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Myths and Miracles Surrounding Aesthetic Surgery

Ten Truths to Consider Before Making the Decision By Lee Friel

So much seemed to depend on the outcome of my plastic surgery, and root of my decision went beyond fixing a physical aberration and reversing the appearance of a deformity. At the heart of my decision to undergo a breast reduction was the desire to erase a host of wounded emotions stemming from relentless high school teasing. Even so, I waited until age 32 to have surgery, when the effects of carrying DD+ size breasts on my small frame resulted in persistent back and shoulder pain. Additionally, bra straps had started to wear deep, painful grooves in my shoulder muscles, permanently altering the shape and appearance of my upper back.

As it turns out, having this cosmetic procedure along with liposuction are among the best decisions I have ever made! The physical freedom and emotional lift continues nearly a decade following the surgeries, and my only regret is not having had them sooner. Cosmetic and aesthetic surgeries can have such positive, transformative effects that it’s hard not to be excited about the outcome and possibilities. And the ripple effects continue. I find myself exercising more, playing tennis, and jumping into life in ways I never considered prior to having the reduction.

Given the intense emotional and physical considerations surrounding aesthetic procedures, I wanted to know exactly what to expect before, during and after surgery. How long would recovery take? What precautions should I consider? Does it hurt? What is compression wear and how can post-surgical garments aid my healing? Will there be scars and what should I do about them? My questions certainly went deeper than what the surgeon was able to cover during our initial consultation. Once I started researching the topic of cosmetic surgery, it didn’t take long to discover a wealth of online information that helped unravel the mystery surrounding a variety of aesthetic procedures, including liposuction (lipoplasty), breast augmentation, tummy tuck (abdominoplasty), and more. Thanks to these resources, I knew exactly what to expect every step of the way. I also developed the following list of “truths” which I readily share with friends who may be considering making such a change themselves.

Truth #1: Do your research to get the real low-down on what to expect.
Talk to friends, delve into Internet resources, and before your surgery date, write down every single question that comes to mind. I arrived at one of my pre-surgical consultations with a two-page list of concerns covering every conceivable aspect of the experience. As the surgeon patiently addressed each one, I took extensive notes. I also carefully analyzed his journal of “before and after” photos and very clearly described the outcome I desired. In addition to tips offered by the surgical staff, some of the most helpful information came from discussion boards and forums widely available on the Internet, most of which yielded real help from real women who had been through the same surgery. Online searches turn up hundreds of informative sites, but a great starting point for me was

Truth #2: You are not alone.
At first I wanted to keep the surgery a secret, fearful of others’ opinions and my need to justify the decision. Surprisingly, once I revealed the reason for taking extended leave from work, several people opened up to discuss their experiences with cosmetic surgery, which included everything from liposuction and augmentation to a variety of facial procedures. In fact, in its latest statistical report, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons documents millions of cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries in a year:


  • Breast augmentation (Augmentation mammaplasty) 307,230
  • Breast implant removals (Augmentation patients only): 20,967
  • Breast lift (Mastopexy): 92,461
  • Breast reduction in men (Gynecomastia): 17,902
  • Buttock implants: 853
  • Buttock lift: 3,554
  • Calf augmentation: 247
  • Cheek implant (Malar augmentation): 8,828
  • Chin augmentation (Mentoplasty):14,117
  • Dermabrasion: 78,954
  • Ear surgery (Otoplasty): 29,434
  • Eyelid surgery (Blepharoplasty): 221,398
  • Facelift (Rhytidectomy): 112,933
  • Forehead lift: 42,063
  • Hair transplantation: 17,580
  • Lip augmentation (other than injectable materials): 20,728
  • Liposuction: 245,138
  • Lower body lift: 9,286
  • Nose reshaping (Rhinoplasty) 279,218
  • Pectoral implants: 1,335
  • Thigh lift^^^ : 9,088
  • Tummy tuck (Abdominoplasty): 121,653
  • Upper arm lift^^^: 14,059


Other reconstructive procedures: 242,685


*American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2000/2007/2008 National Plastic Surgery Statistics Cosmetic and Reconstructive Procedure Trends.

***53% of total 2008 breast implants were saline; 47% were silicone.

^^^67% if total 2008 thigh and upper arm lifts were after massive weight loss.

Truth #3: The best way out is through.
This is conventional wisdom applicable to any type of major surgery, and especially relevant given the fact that the final outcome of aesthetic procedures may not be visible for months or even a year afterward. Patience plays a tremendous role in the overall success of your surgery and emotional well-being. Be advised that in the beginning stages of recovery, bruising and swelling can be more pronounced and often quite shocking. It is only temporary though, and the more you educate yourself about the particulars of your surgery in advance, the better prepared you will be for your initial post-operative appearance. It’s very true that the first few days can be the roughest from an emotional standpoint, but those blues really do subside within a week. Had I not fully researched the procedure, when I awakened from anesthesia to a fully-wrapped torso complete with drains for excess fluid, my first reaction would have been complete shock.

Truth #4: Communication counts.
Stay in touch with your physician’s surgical team and get specific instructions on what to do if you experience complications such as excessive pain or swelling that does not improve with time. Do not hesitate to contact them with any concern.

Truth #5: Cosmetic surgery is not a cure-all.
Carefully consider your motivation for cosmetic surgery, as well as your emotional health beforehand. Have realistic expectations, and be sure to talk very honestly with your surgeon about those expectations. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons identifies two categories of patients who are good candidates for surgery:
a. Patients with a strong self-image, who are bothered by a physical characteristic they’d like to improve or change. Following surgery, these patients feel good about the results and maintain a positive image about themselves.
b. Patients who have a physical defect or cosmetic flaw that has diminished their self-esteem over time. These patients may adjust rather slowly after surgery, as rebuilding confidence takes time. However, as they adjust, these patients’ image is strengthened, sometimes dramatically.

Truth #6: Strong physical health=shorter heal time.
People who eat well, exercise regularly, stop smoking, and make healthy choices prior to surgery recover and heal more rapidly.

Truth #7: What you wear after surgery can greatly affect recovery.
Compression garments are specially-designed elastic apparel worn after surgical procedures and throughout recovery. They provide additional support by contouring to the body or body part. Plastic surgeons generally recommend use of compression garments following tummy tucks (abdominoplasty), liposuction, arm lifts (brachioplasty), face lifts (rhytidectomy), facial procedures, gastric bypass procedures, male mastopexy (gynecomastia treatment), breast augmentation, breast reduction, and many other types of surgical sculpture procedures. Dermatologists also may recommend compression wear for patients with lymphoma, burns, and varicose veins to help improve quality of life. Compression garments have several medical benefits such as reducing swelling from a surgical procedure and decreasing the risk of a blood clot. By speeding up the blood flow, compression garments also assist in flushing harmful fluids out of the body during post-surgical recovery. They also help control sudden uncomfortable movements (i.e. cough or sneeze), which is especially important during the immediate post-operative stage. Compression garments provide comfort and accelerate the healing process.

Truth #8: There may be scars, but there are tried and true methods to minimizing their appearance.
Depending on the nature of your cosmetic surgery, there may or may not be scars afterward. My scars took between nine and 12 months to completely flatten and heal. Treating scars with the utmost care during this period is critical and the right product can help hasten healing and improve appearance. Scarheal, Inc. offers four wonderful products specially designed to treat surgical scars, keloid scars, hypertrophic scars, breast scars, c-section scars (cesarean section scars), traumatic scars, abdominal scars, burns, and wrinkles.

Truth #9: Timing is critical.
The best time to have cosmetic surgery is when you can be assured of the support of family and friends around you. One of the most important decisions you can make prior to surgery day is making sure a trusted, patient and compassionate loved one will be there to care for you afterward. Depending on the nature of your procedure, it is very possible that you will need assistance with everything, from eating to dressing and bathing. Advance preparation involves finding out how long typical recovery time is for your particular procedure and lining up appropriate assistance.

Truth #10: Plastic surgery is not just for the wealthy.
It’s for moms, dads, single people, married people, and folks of all ages committed to making serious, transformative changes in their appearance. According to a 2005 study cited by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 60 percent of people who had recently had plastic surgery or were seriously considering plastic surgery had a household income of $30,000–$90,000 a year. Additionally, 40 percent of that 60 percent reported an annual income of $60,000 or less. Just 10 percent of respondents reported a household income of more than $90,000.

More than a decade later, I stand by my decision to have cosmetic surgery. However, not everyone was receptive to the idea at first. Several loved ones commented that I was fine “just the way I was.” Looking back with the clarity of the 42-year-old woman I have become, I now realize the decision was mine alone to make, and that my instincts with regard to what I needed in my life were sharper than I realized at the time. True, it was a relatively small, outward change, but the positive self-esteem and inner joy generated continues to unfold in the most surprising ways.