Why you need to love yourself first before undergoing cosmetic ehnancement.

15 02 04 defence 0

When it comes to our sense of self, positive self-esteem, body image and confidence play a major part in both the physical and psychological aspects of our lives. Today the concept of beauty differs for everyone on an individual basis. The saying that “beauty lies in the eye of the beholder” supports this, but then stop for minute and observe the ideals of physical beauty presented to us in mainstream pop culture and it’s easy to throw the ideals of relative beauty and acceptance of variations straight into the trash. Most forms of media, whether it’s TV, advertising, or magazines, portray the female form in its perfected state (yes our magazine included), but often the notions of perfection portrayed don’t match the image of the real woman.

Which leads us to the question, what is beauty? How do we come to define beauty for ourselves? And how do we define ourselves in relation to it? These questions become immediately complicated when plastic surgery and cosmetic enhancement are thrown into the mix—industries that thrive off of recreating physical ideals of beauty. But really if a cosmetic procedures makes you feel better and results in an increase in both confidence and self-esteem, is it really a bad thing?  We enlisted two experts from Toronto—Dr. Jerome Edelstein, MD, FRCSC, a plastic surgeon, and Fatima Khan, MSW, RSW, a social worker and therapist who provides trauma informed therapy to adults—to help us navigate this teetering conversation about physical beauty, confidence, self-esteem and body image. 

15 02 04 defence 3

Beauty Starts with Self-Esteem

How we function as individuals in our everyday lives  in relation to the world relies heavily on how we perceive ourselves or our self-esteem. According to Khan, “Self-esteem refers to our core beliefs, ideas and perspectives that we develop about ourselves.  We develop a large portion of our self-esteem during our childhood, which is heavily influenced by parental attachment figures and early childhood environments. However, a great deal of literature also points to ways in which media and popular culture impact self-esteem, namely the projection of images that reinforce or challenge our core beliefs about ourselves.”  This takes us to body image, which is “how one views, feels and relates to their appearance and body.” Khan points out rightfully that one’s body image is often influenced by how we personally view ourselves in comparison to what is presented and accepted as the norm (idealized and unrealistic depictions of physical beauty in society). Since these norms become so prevalent,  we may internalize these images as frames of reference, resulting in a negative impact on self-esteem
if we feel they are unrealistic and unattainable.

You might be asking yourself, so what?  Khan explains the implications: “Healthy levels of self-esteem and body image give people a frame of reference in which to navigate their world. It allows for [us] to feel assured and validated within ourselves.” This validation becomes important when we face stressful situations, personal struggles and life changes. Self-esteem, body image and confidence are the foundation for a life of happiness and well-being. Translation: Your pretty face means nothing to you, if you don’t believe you’re pretty. Beauty, even physical beauty, begins from within.

Cosmetic Ehnancement Controversy

Although physical changes in appearance don’t equate to happiness, if altering your appearance makes you feel better and you are psychologically stable, go for it. Dr. Edelstein explains when to  draw the line about the transformative power of cosmetic enhancement:  “One could easily argue that cosmetic plastic surgery is all about the sense of self, confidence and body image. I do, however, think it is important that a patient has realistic expectations.  Plastic surgery can reshape one’s body, not one’s life.  Although an enhanced appearance after surgery can improve one’s self-esteem, plastic surgery will not solve career, marital or emotional problems.” Like most plastic surgeons, Dr. Edelstein emphasizes that, although surgery can mend your physical outlook, it cannot transform all aspects of your life, therefore decisions to get a procedure done need to be rational.

15 02 04 defence 1

Khan agrees and emphasizes the need to  balance physical and psychological solutions when working on self-image: “From a therapeutic standpoint, I would not advise an individual to make permanent major decisions when they feel emotionally unstable and this can include permanent changes to their appearance,” says Khan. “I strongly believe that confidence does start from within and requires internal work. Only ‘fixing’ perceived appearance issues can function as a band-aid solution. Yet on the other hand, taking care of one’s self and how you present yourself can be a confidence builder... However, this works best if in conjunction with internal work, addressing root causes to why one may feel unhappy about their appearance.”

Seek Self-Awareness & Coping Strategies

So if cosmetic enhancement on its own isn’t the sole answer to self-acceptance, what are some internal ways of improving one’s self-esteem and body image? Exact methods will vary from person to person, but Khan emphasizes that the first step to seeking effective coping strategies begins with  “creating more awareness and being curious about how low self-esteem affects you, whether it’s the thoughts in your head, critiques of your appearance or relationships around you. This [increased understanding of yourself] will help tailor effective coping strategies to suit your needs.”

Examples of coping strategies Khan uses in her practice include cognitive behavioral therapy and positive affirmations for those who need to overcome negative self-talk—that defeatist tendency we all have (but those with self-esteem have to a debilitating degree) to beat ourselves up with overly critical and damaging thoughts. These two methods seek to transform a person’s negative core beliefs and thinking patterns  to more balanced thinking.

Some physical means that can positively impact self-image include “mindful eating habits and exercise,” which Khan recommends for her patients dealing with depression and anxiety (both unfortunate yet common consequences of poor self-esteem and body image). Eating healthier and exercising often translates to weight loss, resulting in positive changes in outer appearance that boost self-esteem, explains Khan. Plus, “30 minutes of cardio each day can shift brain chemistry for an increase of serotonin, which decreases for clients with depression and/or anxiety and also allows for a greater release of endorphins”—the feel-good hormone that keeps stress at manageable levels by keeping our levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in check—so exercise  in this case has both physical and psychological benefits.

15 02 04 defence 4

Take Care of Yourself

Overall, both Dr. Edelstein and Khan agree that we need to engage in self-care first and nurture our inner selves before embarking on life-changing decisions in any part of our lives, including deciding to get a cosmetic procedure done.  Dr. Edelstein strongly asserts the importance of mental stability and emotional support for
optimal surgical recovery: “A person should feel emotionally stable at the time of their surgery.  Many patients have a history of
depression or anxiety.  As long as these issues are stable, I have not found them to be a major impediment.  I do think, however, that surgery is a significant stressor and, as such, will just add to a patient’s emotional instability if it is an exceptionally stressful time.  I tell patients having an emotionally difficult time that they should wait until things are stable.” 

Finally, Khan advocates for people to seek help when in need.
“If you struggle with low self-esteem, confidence and/or body image, please consult with a professional therapist or health
professional before making changes in your life. You may need specialized care and attention.” After all there is only one of you, and until you care for yourself fully, no one else will.