Could a Facelift Really Improve Your Life?

Jessica Firger
Could a Facelift Really Improve Your Life?

Many studies show that cosmetic surgery can boost a person’s self-esteem, increase feelings of attractiveness and even, eventually, lead to greater achievement and success in life. But less is known about whether others perceive these positive traits in a person who has undergone cosmetic surgery procedures. A new study finds that more often than not, people who have facial rejuvenation procedures—including face, eyelid and eyebrow lifts—are often perceived as more successful and healthy, not just merely beautiful.

The study, published April 27 in JAMA suggests cosmetic surgery “conveys an even larger societal benefit than merely restoring a youthful appearance to the face,” according to the researchers.

Most studies on cosmetic surgery focus on how the procedures alter the patient’s outlook on life, feelings of attractiveness and general overall well-being. There are not many that examine how cosmetic surgery influences the assumption of others. “To our knowledge, this study represents the largest of its kind to measure the effect of surgery for the aging face on observer perceptions,” the researchers write.

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For the study, the researchers issued surveys to 504 people (333 women, 165 men and six with unspecified gender) who viewed photos of patients before or after surgery. For each photo, study participants were asked to rate their attractiveness, perceived successfulness and overall health. They were also asked to guess the age of the person in the photo.

Study participants viewed images of 12 white female cosmetic surgery patients who were randomly selected from a database documenting cosmetic surgery outcomes. Six of the patients had undergone face and eyelid lifts, and the other six had face and eyelid lifts, as well as eyebrow lifts. Study participants viewed photos of each patient either before or after surgery—but not both.

Overall the researchers found that participants gave higher ratings to women in post-operative photos. In general, they perceived them to be more attractive, healthier and more successful. Participants also thought the women were younger.

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A number of studies have already shown that physical attractiveness provides many advantages in life such as increasing the likelihood that a person will be hired for a job and find a mate. Other studies find good looks can influence the judicial system. In one study, jurors were less likely to issue guilty verdicts to attractive defendants. It’s also well established that elections are swayed by the physical appearance of candidates, with attractive candidates typically winning more votes.   

An accompanying editorial in JAMA suggests that surgeons in the field need to recognize that the benefits of a successful surgery are much more than simply an improved physical appearance. When a person feels more attractive, he or she will behave more confidently, stand taller, become less introverted and appear happier. In turn, other people will begin to believe that person holds all of those qualities (even if it’s not so). “Nothing is more influential to human attractiveness than heightened self-esteem translated through a person’s ethos,” writes Dr. Steven Dayan, a surgeon in the division of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Illinois in Chicago.

Dayan suggests the industry needs to recognize the impact of a surgery isn't only determined by the physical results, such as whether the patient now has fewer wrinkles or less droopy eyes. “Days of defining success with measured outcomes of physical perfection are being superseded,” he writes. “As aesthetic physicians and medical societies further recognize, formalize and educate the effect our craft has toward the self-esteem, psyche and social well-being of an individual, as well as the effect our craft has on society, the better we are prepared to progress into the future.”

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