Plastic surgery as reality television: Good, Bad, or Ugly?

03 October 2014

By Plastic Surgeon Dr Dirk Kremer.

Scalpel photo by aesop on FlickrEarlier this year, American television network E! Entertainment aired a new reality series called Botched that focused on correcting extreme plastic surgery nightmares. In each episode, licensed plastic surgeons worked with patients who required help fixing mistakes resulting from previous cosmetic surgery procedures that hadn't gone as expected. The programme then followed them through every step of their journey, from the medical procedure to the recovery. The decision to air this programme has brought plastic surgery-centred reality television back into the media spotlight, and forced us to consider how the cosmetic surgery industry is portrayed to a mass television audience, both nationally and internationally.

The rise of the reality television genre

In recent years, reality television has become an extremely popular genre, with the number of programmes airing in the US increasing from just 4 in 2000 to 320 by 2010, and that number continues to grow. Most worryingly, however, is that a survey of first-time plastic surgery patients found that 78% of those asked said that their decision had been influenced by reality television shows, with over half claiming that they were “high-intensity” viewers of the genre. From this research, the statistics show that the way plastic surgery is portrayed on television does have an effect on patients who are either considering, or who have had, cosmetic surgery.

A negative impression of the industry

The extreme surgery reality television trend began in earnest in 2002 with Extreme Makeover, a series in which people are chosen to receive the makeover of their dreams using plastic surgery, cosmetic dentistry and advice from a stylist, in a Cinderella-like premise. This was followed in 2004 by The Swan, a competition pitting ‘ugly’ women against one another for the chance to win a plastic surgery procedure from their ‘wish list’ each week, and Doctor 90210, a documentary-style series focusing on aesthetic surgery in the wealthy suburb of Beverly Hills in California, featuring interviews with the patients and footage of the surgical procedures.

It is important to consider the messages these reality television shows are broadcasting. My main concern with these shows is that they perpetuate the idea of plastic surgery as an easy and risk-free solution to confidence issues, while television producers profit from other people’s insecurities by reinforcing unachievable body image goals. These programmes appear to imply that beauty can only be found in plastic surgery if money is no object and if you have access to a team of surgeons dedicated to perfecting your every feature. At Harley Street Aesthetics we cannot agree with this, as we believe that beauty comes from within and plastic surgery is there to enhance it, not create it.

Always choose a licensed, reliable surgeon

One of the most significant issues raised by television shows such as these, however, is the reminder of how important it is to choose a certified and reliable plastic surgeon for any cosmetic procedure. In a society increasingly preoccupied with looks, I feel that sometimes it can be better for patients to see for themselves what can go wrong when you choose a cheaper, under-qualified surgeon to perform the surgery, and programmes such as E!’s Botched and Channel 5’s Botched Up Bodies are a reminder of the risks involved with appearance-altering procedures that are not performed by professional and accredited surgeons.

In addition to this, whilst I do not condone having extreme plastic surgery to completely transform your appearance, many of the patients profiled on these reality programmes chose surgery in order to feel better about themselves and they are therefore examples of how cosmetic surgery can help increase self-confidence and gain feelings of empowerment. With a simple tummy tuck or a discreet facelift, you can appear younger, feel better and this can change your life, whilst maintaining a naturally aesthetic appearance that is still recognisable as you in the mirror. I have always believed that there is not one ideal of beauty, and permanently changing your entire appearance to reflect one interpretation of beauty is not the answer to self-esteem issues.

I will never perform extreme surgeries like the ones featured in these reality television shows, and if the safety of my patients is at risk I will also advise against combining plastic surgery procedures. I am dedicated to ensuring that my patients choose cosmetic surgery for the right reasons, which is why if you’re interested in surgery, I will sit down with you in an initial confrontation to understand your decision and ensure that you have a realistic expectation for the results of the surgery. If you would like to discuss your surgical options with my team or myself, please contact us.


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