Video: Reality TV and the rise of plastic surgery

By Media analyst
updated 8/1/2007 7:22:53 AM ET 2007-08-01T11:22:53

A new study finds that 79 percent of patients who underwent plastic surgery were influenced by television and media.

Think about it.  Four out of five people surveyed in the "Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery" study got plastic surgery partly due to so-called “reality” television programming.  That should scare the hell out of us, mostly because the “reality” shown in many of these programs doesn’t even remotely reflect the reality of plastic surgery. 

Whether you are watching the recently-canceled “Extreme Makeover” on ABC or “Dr. 90210” on E! or MTV’s “I Want A Famous Face,”  all these programs are about entertainment and ratings.  They are about keeping eyeballs watching, even the ones with droopy eyelids or dark bags under them.  These programs are pure entertainment and when a program is about entertainment, drama and ratings, being informative and educational can be a real drag. Reality-based shows about plastic surgery have to cut out the “boring” stuff, yet it is the “boring” stuff that can be the most informative and educational with a topic like plastic surgery. 

According to Dr. John Persing, one of the co-authors of the study and a plastic surgeon at Yale University, “Some of the shows don’t even focus on the surgery or the patients. They focus on the personal aspects of the surgeons’ lives.” 

The other “boring” stuff these programs don’t focus on are the psychological profiles of the people who get plastic surgery.  Who is a candidate, who is not, and why?  BORING!  (Yes, but isn’t that important for us to know?)  What about the cosmetic surgeries done on these programs that don’t turn out that well and distort some of the patients’ appearances to the point where a whole range of emotional and psychological issues are raised?  (BORING!)  I don’t know about you, but I would want to know about that stuff. 

Look, not all plastic surgery programs on TV are bad.  In fact, there are some that are especially educational and informative, like the Discovery Channel’s “Plastic Surgery: Before and After.”  But again, those programs are not designed to be especially entertaining or create a fun diversion for us.  It’s the exception, because it’s intended to teach and give us a graphic and much fuller picture of what cosmetic surgery is all about. 

Let’s face it.  Most people don’t get plastic surgery solely because of these reality TV programs.  These programs are part of the much larger societal trend, which promotes physical perfection and pushes people to look a lot better than they actually do.  But overall, these programs don’t help.  They contribute to this unhealthy trend.  There’s nothing wrong with cosmetic surgery if it’s done by the right doctor to the right patient for the right reasons.  But when you have 15-year-old girls obsessed about getting breast augmentation or a nose job or wanting to look more like J.Lo or Jennifer Aniston, that should be enough reason for all of us to be concerned.  I say the vast majority of so-called reality shows about plastic surgery only make it worse for impressionable kids, not to mention particularly insecure adults.  Like I said, sometimes it is the “boring” stuff that we need to learn most about, particularly when we’re making such life-altering decisions.

Write to Steve Adubato at

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