TV shows give plastic surgery a lift

August 23, 2004|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Today's TV offerings bulge with dissatisfied people getting nipped, tucked and lifted, injected, enhanced and reshaped.

Cosmetic plastic surgery has gained widespread attention with TV documentaries and "reality" shows such as Fox's "The Swan," ABC's "Extreme Makeover," MTV's "I Want a Famous Face" and "Dr. 90210" on E!

The plastic surgery broadcasting blitz is a double-edged scalpel, local and national plastic surgeons said recently.

Drs. Salvatore DiMercurio of Hagerstown, Darrick Antell of New York City and Robert Sigal of Reston, Va., said the media coverage has helped educate the public about cosmetic surgery, bolstered public acceptance of it and boosted business.

The reality is that most plastic surgery patients "just want to move forward with their lives, improve upon something that's been bothering them," Sigal said. Some of the shows have helped promote the idea that it's "acceptable to change a bothersome aspect of physical appearance," DiMercurio added.


"Certain people have come out of the plastic surgery closet, so to speak," he said.

The plastic surgery shows also have made viewers more cognizant of the fact that no body is naturally perfect, that even the seemingly flawless physiques that grace magazine centerfolds might have been tweaked with implants or Botox.

"I think that these TV shows, as well as all forms of media, have raised people's consciousness and raised the bar," Antell said. "Even superstars are not perfect."

While true beauty is more than skin deep, "the real reality of human beings is, looks matter a lot to us," Sigal said. "We live in a world where people value beauty and value youth."

The number of people receiving cosmetic surgery has nearly tripled in the last 10 years, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons at on the Web - a nonprofit group that represents almost 5,000 cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgeons certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. DiMercurio said his practice in Hagerstown and Chambersburg, Pa., has increased by 30 percent within the last few years, since shows such as "The Swan" and "Extreme Makeover" began airing on network TV.

"I think that these shows bring people into the office, but I turn away a lot more people than I used to ... because they need to be in better shape or better health," DiMercurio said.

In answer, he's opening the Comprehensive Health Enhancement Center at Robinwood Medical Center in early 2005 to offer such nonsurgical services as weight management, anti-aging and fitness education and nutritional counseling.

Fostering fantasies

Shows that showcase multiple and extreme surgeries have fostered unrealistic expectations about what plastic surgery can achieve.

"Some of those shows have turned plastic surgery into a circus. They've exploited patients and physicians," DiMercurio said. "Those wild, extreme and very drastic shows are very skewed and are giving people an unrealistic expectation of what's out there."

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons has cautioned viewers of cosmetic plastic surgery TV shows to have realistic expectations. Plastic surgery can help refine or improve appearance; it shouldn't be viewed as a way to transform a person's looks or life, ASPS President Rod Rohrich said.

Some of the shows "make people think I have a magic wand," said Antell, spokesman for the surgeons' group. He said he declined an offer to participate in "Extreme Makeovers."

"It didn't really sit well with me," Antell said. "I believe that good plastic surgery should whisper, it shouldn't scream."

Risky business

The surgeons said some plastic surgery TV programs also downplay the dangers of multiple operations.

"There are surgeons capable of achieving extraordinary results that change people's lives. Some surgeons are not capable of achieving those results," said Sigal, a friend of "The Swan" cosmetic surgeon Terry J. Dubrow of California. "But even for excellent surgeons, aspects of those shows can engender unrealistic expectations - like how much can be done at one time."

The longer a patient is on the operating table, the greater the risk for complications, Antell said.

"I think that people can get carried away," he said. "This isn't like getting your hair done. People tend to forget this is real surgery - you can die from it."

The surgeons said most viewers might not realize that dramatic TV's cosmetic surgery patients are carefully chosen for their strong physical health and the assurance of memorable results.

"They want to pick the home run, the person who has those features they can improve and make them look great," said DiMercurio, citing as examples plastic surgery candidates with big nasal humps, weak chins and thin lips. "Those are the people you can take from zero to 60, so to speak."

In addition, some shows likely sanitize the grittier aspects of plastic surgery and underplay operation and recovery times, Sigal said.

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