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Cosmetic surgery — think carefully before you leap

11th November 2016

Reasons for having cosmetic surgery come in all shapes and sizes and, if successful, it can have a positive and profound impact. But make no mistake, cosmetic surgery is not to be undertaken lightly.

Two recent reports dovetail neatly, if somewhat uncomfortably. Research results published by Girlguiding and information published by cosmetic surgery experts at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) each paint a somewhat worrying picture of how we, as individuals in a so-called ‘modern society’, view ourselves. Girlguiding, a leading charity for girls and young women in the UK, concludes that currently only 60 per cent of girls aged between seven and 21 feel happy with their bodies, compared with 73 per cent in 2011. These findings are based on a sample of 1,627 participants in the charity’s annual survey: 2016 Girls’ Attitudes Survey. Earlier this month, the BBC reported on RCS-published guidance for anyone thinking of undergoing cosmetic surgery.

Timing-wise, these two publications indicate both a nation of young people apparently obsessed with looks and style over substance and an admirable attempt to offer information intended to provide broad-brush education about cosmetic surgery procedures. But, upon closer inspection, perhaps the problem is more pervasive than the juxtaposition of these two publications might imply.

Undeniably we live in an age of Instagram, selfies and celebrity. Our television-viewing habits include watching the ‘famous’ cooped-up in a house or on a remote island and day in, day out, the tabloids splash beautiful faces and beach-bronzed bodies on their front pages. We are constantly fed countless articles featuring pictures of glamorous stars — so is it any wonder that a large proportion of people have a distorted perception of how they should look?

It’s an issue that crosses the gender divide like few others: men have to contend with pictures of impossibly-rippling six-packs or bulging biceps on the covers of supposed ‘health’ magazines, only to be told that such images are aspirational. And who amongst us hasn’t thought they might look a little better for losing a little weight, gaining a little muscle tone, having a full head of hair, and so on?  But for sufferers of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), an anxiety disorder that induces a distorted view of self-appearance, it’s much more serious. BDD causes sufferers to spend a great deal of time worrying about how they look and drives some — more often than not, young girls (and I say this as a parent of a young girl) — to try to achieve an ‘ideal’ body, as seen on the internet. So do we ban the internet? Do we ban magazines? No.

For me, all this is a sad indictment of our society. Surely, rather than focussing on appearance and looking good, we should instead focus on health and wellbeing. Unfortunately it seems that, in our quest to be the best we can be, it’s easy to overlook the fact that cosmetic surgery is not the panacea for all our insecurities.  Of course, there are many patients who are happy with cosmetic procedures that have achieved their desires. But there are also many who end up with a result that’s very far removed from their expectations, in some cases because those expectations were unreasonable but, in many, because the surgery has gone wrong.

The UK cosmetic surgery industry is largely unregulated. Cosmetic surgery is rarely available on the NHS and the majority is carried out privately. If your cosmetic surgery does go wrong, your recourse is a claim against the surgeon who carried out the procedure or, perhaps, the hospital where you were treated — but bear in mind that the majority of surgeons who carry out such procedures are self-employed, with no legal requirement that they carry insurance. So if your surgery does go wrong, you may find yourself suing a surgeon who does not have the means to pay a successful damages claim.

The information published this month by the RCS is helpful and well worth a read as it may answer some of the questions you have concerning cosmetic surgery, although non-surgical procedures such as botox or dermal fillers are not covered.  In writing this article I am not trying to put you off having cosmetic surgery, merely attempting to highlight some of its associated pitfalls. Please, do your research and ask questions of your surgeon/GP/medical practitioner. Think carefully whether you would be able to live with the results, should things go wrong. Find out what the risks are, and weigh them up carefully.

But if your cosmetic surgery does go wrong, we may be able to help. Call us on 01243 786668 for a no-obligation initial consultation and ask for our specialist clinical negligence team.

James Hawke. Solicitor & Head of Clinical negligence

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