Alex Phillips: The 'ideal body' is far removed from biological normality

Alex Phillips says 'in the world of cosmetic surgery, some professionals are enabling people to shockingly distort their bodies when a psychiatrist’s couch would be a far better option'

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Body modification is as old as humankind. Across centuries, cultures and continents, humans have found innovative ways to adorn and adapt their looks, from tattooing, to piercing, to elongating necks and ears. So why should anyone be worried about the prevalence of cosmetic surgery today?

A recent video of Katie Price writhing in pain following a full body and face overhaul in Turkey have been deemed too grotesque to be published on Instagram. When the former model revealed her new look to the world, many were shocked by the extent of the invasive surgery.

The pandemic ushered in new ways of working and a breathtaking rise in demand for procedures. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons says doctors have reported up to 70% increases in requests for virtual consultations, with people seeking to take advantage of working from home to have artificial alterations before meeting in person again. But the massive rise has also been put down to something more sinister, a Zoom Boom, with people constantly seeing their faces on screens adding to Selfie Dysphoria, where filtered, airbrushed versions of reality are distorting perceptions of appearance with dramatic effects.

Medics issued a warning over buttock fillers after a 29-year-old woman suffered sepsis after undergoing the cosmetic procedure.
Medics issued a warning over buttock fillers after a 29-year-old woman suffered sepsis after undergoing the cosmetic procedure.

The cosmetic surgery industry in the UK is estimated to be worth over three billion pounds. But as the popularity of aesthetic intervention grows, so does the trend for vulnerable people to attempt to solve emotional problems with serious medical procedures.

In the UK, surgeons must be able to identify psychological disorders that make a patient unsuitable for treatment. Yet increasingly surgery tourism enables many Brits to spend thousands on surgeries that don’t always go right. The most popular destination is Turkey where a quick internet search reveals cosmetic surgery holiday packages for people who can’t afford a procedure in the UK or would be barred based on their medical and psychological history.

Deeply concerning is a report that four out of five plastic surgeons have noted a frightening increase in patients requiring revision after botched surgery abroad, adding a considerable burden to the NHS to rectify at times life threatening errors. On top of that, a survey back in 2014 revealed two thirds of women actually regret procedures they've had done. I would imagine that figure today would be even higher.

Newspaper columns are filled with examples of extreme makeovers while hoards of young women are seeking multiple quick fixes to become many iterations of the same commercial look. These days, to get on reality TV or to become an influencer means getting the same nose, lips, breasts and bottoms that fill the screens of Instagram and TikTok.

Yet the more people have access to cheap tweaks, the more extreme the requirements seem to get. The concept of an ideal body is so far removed from what is biologically normal it requires major augmentation to achieve.

It is no surprise when the world’s most famous family are recognisable for being sucked and stitched together by a team of aestheticians. The Kardashians have cemented the concept that being handmade by medics is not just disturbingly desirable, but perversely profitable. Today one of the most asked for procedures is the Brazilian bottom lift, a surgery outlawed in the UK for it’s unethical levels of risk, with a startlingly high death rate of one in three thousand as fat mistakenly injected into large veins can travel to the heart or brain while scars risk developing flesh eating necrotising fasciitis.

Cosmetic surgery is no longer a rhinoplasty on someone with a broken or big hooter. It’s gone beyond pinning back ears or going up a cup size. Even anti-aging cosmetic processes are now so vastly consumed by youngsters without a wrinkle in sight that legislation has had to be brought in to stop under 18s getting Botox, banning a horrifying 41,000 injections given to children each year.

Certain procedures are now so widely available they are being done at parties in people’s living rooms by practitioners with spurious certificates downloaded from the internet.

It is clear today we face very real and troubling questions about societal expectations and body dysmorphia with increasing numbers of celebrities exhibiting taught and ghoulish faces that make them look like the Lion in The Wizard of Oz. There are televisions programmes dedicated to botched operations. But it is no laughing matter.

Many surgeons wouldn’t dream of cutting someone open without a very real medical need. Yet in the world of cosmetic surgery, some professionals are enabling people to shockingly distort their bodies when a psychiatrist’s couch would be a far better option.

The PIP implant scandal revealed there may also be future perils we do not yet even know about. The lasting effects of constant and continuous injections, tweaks, fillers and implants to become a fantasy avatar in order to be happy could create untold future health and mental issues.

We really need to talk about cosmetic surgery.