Africa Studio/Shutterstock
Source: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

In 2016, Americans spent more money on elective plastic surgery and minimally invasive cosmetic procedures than at any time in our history, according to a new report from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). The latest ASPS report also breaks down how we spent a record-breaking $16 billion — based on the average cost of surgical and minimally invasive procedures.

From a psychosocial perspective, these statistics are fascinating, because they reveal the zeitgeist of how we want our faces and physiques sculpted, tucked, and augmented at this moment in time.

Top 5 Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Procedures in 2016 and Their Costs:

  1. Breast augmentation (290,467)—average cost, $3,719

  2. Liposuction (235,237)—average cost, $3,200

  3. Nose reshaping (223,018)—average cost, $5,046

  4. Tummy tuck (127,633)—average cost, $5,798

  5. Buttock augmentation (18,489)—average cost, $4,356

Top 5 Minimally Invasive Cosmetic Procedures in 2016 and Their Costs:

  1. Wrinkle treatment injections (7 million)—average cost, $385

  2. Hyaluronic acid fillers (2 million)—average cost, $644

  3. Chemical peel (1.3 million)—average cost, $673

  4. Microdermabrasion (775,014)—average cost, $138

  5. Laser treatments (Intense Pulsed Light) (656,781)—average cost, $433

In a statement, ASPS President Debra Johnson, M.D., said:

     "The most important consideration for patients should be choosing a board-certified, ASPS-member surgeon. Before you undergo any procedure, make sure you're putting yourself in the hands of only the most qualified and highly trained plastic surgeons. The cost of any procedure is not nearly as important as doing your homework and selecting a surgeon whose primary focus is your safety."

I must admit, my jaw dropped when I read these statics. Ideally, I wish we (myself included) could all live happily ever after by following Henry Miller's sage advice:

     "Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music — the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself."

Based on that utopian ideal, my knee-jerk reaction was to be critical about the uptick in vanity-driven surgery. I had the urge to get on my soapbox and profess the importance of “self-acceptance” and loving oneself "warts and all." But then I realized that choosing to have plastic surgery, or any cosmetic procedure, is a deeply personal decision that has the potential to boost self-confidence and feelings of self-worth by making someone feel more comfortable in his or her own skin. 

And I'd be a hypocrite if I slammed elective cosmetic procedures, because I've paid to have things done to make myself look better. Every patient is unique, and the extent of these elective cosmetic procedures exists on a continuum. 

That being said, as a public health advocate, I strive to encourage others to make daily lifestyle choices that result in changing one's physical appearance in ways that also promote psychological and physical well-being, as well as prosocial behaviors. And when it comes to plastic surgery, there is always the very real problem of clinical body dysmorphia—a mental illness marked by a misconception or preoccupation with a self-imagined physical defect that causes severe emotional distress and interferes with daily functioning.

Most of us have some degree of body dysmorphia. We can all beat ourselves up with an inner-dialogue filled with self-deprecation—”I look fat," "My nose is too big," “My hair is thinning," etc. The abundance of "flawless" images in advertisements, magazines, and on social media can perpetuate feelings of inadequacy or the belief that you are "less than" when compared to these unattainable Photoshopped images. 

Not to be a Pollyanna, but in a perfect world, I wish that all of us—myself included—could love ourselves wholeheartedly just the way we are. The ancient Japanese concept of wabi-sabi reminds us that our imperfections make us dynamic and extraordinary. For me, embracing this concept is always going to be a work in progress, especially based on the intense self-loathing I felt as an ostracized, "98-pound weakling," unathletic teenager. Based on my own struggles with body dysmorphia while growing up, as the father of a 9-year-old girl, I strive to make her believe that she was “sprung in completeness,” and that she will never need to alter who she is on the inside or outside to feel worthy of love or belonging.

Brené Brown gives a brief but poignant assessment of 21st-century plastic surgery trends in her TED lecture, “The Power of Vulnerability”:

     "We perfect. If there's anyone who wants their life to look like this, it would be me, but it doesn't work. Because what we do is we take fat from our butts and put it in our cheeks. I hope in 100 years, people will look back and go, 'Wow.' ... And we perfect, most dangerously, our children ... My last point, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we're enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, 'I'm enough' ... then we stop screaming and start listening, we're kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we're kinder and gentler to ourselves."

Hopefully, the latest statistics on how much Americans are spending on elective plastic surgery opens our eyes to the fact that none of us is alone in feeling that part of our physical being isn't the way we want it to be. We're all in the same boat.

In closing, two light-hearted quotations that put aging in perspective: Golda Meir once said, "Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard there’s nothing you can do.” And an anonymous speaker said, "There is always a lot to be thankful for, if you take the time to look. For example, I’m sitting here now thinking how nice it is that wrinkles don’t hurt." I can relate!

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