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Your Self-Image and Plastic Surgery

Each of us has a "self-image," a perception of how we believe we look to others. People who are happy with their self-image are more likely to be self-confident, effective in work and social situations, and comfortable in their relationships. Plastic surgery -- whether cosmetic or reconstructive -- encourages and promotes a strong, positive self-image. Even a small change on the outside can create an extraordinary change on the inside, allowing an individual's self-confidence to flourish.

Because the changes resulting from plastic surgery are often dramatic and permanent, it's important that you have a clear understanding of how surgery might make you feel-- long before a procedure is scheduled.

Appropriate Candidates for Surgery
If you are considering plastic surgery, you must be honest with yourself. Exactly why do you want surgery? And, what are your goals for surgery; what do you expect plastic surgery to do for you?
There are two categories of patients who are good candidates for surgery. The first includes patients with a strong self-image, who are bothered by a physical characteristic that they'd like to improve or change. After surgery, these patients feel good about the results and maintain a positive image about themselves.

The second category includes patients who have a physical defect or cosmetic flaw that has diminished their self-esteem over time. These patients may adjust rather slowly after surgery, as rebuilding confidence takes time. However, as they adjust, these patients' self-image is strengthened, sometimes dramatically.

It's important to remember that plastic surgery can create both physical changes and changes in self-esteem. If you are seeking surgery with the hope of influencing a change in someone other than yourself, you might end up disappointed.

Inappropriate Candidates for Surgery
Not everyone is an appropriate candidate for plastic surgery, despite physical indications which are ideal for any given procedure. Experienced plastic surgeons can usually identify troubled patients during a consultation. Sometimes, plastic surgeons will decline to operate on these individuals. Other times, they may recommend psychological counseling to ensure that the patient's desire for an appearance change isn't part of an emotional problem that no amount of surgery can fix. If your plastic surgeon recommends counseling for you, feel free to ask your surgeon how he or she expects the sessions to help you.

Individuals who may be advised to seek counseling prior to any consideration of surgery include:

The Consultation
During your initial consultation, your plastic surgeon will seek honest answers to how you feel about your appearance, how you believe others see you, and how you'd prefer to look and feel.
Honesty, with yourself and with the surgeon is essential. It's important that you set aside any awkwardness you might feel, and speak candidly about the changes you'd like to see. At the end of the consultation, you should feel confident that you and your surgeon understand each other completely.

Also, it is unwise to stress a minor functional problem if your true desire is to have an improved appearance. Often these patients stress a functional problem with the hope of obtaining insurance coverage for the procedure even though a functional problem does not exist. If your goals for surgery are not clearly communicated to your surgeon, you may not be satisfied with the final result.

Timing of Surgery
Plastic surgery procedures can impose stress in addition to that which we encounter on a daily basis, both on the body and mind.

To make sure you're emotionally prepared for surgery, your plastic surgeon may ask some rather personal questions about your relationships, home life, work problems, and other private matters. Once again, honesty is essential.

Adjusting to Change
It may take a while before you find you have emotionally recovered from surgery and have adjusted completely to change. This is particularly true if the procedure you've had has significantly changed your body image. If you're planning a relatively straight forward cosmetic procedure like chemical peel or eyelid surgery, you'll probably adjust easily to your new look.

However, if you plan to have breast surgery, nose surgery, or another procedure that may involve a dramatic body change, the post-operative adjustment period may take longer.

Getting the Support You Need
It's essential to have someone to help you, both physical and emotionally, during your recovery period. Even the most independent patient needs some emotional support after surgery. Remember, during the first week of recovery, you'll have days when you'll feel depressed and look swollen, bruised, and rather unpleasant.

Also keep in mind that it's not unusual for a well-meaning friend or relative to say "I liked the way you were before," or "You didn't really need surgery," Comments such as these may cause or worsen feelings of regret or self-doubt, particularly during the early recovery period.

Coping with Post-Operative Depression
After surgery, most patients experience mild feelings of unhappiness. However, for an unlucky few, post-operative depression may be more severe.

Post-surgery let downs usually set in about three days after surgery-at a point when you may be regaining some of your physical stamina, but your post-operative appearance has not yet begun to improve. In fact, some plastic surgeons call this condition "the Third-Day Blues." It may last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. This emotional let down may be caused by stress, exhaustion, metabolic changes, or the frustration of waiting for results to appear. Depression may be especially stressful for patients undergoing staged procedures, who must cope with an unfinished "interval image" until the final stage of surgery is complete. Patients who are most vulnerable to depression are those who have a history of depression, or who were already somewhat depressed before surgery.

Handling the Critics
The results of your surgery are likely to elicit some comment from friends and family members--and usually, it's not all positive. If you've had purely cosmetic surgery, you may be criticized for being foolish or frivolous. If your surgery involved changing an ethnic trait, you may be accused of trying to deny your cultural heritage. And, if you changed a family trait, prepare yourself for some surprised or disapproving glances. You may even get the cold shoulder from close friends who feel threatened by your improved appearance.

Some patients find it's helpful to arm themselves with a standard reply to post-operative criticism, such as, "This is something I did for myself--and I'm very happy with my results."

Remember, if you are content with how the results of plastic surgery make you look and feel, then the procedure was indeed a success.

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