Would You Tell People About Having Plastic Surgery?

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Beth Longware Duff, Medical Editor

Beth Longware Duff is an experienced writer and reporter whose work on a wide variety of topics has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines. Her health and medical writing credits include nationally distributed videos for the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, and she is the recipient of numerous awards including an American Cancer Society Media Award and a New England Press Association Award for Health Reporting. She holds a degree in Communications from Ithaca College.


August 06 2008

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Plastic Surgery: To Tell or Not to Tell?

There was a time, not so long ago, when people who went under the cosmetic plastic surgery scalpel were very discreet about the work they had done. They told only their closest friends and family – if that – and it certainly wasn't something they bragged about later. What went on behind closed operating room doors stayed there.

My, how times have changed! Today, You Tube postings celebrate the milestone, patients agree to have their odyssey videoed by Dr. 90210 cameras, and even some celebs own up to their nip tuck. A new line of greeting cards called "Lift Me Up" includes among its offerings a "Congratulations on the twins!" for the newly breast enhanced and a general purpose "You look like a million bucks!"

No doubt about it, there's been a softening in the public's opinion about plastic surgery. In a recent consumer attitudes survey conducted by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, a majority of those polled (56% of women and 57% of men) said they approve of cosmetic surgery; that figure jumped to 69% among teens and young adults over the age of 18. And 78% of women and 79% of men said they would not be embarrassed if people outside their immediate family and close friends knew about any plastic surgery they might have.

Still, there are those who prefer not to share their secret with others. It's a conundrum that Vito Quatela, MD, FACS, spends a lot of time discussing with his patients. "Often patients will try to pull this off without anybody knowing," says the Rochester, NY, board-certified plastic surgeon and president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. "Whether you can do that or not depends on what procedures you are having."

While plastic surgery to the body can be covered up if need be, facial plastic surgery patients may have trouble hiding the work they've had done, says Dr. Quatela. "When people communicate with each other, they normally make eye contact. So if you're doing something with the eyes, forehead, or midface, generally it's not something you can conceal. I don't care how minimal it is – people pick up on it right away," he explains. "When it comes to the lower face, the most common comment is that you look refreshed or have lost weight, so you can usually get away with it."

Neil Gordon, MD, a board-certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon with offices in Greenwich and Wilton, CT, maintains that today's cosmetic face work is generally so natural that it doesn't give itself away, enabling patients to remain "under the radar" if they so wish. "It comes down to the individual. How sensitive an individual is toward people knowing they've had something cosmetic done is very person specific," he explains. "I do think that today there is less of a stigma on somebody having cosmetic surgery, so there are more people who are willing to not be concerned whether people notice or not. In most cases if you look natural and the work that was done is a complement to your face, it's a compliment to you, and people are going to be intrigued by that."

Sometimes the larger issue is the self-conscious way patients behave after their surgery, Dr. Gordon continues, noting that their mannerisms give them away. "If you look at me and I don't engage your eyes because I think that you're looking at me because I had my face operated on, you don't pick up on the fact that I look younger but you pick up on the fact that I'm acting odd," he says.

So, how do you tell someone that you've had a little cosmetic surgery? Dr. Quatela advises the simple approach. "I tell people it's okay to just say, ‘My upper eyelids were drooping and I had them fixed.' A lot of people do that for functional reasons," he points out. "And that's it – you don't have to say anything more, even if you had a midface, forehead, or lower eye lift. Even the most sophisticated people won't know the difference."

In the end, it all boils down to the patient's level of self confidence, he adds. "The more self assured a person is, the more likely they are to tell people about their surgery," observes Dr. Quatela. "If you spend a little time upfront and give them a game plan for how to deal with it, it really solves a lot of issues that can develop later on."