After 15 years in practice, Smithtown, NY facial plastic surgeon James C. Marotta, MD hears one unsettling (yet common) concern from his patients, as many tell him they express shame and guilt about wanting to change their appearance. “They second-guess themselves and worry about seeming superficial,” he says. “They’re afraid of being judged by friends and family.” It’s that emotional-psychological connection that sparked Dr. Marotta to write a book, You’re Not a Vanity Purchase: Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad about Looking Good ($16, paperback), debuting this month. Dr. Marotta recently sat down with us to share what readers—and potential surgery candidates considering a treatment who may share similar thoughts—can expect as key takeaways:
Matters of Appearance:
What made me decide to write the book was really years of experience with patients coming into my office. Sometimes, in the middle of a treatment, they say to me, “You know doc, I really don’t know why I care so much about the way I look. Am I crazy?” People seem to struggle with their pursuit of cosmetic surgery or cosmetic surgical procedures, and I started to wonder what their motivation was behind it. In particular, one of my patients, a woman in her ‘80s whose husband had passed away, decided to get surgery. As far as I know, she wasn’t doing it for anybody else but herself—but she felt guilty about it. It’s that kind of sentiment that is echoed over and over again. I see patients get shamed by their own families for even thinking about having a facelift or thinking about having any kind of cosmetic procedure, in general. I had one woman, while she was still in post-op, literally being tortured by her family, who was taunting her and telling her, “You’re going to look like a freak. You’re going to look disfigured. You’re going to look like one of the Hollywood stars. Why would you do this?” In her recovery, she was hysterically crying. It was horrible.
I’ve seen a lot of people go through guilt, fear, shame, and just an overall feeling of negativity around cosmetic rejuvenation. The book was really an attempt to find some safe place for these patients to land, and to let them know that there are others who run into these same feelings. Also, I wanted to explore in more depth what drives people to go to such lengths and to have the trust that they have, which we see on a daily basis, to choose to have surgery. You’re making a huge financial investment—obviously, there must be a very strong reason why people are driven to look their best beyond just the opinion of others. Honestly, the everyday patient that I see in my office is not somebody who you would associate with someone just getting surgery to look better to others. A lot of people are having procedures because they really have some kind of physical flaw—and that physical flaw impedes their spiritual, physical and emotional progress. It gets in the way of who they are, and they’re dealing with it every day. Once they have that lifted or transformed, it leads into a psychological transformation, which is what we see in so many people.
The book explores more the motivation behind why we shouldn’t have guilt when considering a cosmetic surgery. As human being, we’re intensely visual creatures. People always say, “Oh, some people are visual, some people are more verbal,” which is NOT true. The majority of the population prefers visual learning—that’s why videos are so popular! Our neuron is dedicated to vision and the optic nerves have something like 10,000 times the number of nerves to any other sensory organ. Because we’re so visual, our interpretation of people’s faces and facial features is really subliminal and automatic. We associate certain physical traits with personality traits or characteristics. For example, if you see somebody with eye bags, they look tired. If you see somebody with a furrowed brow, they look angry or frustrated. If you see somebody with a downturned corner mouth, they look sad or solemn. These are cultural, sociological developmental associations we make with physical traits. It’s subliminal, but we can’t ignore those years and years of evolution, and there’s plenty of data to back that up.
Look Good, Feel Good:
It’s not as simple as saying all of this is just about appearance—it’s not. It’s more than our physical appearance dictates and informs how we relate to others, and our relations to people are really everything as human beings. We’re visual and we’re social, and, above all, we are social beings and that is linked to how we’re perceived by others. Even something as simple as a fresh haircut, you’ll walk in and people say, “Wow.” People react to you differently. You might feel a little lighter in your step and you pick up on people’s social cues and there’s a feedback loop in how you feel about yourself. When you look good, other people perceive you as being healthy and vital, and people react to you more positively. That positive feedback loop comes back. That’s one of the explanations in the book about why you shouldn’t feel any guilt about trying to look your best.
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