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What is Plastic Surgery?

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Updated March 10, 2009

Origin and Definition

Webster’s Dictionary defines plastic surgery as: surgery concerned with the repair, restoration, or improvement of lost, injured, defective, or misshapen body parts. Some people are put off by the use of the word “plastic”, as it is sometimes considered to be synonymous with “fake” or “superficial”, while others object because they believe that it implies the implantation or grafting of actual plastic parts into or onto human beings.

While it could be said that there is some truth in these interpretations, the word “plastic” in this context has more to do with the origin of the word, which is from the Greek plastikos, meaning "able to be molded”.

According the The American Board of Plastic Surgery’s website:

“ Plastic surgery deals with the repair, reconstruction, or replacement of physical defects of form or function involving the skin, musculoskeletal system, craniomaxillofacial structures, hand, extremities, breast and trunk, external genitalia or cosmetic enhancement of these areas of the body… The plastic surgeon uses cosmetic surgical principles both to improve overall appearance and to optimize the outcome of reconstructive procedures. Special knowledge and skill in the design and surgery of grafts, flaps, free tissue transfer and replantation is necessary… Anatomy, physiology, pathology, and other basic sciences are fundamental to the specialty… Competency in plastic surgery implies an amalgam of basic medical and surgical knowledge, operative judgment, technical expertise, ethical behavior, and interpersonal skills to achieve problem resolution and patient satisfaction.”

Cosmetic vs. Reconstructive

There are two main types of plastic surgery: cosmetic plastic surgery and reconstructive plastic surgery. Cosmetic surgery seeks to improve the patient’s features on a purely aesthetic level, in the absence of any actual deformity or trauma. On the other hand, the purpose of reconstructive surgery is to correct any physical feature which is grossly deformed or abnormal by accepted standards---either as the result of a birth defect, congenital disorder, illness, or trauma. Often, reconstructive surgery addresses not only a deformed appearance, but also seeks to correct or improve some deficiency or abnormality in the function of the body part in question.

Public Opinion: For or Against

Up until fairly recently, plastic surgery was largely viewed as an eccentric luxury. It carried a stigma to an extent that people often went to great lengths to conceal their surgical self-improvement efforts. Today, however, it is not uncommon to overhear an excited post-op patient telling anyone who will listen all about her brand new breasts.

There are many people on both sides of the plastic surgery debate---loyal devotees and staunch opponents. Proponents point out that we all spend time improving ourselves in so many ways, so what, they ask, makes plastic surgery any different? After all, though “natural beauty” is revered and admired in our culture, it is not really something that one “achieves”, nor is it something that he or she can even take the credit for.

Detractors, on the other hand, believe it is much nobler to expend our efforts (and spend our cash) improving our minds rather than our bodies. And of course, there is always the argument that “that's how God meant you to be”.

Most likely, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Like everything, there is a wrong and a right time, and there are wrong and right reasons to get plastic surgery.

Is Plastic Surgery Right for You?

Will plastic surgery make you feel less self-conscious in a bikini? Quite possibly. Is it for everybody? Absolutely not. Are there some people whose lives are significantly improved by it? Absolutely. Are there some people who go too far, losing their identities or even lose their lives in their pursuit of perfection? Unfortunately, yes.

In the end, only you can decide if plastic surgery is right for you. Hopefully, this site can provide you with the information you need to make the best decision for your unique circumstances.

Sources: merriam webster online dictionary at: www.m-w.com

online etymology dictionary at: www.etymonline.com

The American Board of Plastic Surgery at: www.abplsurg.org

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