Cosmetic surgery: is it right for you?

Having cosmetic surgery, such as breast implants or rhinoplasty (nose job), is a big decision. Consultant psychologist Eileen Bradbury suggests the 10 questions to ask yourself before deciding whether you want it.

Bradbury specialises in the psychology of appearance, and has worked for 20 years with people who are considering cosmetic surgery. 

“Cosmetic surgery is carried out for psychological and social reasons, not functional reasons," she says. “It's important to understand the motivation for wanting surgery, and whether this is something surgery can achieve.”

Bradbury says it's very important to be honest with yourself. "You're the one who has to live with the outcome," she says. "If you rush into the surgery without thinking properly about it, it might be the wrong result, even if the surgery goes well."

If you feel that your appearance is disfigured, surgery isn’t your only option. The charity Changing Faces offers support and information on building self-esteem and confidence

If everyone in your family has the same ears, for example, and you have ear reshaping surgery to change yours, you might look in the mirror and feel cut off from family ties.

"Don't have surgery on a whim," says Bradbury. "If you've thought a lot about the surgery and the outcome beforehand, it will be easier to cope with."

Questions to ask yourself when considering surgery

People might seek cosmetic surgery to solve life problems, or during disruptive times in their lives when they feel bad about themselves – for example, during divorce. Bradbury warns that these are not good reasons to have surgery.

She advises people to ask themselves these questions:

  • How long have I thought about this surgery?
  • Did anything specific set off this desire?
  • What is my current life situation?
  • Why am I thinking about surgery now?
  • Are there other ways I can achieve the results I want?

Also ask yourself:

  • Am I expecting the surgery to change my life as well as my appearance?
  • Am I considering cosmetic surgery for myself or to please someone else?
  • Am I expecting the surgery to improve my relationship?
  • Am I expecting surgery to improve my social skills or job prospects?
  • Can surgery really give me the look I want?

If you're feeling anxious about your relationships, social situations or work, don't assume that surgery will make everything better.

Instead, you could consider counselling. Talking with a relationship or careers counsellor could help you find ways to overcome these anxieties and build your confidence. You can find counselling services near you.

Mental health issues

"If you're being treated for a psychiatric disorder, such as clinical anxiety or clinical depression, you should postpone the decision," says Bradbury. "You're in a vulnerable position at this stage, and won't be making an informed decision."

If, after asking all these questions, you decide to have surgery, remember that surgery is only one aspect of your wellbeing. "It's like having a personal trainer," says Bradbury, "You have to do most of the work yourself. Your wellbeing includes your lifestyle, nutrition, work and social life."

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the independent regulator of health services in England. It offers information about choosing a reputable provider if you've decided to have cosmetic surgery.

Non-surgical cosmetic procedures, such as injections, are less invasive than surgery but still carry risks. Read more about non-surgical cosmetic procedures.

Page last reviewed: 25/07/2014

Next review due: 25/07/2016

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