Counselling is needed if we want to prevent youngsters from going under the knife in their quest for beauty.
Secret to beauty lies in emotions, not in cosmetic clinics
Like the transformation of the landscape during the Ice Age, persistent moods reshape our faces. Some visages are more decayed by sorrow than time, scarred by worry, anger and indelible disdain until only the faintest vestige of beauty remains. Today, however, these emotional scars are less visible as we increasingly opt for cosmetic interventions in our attempts to stay the hands of time, and erase etchings of emotion.
While cosmetic intervention is a global phenomenon, it's more popular in developed countries. For sure, the people in the Gulf are no stranger to it.
We often come across advertisements in the region's media, announcing visits by "notable" cosmetic specialists from places such as Vienna, Zurich and Beirut. Like the itinerant snake-oil peddlers of a bygone era, these peripatetic experts visit the Arabian Gulf offering elixirs of eternal youth and beauty.
There is of course no supply without demand. The region's societal aspirations for youth, beauty and appearance are attested to by an increasing demand for cosmetic interventions.
Dr Mamdooh Ashy, a consulting plastic surgeon at a Jeddah-based private clinic, told Arab News that women constitute 70 per cent of Saudi Arabia's rapidly growing cosmetic surgery market. Men presumably make up the remaining 30 per cent. He also revealed that many Saudi women use "Jamiah", the community-based fund-raising system, to pay for their treatments. After all, beauty is something worth going into debt for. Similar stories emerged from neighbouring Gulf countries, with one Qatari clinic boasting of its two-year waiting list.
A research project by Zayed University also suggests a healthy appetite for cosmetic interventions. The survey of 400 female university students was conductedas part of a broader project to look at depression and body image. The average age of individuals surveyed was 21. Among them, 1.2 per cent reported having undergone cosmetic surgery, while 12.2 per cent said they went for non-surgical augmentations, such as collagen fillers and Botox. Furthermore, just over half of the surveyed individuals (51.2 per cent) answered in the affirmative when asked whether they would go for cosmetic surgery. Such a figure undoubtedly bodes well for the future of the appearance-enhancement industry in this region. But what does it say about our society?
In many societies, non-surgical interventions are common and are viewed as just one rung up from leg waxing or eyelash tinting. But is this cosmetic Jacob's ladder slippery? Perhaps collagen and botulinum toxin (substances commonly used in non-surgical treatments) are the gateway procedures to more invasive surgical interventions? For many, this is truly an emotive and debatable issue. The survey revealed that the topic polarises people in almost equal numbers.
As for rejection of cosmetic interventions, it's sometimes based on religious interpretations. At other times, however, objections appear to centre on arguments akin to that of the organic-food movement, where anything artificial and modified is bad. Irrespective of different views, cosmetic surgery looks set to be around for a while.
But as in other areas of medicine, prevention is better than cure. If excessive emotion - or emotional burden - is at least partially responsible for our aesthetic descent, then psychology may have an important role to play.
Short of declaring a new sub-speciality - cosmetic psychotherapy - psychologists, or specially trained schoolteachers, could work to help young people better manage their emotions. A long-term by-product of this would be minimising the wear and tear wrought by tearful excesses, recursive worry and angry grimaces.
More importantly, well-trained psychotherapists could work to help individuals inculcate a healthy acceptance of ageing, while simultaneously dismissing the notion that self-worth is inextricably linked with physical appearance. Achieving such important psychotherapeutic goals would certainly go some way towards reducing the current two-year waiting lists for cosmetic surgery.
Justin Thomas is an associate psychology professor at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi