Scalpel Slaves and Surgical Sculptors: Cosmetic surgery, management of the media and the implications of commercialized medicine
Of the over 17 million surgical and minimally-invasive cosmetic procedures performed in the United States in 2016, women accounted for over 90% of patients and nearly 70% of all patients were white. The goal of cosmetic surgery is to surgically restructure a healthy body part to more closely represent the contemporary ideal of what defines a particular gender. For example, femininity being linked to large breasts and small waist-to-hip ratio maintains binary heteronormative standards of what female body should look like. Plastic surgeons rely on advertising to attract patients for their businesses, since insurances do not cover elective cosmetic procedures. The ethical dilemma with this medical profession is with establishing aesthetic criteria for categorizing which bodies are considered normal and which are deviant. To understand the role of the physician in perpetuating cultural standards of beauty and promote surgery through their advertising, a random sample of 5 board-certified plastic surgeons from Scottsdale, AZ 85258 was obtained, focusing primarily on the images and textual content of their web pages. Of the 50 images sampled, nearly 75% of images portrayed white women. Women of color did not present in any of the photos. 52% of the home page images sexualized female clients using seductive posing and lingerie and promoted femininity using makeup and long hair. The language used in these websites criticized the presurgical female body and suggested that only physicians could eradicate their deficiencies, thereby normalizing cosmetic surgery as a means of beauty enhancement and maintaining the cultural superiority of doctors. 60% of websites failed to include adequate description of surgical risk. By choosing cosmetic surgery, women are negotiating their lives and acting as agents, even under circumstances that they cannot control such as the withholding of information, minimizing of risk or the social context and its corresponding pressures. Although the forewarning of surgical risk is rarely effective as a deterrent, it is the responsibility of the physician to provide the patient with all the information to the best of their ability so that they can decide what's best for their present circumstance, although rarely taken under conditions of perfect knowledge or absolute freedom from societal pressures. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons should work in conjunction with the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Review Council to mediate regulatory solutions and increase public assurance in the credibility of advertising, perhaps an initiative similar to that of advertising for the cigarette industry. A pledge from the cosmetic surgery industry in conjunction to the Hippocratic Oath of the American Medical Association, which outlines the physician's responsibility to the patient within the context of advertising and marketing, could strengthen social responsibility and foster stronger, more honest relationships between surgeons and consumers.