Plastic surgery is a form of treatment that has been practiced in Egypt and India centuries back. Its prominence grew with the two World Wars, where it was used to repair the injuries of soldiers and replace the lost body parts. As a result, it became a part of the medical establishment, and people started writing books about it.
With each decade, the developments and advancements in this field improved, and today cosmetic surgery has gained a lot of popularity. People who are not satisfied with their looks, resort to these surgeries, it has almost become a vicious cycle in the society. Though it boosts the confidence level of the people, the bad consequences of plastic surgery involve a lot of risks, even to one’s life.
Beauty concepts are ever-changing, and today, people are all the more obsessed about their body and facial looks. Everyone complains about the defects in his or her body features, which affect the otherwise good looks. Even the most beautiful persons are dissatisfied with themselves and wish for better features.
This has promoted and popularized Plastic Surgery, which is the medical treatment to correct shapes of the body features. There are various types of surgeries in this field like, “hand surgery, burn surgery, microsurgery and craniofacial surgery.” (History of Plastic Surgery). In this paper, the history and social implications of plastic surgery are going to be discussed.
Egyptians and Indians are considered the first people to introduce this concept with treatments for ears, lips, and nose. This was done by them almost 3000 years back using skin grafts. Soon afterward, Greece and Rome developed more sophisticated ways of treatment and surgery.
Gradually, this idea was adopted by Italy and Great Britain. Physicians from Britain are believed to have traveled to India to learn more about Rhinoplasty. The first successful Plastic Surgery outside India was performed in 1815 by Joseph Constantine Carpue. Later on, in the United States, the first Cleft Palate operation was performed by Dr. John Peter Mettauer, in the year 1827.
He used his own instruments in the experiment. However, at that time, the surgery was painful due to lack of anesthesia and thus often led to opposite effects. This prevented its popularization until the nineteenth century. Following this, German Urological surgeon, James Isreal, and George Monks in America made their contributions in this field.
“The first modern plastic surgery introduced by an otolaryngology surgeon Sir Harold Gillies whose experiments were adopted in the 20th century in the United States.” (History of Plastic Surgery). A British soldier named Walter Yoe is the first known beneficiary of Plastic Surgery. He underwent the surgery in 1917, which was performed by Sir Harold H Gillies.
Plastic surgery gained a more important and prominent role during the period of the Second World War. Thousands of people kept getting injured, and many of them suffered from broken body parts like noses and limbs. The requirement of surgeons was very high during this time, and the maximum number of people underwent plastic surgerysurgery to repair the body impairments.
Though there were occasional surgeries done, the First World War lacked enough facilities for plastic surgery, and so, more efficient surgeons and better facilities were consciously provided during the Second World War. During the First World War, England was almost ignorant about the possibilities of Plastic Surgery.
So, when the English suffered serious facial wounds, Harold H Gilles was forced to perform surgeries, in spite of his lack of experience. Gilles, with the help of many other surgeons, performed unprofessional surgeries to treat the soldiers. However, with practice, there were improvements, and gradually, with the help of Sir Arbuthnot Lane, excellent surgeries were done.
“Marked progress was made in World War I in the treatment of fractures of the jaws, and in the repair of destructive wounds of the maxilla, by bone grafting and by adequate and ingenious prostheses and these methods have stood the time, and some have improved upon in World War II.” (Plastic Surgery in Wars I and II’, 611). One of the greatest advancements made during this time was tubed-flap in 1916 and 1917.
However, there were no definite methods for treating burns, and every surgeon followed his own individual methods. Ears, noses, chins, and eyes were artificially replaced on many of the soldiers who lost them beyond repair.
Despite the developments, there were very few surgeons with real knowledge about plastic surgery or with adequate training in it. The necessity to include more qualified and talented surgeons was understood by the armies, and World War II saw more developments, better surgeons, and more effective surgeries.
World War II was more equipped to face serious body injuries. It was decided that troops should be accompanied by a plastic surgeon and a dental surgeon so that immediate care can be given to the injured soldiers. Long special training was given to hundreds of men for this sole purpose, though it was soon stopped on realizing that plastic surgery required real skill and that only talented surgeons can perform it successfully.
In the United States, nine centers were opened for such surgeries. There were thousands of patients nearly over-crowding the centers, and often the team of surgeons and assistants were found inadequate. Many of the people underwent multiple surgeries. Not all of the patients were given general anesthesia; it depended on the situation.
The trained and better-skilled surgeons did a far better job than the ones during World War I. There were several branches created in the office of the Surgeon General, like orthopedic surgerysurgery, radiation, ophthalmology, neurosurgery, transfusion therapy and so on.
Though a special consultant for plastic surgery was not included, this was rectified to an extent in the final year by appointing many general plastic surgeons as civilian consultants. Drs. John Stage Davis, Jerome P Webster, and Robert H Ivy were some of the main consultants at that time.
In many cases of maxillofacial reconstruction, the plastic and dental surgeons worked together, as there was good co-operation between these two departments. Similarly, Dr. Sterling Bunnal suggested that hand cases be treated as a joint effort by the plastic and orthopedic surgeons, and it was done so.
Thus every department required the help of plastic surgeons, and there were no obvious clashes between each department. They worked together to help the injured soldiers successfully and efficiently.
At the time when World War I began, there was no book available with relevant information to guide the military surgeons. The situation changed with the war, and books like Manual of Plastic and Maxillofacial Surgery, written by Ferris Smith, came to be published.
Also, a subcommittee was set up to make recommendations to the Surgeon general about the necessary medical requirements and changes in the army. A major development at the time of World War II was that the patients were shifted immediately to the centers, even in case of serious burns and other injuries.
Blood was shipped to places where patients required plasma on a daily basis, and thus free use of plasma was of great advantage to the surgeons in saving the soldiers. The surgeons always ensured that high morale was maintained in the wards where plastic patients were admitted. This helped the patient psychologically, and this method is considered a result of the wars.
During this time, many plastic consultants were appointed, and prominent among them was Lt.Col. J. Barrett. Brown and Major Eugene M Bricker. They made detailed studies of plastic surgery both in the civilian and military cases. They promoted the Chief Surgeon to open Plastic Surgery Centers, and the first one was opened in 1942. By 1945, there were about ten centers in the UK where plastic surgery was done.
Navy was, however, different from the army. During World War I, plastic surgery was not required in the Navy. This situation did not change during the beginning periods of World War II, and there were no plastic surgery center or surgeon in the Navy.
However, the situation soon changed, and an increasing number of people got injured, which necessitated the presence of plastic surgeons in the Navy too. As the number of patients in the Navy was not as huge as in the army and therefore no Surgeon General was appointed in the Navy, though special plastic surgery centers were opened and surgeries were done in the required cases.
Soon after the Wars, plastic surgery and its importance were better known, and by the 1950s, it came to be included in the medical establishment. Great improvements in the field were made during this time, like rotation flaps and internal wiring in the case of facial fractures. In the 1960s, the American public soon got familiarized with plastic surgery and its scopes.
About a decade later, it was found that almost everybody part could be corrected with the help of a good plastic surgeon, and the first kidney transplantation was performed by Joseph Murray. By the 1990s, greater advancements made even breast enhancement possible and popular.
After a lot of controversies about its safety, the plastic surgeons proved that women who underwent the surgeries are very happy with the results. The increase in the number of women opting for breast implant surgery steadily rose by the end of the twentieth century. “At this rate, we can estimate more than 3 million breast enhancement procedures per decade.” (Conrad, 125).
Plastic Surgery can be basically categorized into two, reconstructive Surgery and cosmetic Surgery or aesthetic plastic surgery. The twenty-first century has seen a steady rise in the popularity of cosmetic surgery. Reconstruction surgery is done to repair or correct certain defects of the body parts, unlike Cosmetic Surgery, which is done for enhancing the beauty of certain body parts.
Aesthetic Plastic Surgery does not in any way help the functioning of body parts. The choice of such surgery is purely personal. Though there was an initial apprehension about cosmetic surgery, the situation has undoubtedly changed over the years. Now, people give more importance to outward looks and beauty. Cosmetic surgery is approved by people of all age groups.
A survey by The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery had found that the change in people’s attitudes is amazing. More than 50 percent of the women and men approve of such surgeries. Almost 40 percent of Americans above the age of 65 approve of it. (Quick Facts: Highlights of the ASAPS Attitudes on Cosmetic Surgery Survey).
There are clear reasons for its popularity. The media has given a lot of importance to the changes it brings on the body parts, by emphasizing beauty enhancement. Also, the recent developments and advanced technologies have facilitated better results and more perfection from these surgeries. “The increased ease and availability of cosmetic procedures has given currency to the concept of “fashions” in esthetic surgery.
Now people frequent the surgeon’s room to give a new “shape” to themselves every year.” (Plastic Fantastic? Cosmetic surgery in the 21st century). Many of such surgeries are expensive and so, must be done only after giving several thoughts to it. The increasing popularity and advanced technologies have made it easily available, though surgeons do not agree to perform certain types of surgeries on people of certain age groups or with health problems.
Today, certain standard measurements are made for the male and female body, which defines the concept of perfect men and perfect women. A perfect woman is determined on the basis of the measurement of her chest, waist, and hips. 36-24-36 is considered as the body measurement of a perfect woman. Similarly, a perfect man is determined on the basis of his height, waist, and shoulders.
The measurements vary with the height of men, though there is a proportion that is considered perfect. Most of the people in today’s world decide to undergo plastic surgery because of their self-esteem. No one is satisfied with their body and its outward appearances.
The thought that others are better looking than oneself creates the feeling that it is important to change the appearance in order to look as good as the other person. People generally believe that public attention is related to outward looks. They believe that only good-looking people will have more friends and other people around them and that only their opinions will be taken into consideration.
The media is responsible for this self-attitude in the people. It exposes the good consequences of plastic surgery so much that people are naturally inclined to go for it. “The media continues to feed us this with shows like “Extreme Makeover,” which, even though it makes a strong effort not to sensationalize plastic Surgerysurgery, still shows us the magic of the changes that can be done to ordinary people.” (Coca).
The thought that anyone can look like stars with plastic surgery captures the attraction of ordinary people, who can only dream of looking like their favorite actors or other stars.
Plastic surgery has emerged as a vicious cycle in the society, because as more and more people feel dissatisfied about their appearances, they resort to plastic surgerysurgery, thus popularizing it even more. Women, who have made prostitution as their profession find it necessary to make themselves more attractive in order to outsmart others who might do the same. They undergo more kinds of surgeries, and thus the cycle continues.
There are positive and negative consequences of Plastic surgery. Plastic surgery has proved to lift the confidence level of the people psychologically. People who keep low self-esteem begin to feel more confident and happier about the feeling that they look more beautiful. However, the negative consequences are comparatively more than the positive ones.
There are chances of a sudden drop in blood pressure, which can even lead to heart attacks. People who smoke or use steroids might get infections after surgerysurgery. There is a chance that the stitches might come loose after the surgery, and this can cause problems like internal bleeding.
A major issue after plastic surgery is scarring. There is also the risk of using anesthesia, though it depends on the seriousness of the surgery. Sore throat and nausea can result from such surgeries. “More serious complications include fat embolisms, blood clots, fluid depletion, and even death. Health experts estimate that the chance of serious side effects from breast augmentation is between 30 percent and 50 percent.” (Gimlin, 76).
Whatever the consequences, people are turning towards plastic surgery to enhance beauty and body perfection. The new developments give more options to people, and the media promote plastic surgery, gaining the attention of more and more people.
However, it is important to understand those outward appearances must not be too much depended on because the real beauty lies the goodness of one’s mind. There are people who require the help of plastic surgerysurgery to repair their body defects, and in such cases, it is justifiable.
A human being with all body parts correct and complete is lucky enough. Spending money for something that includes a lot of risks, even to one’s life, must be given a second thought before proceeding with it.
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