Heads, shoulders, knees and toes

Whenever cosmetic surgery has come up in conversation,
I’m always the first to admit that, from a physical
point of view, I could do with a few tweaks.
Yes, I do have a paunch the size of a pillow,
my chin count is growing by the day and my
backside could be a bit firmer. But I’d never actually
commit to surgery, because I’ve always considered it
just a little too shallow or expensive to
be a priority. I’m certainly in no hurry to grow a
pair of tits.

Which made it all the more surreal to read this
week that in the UK, a country now officially in
recession, the number of people having cosmetic
surgery is still growing strongly. You’d have
thought that at a time when every newspaper
is telling us to count the pennies, the last thing
on people’s minds would be to splash out on an
expensive (and dangerous) operation to make
themselves more attractive.

But sure enough, in 2008, over thirty-
four thousand people went under the knife
– a five percent rise on the previous year. Breast
augmentation remains the most popular
operation, with nearly eight and a half thousand
people having theirs done, a rise of thirty percent
from 2007. Even more startling, though, is that
most of the growth in so-called ‘aesthetic surgery’
comes from men. The largest rise came from
removing gynaecomastia (man boobs to you and
me), with ten times more men opting to have
surgery now than in 2003.

One explanation is that the price of such
operations has fallen, so that more people can
afford a ‘lunchtime facelift’. But getting breast
implants privately still costs twice as much in
Britain as elsewhere in Europe. And while it is
offered on the NHS, that’s hardly an explanation.
It doesn’t cost anything to contract diphtheria but
I don’t see people queuing round the block for
that.

Maybe, then, the answer is that these
operations are safer now, so you’re a lot less likely
to come out looking like Lesley Ash. But you
only have to glance at a gossip magazine to see
a celebrity having botched surgery, Jordan’s new
lips being a recent example. Furthermore the NHS
website, while acknowledging progress has been
made, lists a whole range of terrible side effects
that people still get, from scar tissue to blood
clots.

There seems to be only one explanation: that
in our society we are so obsessed with the way we
look that money is no longer an object. We are
exposed to celebrities every day, many of whom
are portrayed as idealised fi gures against whose
standards and looks we must be compared. Even
if you don’t sneakily read Hello! in lectures, you
have to admit that the pressure to look good is
intense, and for students this is no exception. The
Lifestyle section of this paper is just as large as the
Comment section, and offers you information on
anything from where to shop to how many times
you should have sex in an average year.

I acknowledge that, in some circumstances,
having a larger chest or flatter stomach can give
you an immediate psychological boost. This
certainly helps to explain the worrying
statistics provided by Bliss magazine, which found
that forty percent of teenage girls would consider
having surgery. But that’s the point – the boost
is only temporary, and just as implants themselves
don’t last forever, so an individual’s self-esteem
can so quickly be destroyed.

Surely in a recession, we should take a step back
from this endless race to look good and start to
appreciate each other’s more personal qualities?
Surely we can think of a better compliment to
someone than: “Nice tits, have you had them done?”
There are cheaper, more effective and more
long-term ways of feeling better about yourself.
The only difference is that they require slightly
more effort than paying a surgeon to cut you open. If
you’re tempted, Warwick has a wide range
of activities and societies to get involved in,
all of which can lead to greater self-esteem
and acceptance. And if you still don’t feel loved,
book an appointment with the counselling
service, which can provide more than
a physical quick-fix.

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