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Postcards from Scotland

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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 26/07/2006

I’ve been very irritated recently by an email site I use from time to time as it has been carrying a huge ad of a glamorous woman which wouldn’t look out of place in a lad’s magazine. The picture tells us great things are within our grasp: ‘Look great outside, feel great inside’ is the slogan. What we are being sold is none other than plastic surgery. And many folk in Britain are obviously swallowing such bait. According to an article in the press last week the total spend on cosmetic surgery in the UK this year is likely to be £539m. By 2009 this figure is estimated to rise to over £900m – more than the Brits will fork out on cups of tea. Apparently the figures could be much higher if cosmetic surgery wasn’t so expensive. Recent consumer research suggests that the UK public are becoming positive about such procedures: only 28% disagree in principle with cosmetic surgery and 35% of those asked said they would consider some kind of op if they could afford it. But they are chasing after rainbows. I have little doubt that most people who have undergone successful surgery would say they feel the benefit and recommend it. How true is this, however? They may well have felt better for a while after the op but, for reasons I’ve spelled out in previous blogs that feeling is unlikely to last. What’s more few people would probably want to admit they’ve risked their life and wasted time and money for no real lasting benefit.

What’s telling is that there are a growing number of cosmetic surgery junkies – people who keep putting themselves under the knife. Superficially this looks like they’re satisfied customers but actually it means the opposite. The operation they’ve just gone through didn’t do what the ad on the website claimed – made them feel great inside –their critical feelings have now alighted on a different part of their anatomy. They’ve now got bigger boobs but what about the flabby belly? Great new nose, pity about the turkey neck and so it goes on.

Archaeologists have unearthed artifacts which show there’s nothing new about beautifying your appearance to enhance your assets. It is understandable that people will want to make the most of themselves and to conform, as much of as they can to social norms. But the huge impact of the mass media and celebrity culture, together with rising wealth, means that the pursuit of beauty and glamour is spiralling out of control. Hence the huge surge in eating disorders and the spending on expensive procedures to change your appearance. People opt for these procedures because they think they are going to end up being happier in some way. Yet the evidence does not corroborate this. Research undertaken internationally consistently shows that appearance matters little for happiness and life satisfaction. And if we think about this for a minute we know it’s true. It is not difficult to think of beautiful but troubled souls (Kurt Cobain and Kate Moss spring to mind). Or to think of people who are no oil painting, as my dad would say, but are cheery, happy souls. Isn’t it about time we started to wise up on what really makes us happy and 'feeling good inside'?

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