America’s Booming Plastic Surgery Industry and Our Changing Perception of Beauty

Plastic surgery is defined as “the process of reconstructing or repairing parts of the body by the transfer of tissue, either in the treatment of injury or for cosmetic reasons.”. An increasing number of Americans are opting for plastic surgery, contributing to a boom in the industry.

ASPS is the leading source of cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery statistical trends in the US. The 2016 Plastic Surgery Statistics report represents two decades of procedural statistics. According to the report, “Breast augmentation continues to be the top cosmetic surgical procedure and has been since 2006.”[1] The same report found Americans spent more than $16 billion on cosmetic plastic surgeries and minimally invasive procedures in 2016. These statistics present evidence that plastic surgery has become mainstream and more accessible, leading to a boom in the plastic surgery industry in the United States.

Americans are choosing plastic surgery for a variety of reasons. A common rationale for plastic surgery is the benefit of aesthetic improvements for one’s looks. This has many applications, from treating a burn victim to minimise the damage suffered after the healing process, to minor improvements such as rhinoplasty to improve one’s self confidence. Dr. James Grotting, President of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery believes that “the motivating factors for that are varied, but remaining competitive in the workforce is certainly a common factor. Youth is a commodity, and people are investing in themselves to maintain a younger, healthier appearance.”

Another rationale for plastic surgery would be to correct physical defects that may have resulted from genetics or accidents. Plastic surgery in this case would drastically improve their quality of life. Others that pursue plastic surgery to improve their quality of life may look to liposuction and breast reduction – these may not be defects per se, but can result in a drastic improvement in the quality of life.

Social media has had a profound impact on the way Americans perceive themselves. It has long been known that “physically attractive people often receive preferential treatment and are perceived by others as more sociable, dominant, mentally healthy and intelligent than less attractive people”, according to research by psychologist Alan Feingold. [2]People see pictures of themselves routinely on social media, and compare themselves to celebrities in mainstream media. Overall rates for cosmetic procedures among millennials have grown exponentially. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) reported a staggering 64 percent spike in cosmetic surgery and injectable treatments in patients under the age of 20.[3] “The Kardashians have become the poster children for mainstream plastic surgery awareness and we are seeing a lot of young patients coming in and asking about Kylie Jenner’s lips. They don’t necessarily want something that dramatic, but use her lips as a point of reference”, says AAFPRS President Dr. Edwin Williams. However, it is yet unknown what the effect of plastic surgery is on these patients. Few studies have been conducted to examine the safety and long-term risks of these procedures on adolescents–an age at which teenagers are still developing. With a rise in the acceptance and availability of plastic surgery fuelled by mainstream media and societal trends, there seems to be no sign of the booming industry slowing down.

Plastic surgery has the potential to increase our quality of lives[4], but it also has the potential to mislead our judgements. Mainstream media propagates the idea of attractiveness brings about better and easier lives by earning the envy of others. Impressionable viewers therefore do not have the opportunity to break off and move away from the norms. In the long term, our younger generations will be influenced by the “look good, feel good” mindset, no matter the costs or side effects of these cosmetic surgeries. It is also to be considered that this effect would produce a domino effect as we are inclined to follow each other’s actions under peer pressure, social norms or trends as often portrayed by the media. Jenna Goudreau, writer at Forbes, had an opinion that “the stress of surgery, lack of sleep and recuperation that often includes pain, fatigue and swelling causes most to experience some degree of depression.” [5]. This has the potential follow on impacts that could place strain on mental health resources in America. Many also borrow money for these procedures, which can be costly. If the procedure does not work out as planned, there is also the potential for a financial breakdown due to follow-up requirements.

It is still yet to be fully understood what the impact of plastic surgery will have in America. Societal norms and trends around plastic surgery are definitely changing. One factor that won’t change however, is that plastic surgery is here to stay in America as long as societal trends do not change.

[1] American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2016. Plastic Surgery Statistics report 2016 .Retrieved from

[2] Alan Feingold ,March 1992. APA Psychological Bulletin (Vol. 111, No. 2, pages 304-341).

[3] American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 2015. Millennials, Cosmetic Surgery And Pouty Lips For Valentine’s Day.

[4] Papadopulos, 2007. Quality of life following aesthetic plastic surgery: a prospective study . Retrieved from

[5] Goudreau, 2011. The Hidden Dangers of Cosmetic Surgery.

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