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Living in a society obsessed with outer beauty and visible youth, an increasing number of students and young adults are turning to plastic surgery to improve their appearance.
While hardly a new trend, cosmetic surgery has gained the attention of American youth and a constant presence at home with help from the media.
Programs like ABC’s ‘Extreme Makeover’ and Fox’s ‘The Swan’ depict individuals who, unhappy with their appearances, fix them by surgical means.
In ‘The Swan,’ contestants participate in a beauty pageant where only the most improved woman will emerge victorious.
On cable, MTV has introduced ‘I Want a Famous Face,’ profiling youths who eagerly overcome all obstacles, including the scalpel, to mimic the appearance of their favorite pop or movie star.
While some are influenced by these glorified depictions of plastic surgery, others feel quite the opposite.
‘The MTV shows made plastic surgery seem more serious to me because they showed both the surgery and the recovery,’ said Manuel Ruiz, a second-year civil engineering major.
According to Dr. Jay Calvert, a board certified plastic surgeon and assistant professor of clinical surgery at the UCI College of Medicine, the perception of plastic surgery cultivated by these shows depends heavily upon the viewer.
‘It really depends on who is watching. In ‘Extreme Makeover,’ for example, surgeons know that the surgery has been staged and completed in multiple sessions rather than all at once,’ Calvert said.
Calvert felt, however, that this is not always expressed clearly to the average viewer.
‘The statement at the end of the show that describes this is important, but it may not express this point clearly to viewers,’ Calvert said.
Nevertheless, the ongoing media blitz has led to a sizable increase in the number of college-age patients willing to undergo plastic surgery.
According the American Association of Plastic Surgeons, 8.7 million plastic surgeries were completed in 2003, a 32 percent increase from 2002. People aged 19 to 34 made up over 26 percent of 2003’s plastic surgeries.
Unfortunately, blinded by an overwhelming desire for beauty and a dangerous apathy, patients oftentimes fail to do the necessary research before undergoing cosmetic operations, a mistake that can have serious consequences.
‘There is no question that it is important to check the credentials of anyone you are receiving an operation from. Being board certified can make a difference,’ Calvert said.
Though current statistics show that only 1 person in approximately 57,000 die from complications in plastic surgery, cases like Julie Rubenzer from Sarasota, Fla., is a grim reminder of the need to follow Calvert’s advice.
Dr. Kurt Dangl, who had questionable training in cosmetic surgery, performed Rubenzer’s breast augmentation surgery without a trained anesthesiologist, leading to respiratory failure and subsequent cardiac arrest. Unable to be resuscitated, the 38-year-old Rubenzer fell into a coma and later died.
According to Calvert, however, incidents like this are not commonplace.
‘Plastic surgery is generally very safe. It has gotten safer and safer over the years thanks to technology,’ Calvert said. He nevertheless affirmed that even with these advances, risks still remain.
‘There are still risks of bleeding, infection, scarring, deformities or damage to underlying structures,’ Calvert said.
Calvert also noted a common misconception of patients interested in cosmetic surgery.
‘Many think it’s easy to go through. They don’t realize that there will be pain involved and swelling that could take weeks to go down,’ Calvert said.
While harsh, this is a reality that one UCI student now understands from experience.
‘It was more painful than I expected it to be,’ said a second-year economics major who had her eyelids modified and wished to remain anonymous.
‘I’ve had my eyebrows tattooed and assumed the eyelid surgery would be similar, but it was much more painful,’ she said.
Despite the soreness, the student was glad she had the procedure done.
‘I was pleased with the results. I think my eyes look much better and it really improved my self-esteem,’ she said.
While plastic surgery can boost self-confidence, Calvert recommends that those interested in these procedures receive a consultation and have a goal in mind.
‘Plastic surgery is a personal choice. Go in with something you desire and we as surgeons can determine if there is a procedure that can help you reach that goal,’ Calvert said.
For those uninterested in surgery, Calvert and other plastic surgeons offer simpler alternatives such as facial Botox injections.
‘I received Botox injections twice between my eyebrows and on my forehead to reduce wrinkling,’ said Claire Waldvogel, a second-year political science major.
Although college may seem a bit early to be worrying about wrinkles, Waldvogel has her reasons.
‘I did it more as a preventative measure to reduce frown lines when I get older. Also, my aunt is a plastic surgeon, so I received the injections for free, which is an added bonus,’ Waldvogel said.
For those not related to a plastic surgeon, however, the youth inducing toxin is much more costly, averaging $250 to $300 per injection.
While receiving a syringe full of Botox to the forehead sounds simple enough, it is neither painless nor without its healing factors.
‘It was actually kind of painful and it can leave your face red for a while. Also, if the needle hits a blood vessel, there can be bruising,’ Waldvogel said.
Aside from purposes of beauty, plastic surgery can also be used to rebuild damaged areas of the body, a fact that is often forgotten.
Reconstructive surgery, an important, yet often overlooked form of plastic surgery, allows for the restoration of appearance and functionality to regions of the body impacted by severe burns or external trauma.
‘Technology has improved, allowing reconstructive surgery to be more successful. Here at UCI we use microsurgery, a technique used by few other plastic surgeons in Orange County,’ Calvert said.
Unlike tummy tucks, breast implants and liposuction, reconstructive surgeries have been encountered more regularly by UCI students.
‘I had minor reconstructive
surgery on my lip when I
was young to repair an injury.
I still have the scar,’ Ruiz said. Ruiz discussed his inevitable return to a plastic surgeon for an extensive repair to a more severe injury.
‘I’m going to need reconstructive surgery on my left hand soon to fix a fracture caused by a sports injury that healed improperly,’ Ruiz said.

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