Americans keep their plastic surgeons extremely busy. In 2004, 9.2 million plastic surgery procedures were performed, which is a 5% increase over 2003. And since 2000, there has been a 24% increase in the number of these procedures performed. The top five plastic surgeries in 2004 were liposuction, nose reshaping , breast augmentation , eyelid surgery, and facelift.

What motivates people to have plastic surgery? Americans today are bombarded with images of physically perfect people—in magazines, on television, and in movies. Therefore, many people assume the primary motivating factor for getting plastic surgery must be vanity and the desire to look near perfect.

But not all people who consider having plastic surgery are motivated by vanity. A new study in the September 1, 2005 issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found that the main motivator for having plastic surgery is a desire for change, and that people considering plastic surgery are generally more concerned with improving their physical, emotional, and social well-being than with achieving physical perfection.

About the Study

Researchers conducted open-ended telephone interviews with 60 people (31 women and 29 men) who sought information about plastic surgery from the American Society for Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) in the previous 18 months. The researchers collected information on the participants’ decision to undergo plastic surgery.

The information collected during the telephone interviews was used to design a web-based questionnaire about the decision to undergo plastic surgery, which was administered to 644 people (542 women and 102 men) who indicated they were considering plastic surgery or an appearance-altering procedure (e.g., laser hair removal).

The Findings

Overall, the participants saw plastic surgery as an effective way of achieving desired physical changes. Most participants connected physical change with changes to emotional well-being.

Few of the participants sought input from their family or friends about the decision to have plastic surgery, and 25% spontaneously indicated that they were considering plastic surgery for themselves, not to please others.

Eighty-five percent of the participants indicated that their primary motivating factor for considering plastic surgery was improvement in physical appearance. Many participants were bothered by a physical feature, and saw plastic surgery as a way to correct, maintain, or restore that feature.

Many of the participants emphasized that they were not considering plastic surgery for vanity or to obtain perfection, but as a means to overcome dissatisfaction or unhappiness. Only 5% of the participants (all men younger than 35) indicated that they were expressly searching for perfection.

How Does This Affect You?

These findings suggest that people’s motivations for plastic surgery are more complex and less superficial than what is widely assumed. While improving physical appearance seems to be the primary motivator for having plastic surgery, people are not doing it for vanity, but rather to overcome dissatisfaction or unhappiness with a physical feature.

Many of the participants believed that improvements in their appearance would lead to emotional and social improvements. But oftentimes, the causes of emotional and psychological dissatisfactions are more than skin deep. Before opting for plastic surgery, carefully consider your motivations, as well as the risks and benefits of your particular procedure. Plastic surgery can be beneficial for many people, but the results are often disappointing and improvements in physical features are not always the cure-all that people hope them to be.