A 38-year old California professor of marketing and business management has publicized her criticisms cosmetic surgery. She has started a nationwide marketing campaign around her website, "Real Body Story," which claims to "disseminate information about a woman's influence on body image and to encourage women to share their Real Body Story." But her criticisms are generally unfounded and come from a dangerous conflation of two very disparate phenomena: cosmetic surgery and eating disorders.
The woman is responding to her and her sister's experiences with eating disorders. In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, the professor stated that, "There's really no difference between eating disorders and plastic surgery." On her website, she describes her history of struggling with an eating disorder: "Self-centered, self-hatred, self-destructive behaviors all related to trying to achieve the perfect body. In those days I found control through the dis-ease [sic]. In a strange sort of parallel that same control could be attained today with aesthetic plastic surgery. Why now is it becoming socially acceptable and necessary to achieve the perfect body or face through cosmetic surgery?"
The comparison is invalid and is dangerous because it can, paradoxically, lead to a greater acceptance of eating disorders by putting them on par with medically- and socially-acceptable cosmetic procedures. When a woman suffers as this woman or her sister has suffered--abusing cocaine, laxatives, and enemas and doing physical violence to her body--she is not in control. She is responding not to her actual body, but to an illusion of her body.
In contrast, cosmetic surgeons can help women look at their bodies realistically, separating illusory body issues from actual ones. Most cosmetic surgeons don't want women with body dismorphic disorders (BDD, a clinical term describing a person's inability to see his or her actual body), because these patients are impossible to please. Instead, cosmetic surgeons can direct these patients to the counseling they need.
Cosmetic surgery procedures like liposuction and breast augmentation are not self-destructive. They offer a medically-controlled method to ensure that women's actual body issues are addressed as safely as possible with the best available methods. And, through the consultation process, doctors can explain to women the potential benefits and risks involved with every procedure, helping them to make a rational, informed decision about how to address their bodies. Surveys have shown that the majority of women undergoing these procedures are happy with the results and feel better about their bodies afterward, unlike eating disorders, which are often a downward spiral.