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Relaxed attitudes towards cosmetic procedures are dangerous

Cosmetic surgeries have become commonplace in our society, but even non-evasive procedures are never without risk. What can we learn about self-acceptance from one top model’s botched experience?

The year is 2021, and you’d be hard pressed to find a celebrity who hasn’t undergone a nose job, brow lift, or sculpted their face with derma filler even slightly.

In terms of body modification, female rappers and others in the spotlight have popularised the BBL (Brazilian Butt Lift) procedure, where fat is removed from various areas of the body and transferred to create an hourglass silhouette akin to Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian.

A staggering 1 in 3,000 BBLs result in death, making it the world’s most dangerous cosmetic procedure. Neither this fact – nor its price tag – has stopped the $6,000 surgery from weaving its way into the mainstream. Reports say the number of BBLs performed by surgeons globally has risen 77.6 percent since 2015.

For those unwilling to take this risk, non-invasive cosmetic surgeries seem to offer a safer alternative. With no knives and no anaesthesia, a relatively quick and painless trip to a local practitioner could have you in and out of the office in under an hour with little to no recovery time.

These types of procedures are approached with an attitude so blasé that camera crews regularly follow the cast of The Real Housewives into doctors’ offices to film them happening, as if they were attending appointments for an express mani-pedi.

But five years ago, Linda Evangelista, a legendary 90’s supermodel who strutted the runway alongside Naomi Campbell, underwent a non-invasive surgery called ‘CoolSculpting’, which uses a device to permanently freeze (and kill) 25 percent of fat cells in targeted areas.

Almost immediately, Evangelista disappeared from the red carpet without explanation. That is, until last week, when she revealed that she’d developed paradoxical adipose hyperplasia (PAH) as a result of the CoolSculpting procedure.

In short, the non-invasive surgery had produced the opposite effect to what it is supposed to deliver, causing her fat cells to multiply, producing ‘bumpy, bulging skin’ that can be extremely painful.

Evangelista has now filed a $50 million lawsuit against the parent company of CoolSculpt, saying she has been left ‘brutally disfigured’ by the procedure which ‘destroyed her livelihood’ while advertised as doing the exact opposite.

 

 

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A post shared by Linda Evangelista (@lindaevangelista)

But what about those who don’t have access to lawyers? Documented instances of PAH after CoolSculpting suggest that it is an extremely rare side effect, however some doctors believe that many cases are left unreported.

With practitioners admitting there is ‘no way of [mitigating] risk’ surrounding non-invasive procedures, is it ever really worth it? The answer depends on who you ask.

We’d all be lying if we said we’ve never examined ourselves in front of the mirror, fixating on what we might tweak here or there, just to feel one step closer to meeting the ideal beauty standards that perforate our brains via imagery on social media, television, and film.

But there’s a thin line between acknowledging our imperfections (which are part of what makes us unique) and risking it all by succumbing to narratives that we aren’t good enough as we are – and putting our physical identity in the hands of a surgeon.

In no way am I shaming those who desire or have already undergone cosmetic surgery – there are a ton of people who will tell you first-hand how it’s enhanced their quality of life and helped to bolster their self-esteem.

At the same time, it’s worth having informed discussions before undergoing surgery of any kind to understand the potential risks. On a more personal level, coming to terms with the deeper reasons for wanting to permanently alter your appearance is equally as essential.

With cosmetic procedures, there’s no going back without undergoing secondary corrective surgery. Acknowledging that the ‘ideal body type’ tends to change as fashion trends do (although admittedly at a slower rate), many who have undergone sensationalised BBL surgeries may end up regretting it within the next decade.

The debate around true motivations for seeking out cosmetic surgery has even reached government levels, with some UK MPs campaigning for stronger regulations or even prescription-only appointments.

These arguments, while viewed as extreme by some, aren’t unfounded. Unlike the permanence of surgery, our self-perception, confidence, body image, and self-acceptance waver between positive and negative phases throughout life – usually stabilising for the better with age.

But the age at which people are seeking out cosmetic procedures is now younger than ever before, with The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reporting that 87,966 cosmetic surgeries were performed on people aged 13-19 in 2020 alone.

It’s hard not to link this number to leaked documents from Instagram which declared that the body image of teenage girls is significantly skewed for the worse by the use of its platform. Before young women are even developed, they are already sent messages about how they should aspire to be.

Lisa Evangelista’s story is an example of how the desire to change ourselves – when we are already admired by so many others – can backfire. Her decision to speak out has made headlines around the world, raising awareness about the mental and physical consequences of chasing beauty ideals.

Ultimately, we all know what’s best for ourselves. What we choose to do with our own bodies is completely up to the individual who has full autonomy to make their own decision.

On that note, it’s important to know that we are allowed to be imperfect – and in trying to keep up with society’s ever-changing standard of what ‘perfect’ is, the only way we truly win is by loving and accepting ourselves.

 

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