“The Swan.” “I Want a Famous Face.” “Dr. 90210.” “Extreme Makeover.” “Nip/Tuck.” The list goes on.
These are a few of the TV shows that have examined, and promoted, the benefits of plastic surgery in recent years. University of Southern California professor Julie Albright believes the shows are driving women to go under the knife to conform to a heightened definition of beauty, one that is increasingly difficult to attain.
Consider that, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery:
- The number of 18-year-olds who underwent breast-implant surgery nearly tripled from 2002 to 2003.
- There has been a 444% increase in plastic surgery since 1997.
- Over 90% of all plastic surgery is performed on women.
- Americans spent approximately $12.4 billion on cosmetic procedures in 2006.
“The practice now has incredible visibility, which has led to incredible acceptance, which has led to incredible pressure for women to improve their appearance,” Albright believes.
Albright’s study, “Impossible Bodies,” surveyed 662 college students in Los Angeles and Buffalo about their viewing habits and body image.
The study, recently published in Configurations Journal from Johns Hopkins University Press shows that women watch these shows more than men and the more they watch the more they are likely to feel anxiety about their bodies, Albright says.
Women in the study equated beauty to wealth and an affluent lifestyle, Albright said.
“Women are being taught to access power and status through their looks, “ Albright believes. “Before women might buy a Louis Vuitton purse to show off their ‘status.’ Now they might buy new breasts as a sign of their success.”
At the very least, these shows act as an advertisement for the plastic surgery industry, Albright says. At the most these shows impose unrealistic beauty standards that make people question their own bodies while giving them an instruction manual on how to change their appearance.
“The aim of plastic surgery makeover shows is to make women more beautiful and highlight the dissatisfaction women have with their bodies,” Albright said.
“Extreme Makeover” was ABC’s second-highest-rated show for those under 50. “The Swan” attracted more viewers than Miss America and Miss USA. And Albright found the shows play off children’s stories most American children know by heart, such as Cinderella and the Ugly Duckling.
“It’s now everywhere – and it’s not just for rich women behind closed doors,” Albright said.
The findings suggested that women felt a surgically enhanced body was more attractive to men, though men in the study disagreed.
Many of the findings were the same for the two different geographical and socioeconomic areas of the country where the survey was conducted.
But there were some notable differences. Students in Buffalo, whose parental income average $70,000, had more body anxiety than the L.A. students, whose parental income averaged $100,000.
While the L.A. students felt their “problem” body parts were a moral failing, the Buffalo students believed their body issues could keep them from achieving success, Albright said.
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