Last Friday was World Mental Health Day, so it seems appropriate to tackle cosmetic surgery from a mental health perspective. An Australian medical tourism company is claiming to have a "boob job world record", and this has sparked concern from some doctors that this type of surgery is being trivialised. So what does the constant bombardment of media promoting "the perfect body" have on our self-esteem?
Women come in all shapes and sizes. None is more 'womanly' than any other, and this is particularly true of our breasts - yet breast augmentation (enlargement or implants), is one of the most popular surgical procedures requested by women today.
Women with larger breasts want reductions. Woman with a smaller breasts want implants. Women with smaller breasts envy the cleavage of the more voluptuous and curvy, while the voluptuous envy those with smaller breasts.
The reality is most women are not happy with their breasts, with some women feeling they need to resort to cosmetic surgery in search of the 'perfect' breast. They hope it will make them feel happier, better about themselves and more attractive to their partner.
So ask yourself, are you willing to undergo breast augmentation to feel better about your body and who you are? Do you think it will enhance your self-esteem?
Research shows that cosmetic surgery will not make you feel any better about yourself, and in fact, may cause you to fixate on your looks as your primary source of self-worth. This will only hurt your self-esteem in the long run, because you'll have to constantly fix your 'flaws' to live up to your idea of beauty.
According to Lexie Kite, Ph.D and founder of Beauty Redefined, two major breast implant companies in the U.S., Allergan and Mentor, both tried to prove to the FDA that breast implants helped self-esteem and both were proved wrong.
Allergan used 12 different quality of life measures to compare augmentation patients before surgery and two years later. Nine of the 12 quality of life measures were worse after the women got their breast implants, including self-esteem. That's 75% of a patient's quality of life recording no real positive impact after two years. The results were similar for women getting Mentor breast implants.
Clinical Psychologist Dr Lars Madsen commented on the topic, "Reconstructive surgery for medical procedures , such a mastectomy following breast cancer, understandably helps a patient's recovery from the traumatic experience of breast disfiguration, but when it comes to surgery with no physical health related history; the psychological profiles of women who receive breast implants for non-medical reasons are characterised by low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence."
Because the changes resulting from cosmetic surgery are often dramatic and permanent, it's important that you have a clear understanding of how surgery might make you feel afterwards; long before a procedure is scheduled. And of course, don't forget that complications can also occur with all types of breast implants. These include scarring, swelling, rupture and leakage. Complications from surgery can also have additional serious affects on your self-esteem.
Consider each of these important points before considering cosmetic and other surgical enhancements to your body.
1. Acknowledge and Identify: When you notice that 'I am not happy with my body' feeling, the first thing you need to do is recognise that YOU are having the feeling, and realise is that your body is NOT having the feeling.
2. Choose: Remind yourself that when negative voices try to disrupt your day with intrusive body image thoughts that you have a choice in how you respond. You can choose to listen to the thoughts and fuel a negative self-image, or you can choose to change the thoughts and reinforce self-worth.
3. Make a Decision: Recognise you have a choice on feeling negative about your body, and decide to do something different. Sometimes a decision is all it takes. No one is forcing you to dislike your body, so make the decision not to.
4. Shift the Focus: After you choose NOT to listen to negative body image thoughts and make the decision not to dwell, your next move is to shift your focus onto something else. The more you focus a fear on a body part, the larger the problem becomes.
5. Support: When body image issues arise, the last thing you probably want is to be around others. Surrounding yourself with positive people helps because it gets you out of yourself. Feeling connected with others can squash some of the perfectionism and criticism tied to body dissatisfaction.
6. Appreciate: Instead of focusing on how your body looks from the outside, think of all of the wonderful attributes and strengths your body has from the inside. Make a gratitude list of all the things you appreciate about your body.
7. Redefine: Create a new definition of beauty. If your body dissatisfaction is driven by the feeling of being unable to measure up to rigid societal standards, think about how you can make your personal definition of beauty more flexible.
8. Stop Comparing: The more we compare, the more we feel despair. When you compare yourself to others, especially when experiencing body dissatisfaction, you are going to see all the positives in someone else and nothing but negatives in yourself. How does this actually help you in the long run?
9. Have Compassion: In moments when body image issues come up, you are usually feeling critical in some way about yourself. If you dig deep, most of the time you'll realise it is not about your body. Your body is just the go-to negative coping mechanism. What you need most when you are feeling bad and focusing negatively on your body is to treat yourself with absolute kindness.
10. Acceptance: Finally, accept your body in this moment. Imagine how different your life can be if you stop trying to berate, change or control your body, and instead allow yourself to accept your body for what it is. When we accept and we let go of the struggle, we can find a sense of calm. Only when we are at peace with ourselves can we truly be radiant.
It's so easy to feel like your body isn't good enough. Body image can be negatively affected by media and cultural ideals so quickly and easily. But you know what? It's time to harness your power and take back beauty. Help others do the same.
Consider this a call to arms! We have the power to support each other in the body image struggle, and promote positive self-worth in conversation and on social media. Let's use our bodies as instruments rather than objects, and redefine health for ourselves by using the internal indicators about how we feel -- not how we look. Compassion and acceptance; never have there been two more important words in the dictionary. Use them on yourself today.
Elizabeth Venzin is the Founder and CEO of the Australian Not-for-Profit Organisation Mind Shift - The National Self Esteem Initiative. Her book about her own journey of breaking away from the shadows of low self-esteem will be published in 2015.