What to expect when you’re expecting perfection

Understanding your motivations and having realistic expectations are key to successful cosmetic surgery. 

Cosmetic surgery is more popular than ever before. With an increasing number of people seizing the opportunity to correct aesthetic concerns, it has never been more important for patients to explore their motivations for surgery, manage expectations and prepare for the psychological effects that changing the shape and appearance of their face and body can have.

Managing your expectations

The vast majority of cosmetic procedures result in a successful, and very positive, outcome. However, if you’re expecting perfection, the results can often fall short. Realistic expectations are key in undergoing any form of cosmetic procedure. An educated and informed idea of what to expect during the recovery period, and as the results emerge in the months following the procedure, will go a long way in securing a positive outcome, without any surprises.

For the right individual – usually those who are physically healthy and psychologically sound – cosmetic surgery can be a highly successful procedure that helps restore confidence, both inside and out. However, cosmetic surgery will not turn you into a “better” person, eradicate emotional problems or attract the ideal partner.

There are several factors that contribute to the final result of any surgical procedure – there is no “one size fits all” result. Skin type, physiology, age and external factors will all influence surgical outcomes. For this reason, surgery should not be considered a solution to restoring youth in an ageing face or body. While a tightening, lifting or slimming effect can certainly be achieved in the short term, these all pertain to the appearance, and the process of ageing will still continue over time.

[quote_center]As well as physically altering the body, surgery can induce various psychological effects. It can take some time to adjust to a “new” face and body[/quote_center]

Alongside the inevitable march of ageing, it is important to understand that our aesthetic concerns and ideals are likely to change over time also. The book Living with your Looks (2007) by Roberta Honigman and David J Castle delves into the process of ageing and changes in perception of appearance over time. ‘Our preoccupation with appearance extends right across our lives, and each stage creates different psychological and emotional responses to our bodies,’ the authors state. ‘As people age, their appearance concerns focus increasingly on the face. This was demonstrated in a study involving 24 women ranging in age from 29 to 75 years, of whom 12 had undergone cosmetic surgery and 12 had not. It was found that the younger women were concerned more with the shape and appearance of their bodies, whereas the older women were preoccupied with their faces.’

To help manage expectations going into surgery, it is important for the patient to consult with a qualified surgeon to discuss their individual concerns and motivations for seeking surgery. By communicating which areas of the face and body most concerns then, the patient can help the surgeon tailor the procedural approach to suit their needs and existing anatomy.

Furthermore, a good skincare regimen and sun protection following the procedure is recommended. This will help extend the longevity of the results and help
slow the process of skin ageing by boosting and protecting skin health.

Prepare for change psychologically

As well as physically altering the body, surgery that changes the shape and appearance of the face and body can induce various psychological effects. It is well documented that, as well as possible physical complications, patients can experience psychological reactions immediately following cosmetic surgery.

Some patients find themselves searching for their more familiar selves post surgery. It can take some time to adjust to a “new” face and body, and become accustomed to the changed figure or face reflected in the mirror.

Certainly, post-surgical unease can compound this disruption in a patient’s body image. Depression from being inactive or isolated for a number of days post-procedure, combined with the effort of coping with any pain, bruising and swelling can contribute to a preoccupation with the result of surgery, regardless of whether the surgical outcome is successful or not.

The key to preventing this is preparation. Being aware of a psychological shift, due to the physical change, can help patients prepare for any sense of loss or surprise they may feel. Given the impact of psychological complications post-procedure, it is important for both the patient and their surgeon to thoroughly explore the motivations for change before the surgery.

Motivations for surgery

Motivations for contemplating cosmetic surgery can be complicated. However, it is one of the most important areas to explore before deciding to go ahead with any cosmetic procedure.

If cosmetic surgery is considered (even subconsciously) as a potential solution to fixing a failing relationship or succeeding professionally, the surgical result is likely to be disappointing or even cause for regret. Talking to an independent person, such as a GP or counsellor, can help tease out the real issues surrounding the desire to alter their appearance. In this, the patient may avoid undergoing surgery for reasons that may be inappropriate and which may compound their psychological issues further.

‘When an individual makes a personal decision based on a desire to improve his or her confidence and self-esteem by altering appearance through cosmetic procedures, it is likely that the person will be happier with the results,’ Honigman and Castle state. ‘Those people having surgery to please others, and thereby attempt to change their lives as well, are more often dissatisfied with the results of the surgery, especially when the anticipated changes do not occur as they had wished.”

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

People suffering from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) are inherently unhappy with the way they look. Sufferers can be obsessed with either an aspect of their appearance, or their body as a whole. This fixation can become so severe that they often think of nothing else and it compromises their ability to function.

Body dysmorphic disorder is not rare and is frequently left undiagnosed. In the case of cosmetic surgery, BDD patients are unlikely to ever be satisfied. The result is either at odds with their expectations, or the patient will continue to return seeking more and more treatment.

A pre-surgical assessment by the surgeon, including specific questions about appearance concerns, motivation for surgery and medical history is always necessary for the surgeon to understand the patient’s psychological and physical state and either prepare the person for surgery, or suggest an alternative approach.

Prepare yourself physically

During the consultation process, the surgeon will discuss with the patient in detail various factor to help shape realistic expectations going into surgery. These often include details of the chosen procedure, the type of anaesthesia to be used, the risks and limitations involved, any required medications, the patients expectations and goals, realistic outcomes, as well as the steps to take to physically prepare for the procedure.

The consultation process is an important time for the patient to ask any questions they have about the procedure, the possible risks and complications and recovery and post-operative care. The surgeon will evaluate the shape and structure of the patient’s anatomy pertaining to the treatment area to determine which surgical techniques are most suitable as well as what results can be realistically achieved. For face surgery, this includes examining the patient’s skin tone and elasticity and the extent of
tissue ageing.

In some cases, patients might be asked to undergo lab testing or a medical evaluation to establish exact health and fitness levels. The surgeon may advise the patient to adjust the medications they are taking, and discourage the use of any forms of aspirin, as well as some vitamins and supplements, which can increase the risk of blood clotting.

For those patients that smoke, you will need to stop smoking well in advance of the surgery, as smoking significantly increases surgical and anaesthetic complications and can impair healing post-operatively.

As for the recovery period, there are many factors that can affect the length of recovery. Every person’s body has different tendencies toward healing, however carefully following the doctor’s advice can help to speed the process along. The nature of the recovery period will depend on the surgical technique and anaesthetic administered, and the type and extent of the surgery.

The specific length of recovery is dependent on factors such as age, pre-operative activity level as well as the number and type of procedures that have been performed. However, most patients can usually return to everyday activities after between two and three weeks. Final results may not be evident until several months after surgery.