHouse Arabia: Community Psychology Clinic in Dubai said that, following a surgery, the person may have trouble forming a healthy connection with the new physical image, especially when the procedure yields poor or undesired results.

“When the surgery goes right, overnight people are a thinner or perhaps a more ‘attractive’ version of themselves. However when the surgery goes wrong a person can feel very hopeless and helpless. Such positive or negative attention can be overwhelming and de-stabilising, and the person may feel ill-equipped to cope with the new way of being.”

The motivation for cosmetic surgery is a key factor when discussing the psychological consequences of either a successful or unsuccessful cosmetic surgery, said Norma Cairns, counselling psychologist in Dubai.

She told Gulf News, “Often a person could believe that he or she would be happier if the outcome is positive. Initially, this might be the case, but over time this ‘happiness’ may wear off. The person could again fall into the trap of opting for more surgery or of spending money in other ways in search of fulfilment.”

She explained that the negative effects of an unsuccessful cosmetic surgery could be devastating psychologically for a person, particularly if the motivation and expectation was to be happier following surgery. “An unsuccessful cosmetic surgery could feel like a double whammy. The person might believe that he or she looks worse than before the surgery, and would be most likely be disappointed and upset emotionally.”