Sunday, 20 February 2011

Student Plastic Surgery: What You Need To Know

This is an article that I wrote for my University newspaper, the Leeds Student. I hope you enjoy it, let me know what you think!

The death of 20-year-old British student Claudia Aderotimi after having an illegal type of surgery to enhance her bottom throws the issue of student plastic surgery into the spotlight. Claudia died in a cheap motel room in the U.S.A after she was injected with industrial strength silicone in order to give her the rounded ‘booty’ required to star as a dancer in RnB and hip hop music videos. The injections caused a massive blood clot which then caused Claudia’s death. With images of women in music videos and celebrities bombarding us 24/7, are we being adversely affected, and made to feel as though we simply are not good enough?

The answer amongst students at the University of Leeds seems to be yes. In a survey conducted for this article, 75% of women agreed that they felt pressured by society, such as magazines and celebrity culture, to look a certain way.  Juliette, 20, Biological Sciences, agreed that “Magazines make you believe that society will accept you better if you look a certain way”, a sentiment echoed by many others. The evidence suggests that women are far more affected by this pressure than men, as 83% of men asked said that they did not feel pressure to look a certain way. This difference is reflected in the number of celebrity gossip and lifestyle magazines aimed at women rather than at men. Men’s magazines themselves are far more likely to project an impossible image of female perfection than of its male equivalent.

Plastic surgery is undertaken for a variety of different reasons, and the results can often immeasurably improve the quality of life for the patients. Suisse, 20, a student at the University of Leeds, had maxillofacial surgery, which is surgery to reposition a jutting lower jaw, when she was only sixteen. The surgery was suggested to her by a family doctor at thirteen years old. Suisse says that “People seem to accept what I had done a lot better than a boob job,” as most people see it as being less of a frivolous or unnecessary surgery, even though beforehand she had no real issues with chewing food or speaking. When asked about the implications of surgery at such a young age, Suisse says she has no issue with the age at which the surgery was performed, and she is glad that she had it done. However, she also says that “If I’d never done it and someone suggested it to me now, I’m not sure if I’d do it,” because of how major the surgery itself and the recovery process for this particular procedure is.

The issue of breast implants, in particular, sparks debate. Many of the women asked about plastic surgery stated that if it was free to have any surgery they wanted, then they would have a breast augmentation. Some also believed that surgery of this kind would improve their personal relationships by making them more attractive and boosting their confidence. While the multiple-surgeries and cartoonish figures of glamour girl Katie Price and reality ‘star’ Heidi Montag were scoffed at, the fact remains that the majority of women asked said that they wanted a larger chest. Conversely, the men we spoke to said that if they discovered that a woman had had a breast augmentation, then they would think differently of her. Simeon, 25, Architectural Engineering, said that he would form a different opinion of women who had surgery “Because they’ve intentionally changed who they are, which could indicate vanity,” with many others specifying a boob job as the main procedure that would make them think badly of someone.

This judgement would be refuted by a recent university graduate who had her breasts enlarged when she was 19, after losing a large amount of weight very quickly. For her, surgery was the only option after her chest deflated from a 36C to less than a 30AA, and she was subjected to harsh comments from friends and strangers about her lack of breasts. She says that her confidence was so low that she would only have sex with her partner with her underwear on and the lights off. For her, as with Suisse, surgery was about “just wanting to look normal.” In terms of the stereotyping of women who get boob jobs, she says “People’s negative views are based of extremes. I mean, Cheryl Cole has false hair, has had her teeth fixed, false tan and wears loads of makeup, but she’s still thought of as beautiful naturally.”

A pressing issue for any student thinking about getting plastic surgery is that of finance. The majority of students rely on loans from the government, with only a few able to pay for private surgery without having to apply for a loan or instalment plan, both of which include additional interest rates which will drive up the overall cost of surgery. Our graduate was able to receive assistance for her breast augmentation from her parents, which allowed her to have the operation privately. She says that she would never have had the procedure through the NHS Choices service, as “I don’t have much faith in the NHS due to past medical issues. Also they weren’t interested in my body image problems. Private clinics are much more discreet. NHS doctors might judge me on my medical records later on if the operation has been done on the NHS.”

Suisse, however, did have her surgery performed within the NHS, and says “If I had to pay then I probably would not have had it done,” but also that the aftercare was absolutely shocking. “It was almost as though the hospital wasn’t prepared for someone who had this surgery,” even though the procedure and aftercare was all managed in the same hospital. She was given solid food when she could barely move her jaw, forced to find her own way around the hospital the day after major surgery, and the lack of communication between staff members left her on a ward with squalid toilet facilities and no help from the few nurses on duty.

The NHS has very few opportunities for people to receive cosmetic surgery, and their guidelines state that there must be “overriding physical or psychological reasons” to perform this type of surgery. One of the examples given is “breast reduction as a result of back or shoulder pain;” something with which I am familiar. In a consultation with a private cosmetic clinic, I was given a large amount of information about the procedure, such as drawings of how and where I would be left with scars, and pictures of the probable results along with frank and full details of the difficulties of recovery times, a physical examination and reams of financial assistance paperwork. My age was also stressed by the surgeon, who wanted to make sure that I would be happy with having a smaller chest for the rest of my life. When discussing my problems with the NHS, I was told to go and make sure I had regular back treatments to ease any pain and that if I wanted to apply for cosmetic surgery that the waiting list was extremely long and I may not be suitable, despite the fact that I am healthy and not overweight, and the problems I have are directly caused by my chest.

The dream of bodily and facial perfection is bombarding young people from all directions, and the democratisation of surgery is only increasing the problem. As procedures become comparatively cheaper, and methods easier, with recovery times often shortened, many people who would not have considered surgery before are beginning to do so. While private surgery is financially out of the reach of many students, and the NHS offering surgery only to those who can be proven to require it, rather than simply want it, the desire for a change of looks is not entirely stymied. When asked if they would consider surgery if it was free of cost and freely available, 30% of everyone asked said that they would have some kind of procedure.

However, while the idea of surgery is one of instant fixes and glamorous results, the reality involves an often painful recovery and usually scarring, which can be anywhere between barely visible or almost disfiguring. The two women I spoke to who had undergone surgery both stressed the importance of research, with Suisse looking at “videos, horror stories, before and after pictures, and pictures of later on when the swelling had gone down”, and preparing yourself for any complications, such as the fact that Suisse now has a small section of her lower jaw which no longer has any sensation whatsoever. In terms of breast augmentation, our source suggests researching your individual surgeon as thoroughly as possible, and making sure that you are fully aware of the discomfort and often pain of recovery, expecting your chest to be “so swollen that it looked deformed” for a while.

Cosmetic surgery is often looked down upon as being unnecessary and stemming from vanity, and in many cases, this is true. However, there are also a large number of people who have serious psychological or physical problems due to the way their body is naturally. The number of surgical procedures performed on people of University age or lower is rising, and the increasing news focus on celebrities and body image only serves to feed into people’s natural insecurities. Plastic surgery is often the only way to correct features which impede on a person’s health or ability to be comfortable in their own skin, but the death of Claudia Aderotimi provides a stark reminder of just how serious surgery is, and how it should never be undertaken lightly. Even if it is now possible to get Botox in your lunch break, it is essential to understand the effects that procedures will have on you, both physically and mentally.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Difficulties of Returning from Study Abroad...

I spent the last year living and studying in the beautiful and picturesque city of Heidelberg, Germany. I made some amazing friends from around the world, studied topics I had only dreamed about while in Leeds, and managed to keep up the most active, interesting and varied social life that I have ever had, INCLUDING freshers! My grades rocketed, which is probably down to the dual force of enjoyment and the fact that as a native English speaker, I had a decided advantage in my English and American Literature classes.
Even before I came back to Leeds I was worried about the return to normality, and to the grey and dreary setting of the Roger Stevens. My classes went from small and lively two-hour in depth sessions, to large lectures and seminars which sometimes felt a little flat. Just as discussions began to flow, the time was up, and we had to move on. Changing back to a different system of teaching and learning when you are entering your final year is incredibly stressful, especially when the system in your host university suits you so well, and produces better results in terms of grades. Fortunately, I managed to re-adjust to the Leeds system of teaching (just in time for the January exams)and my classes for the coming term seem just as interesting as those I took in Heidelberg.
In addition to the difficulties of readjusting to the way of work in Leeds, I also had to contend with the added difficulty of a total and utter lack of friends. Well, almost. As I study English, rather than a language, a year abroad is optional, which meant that most of my close friends, and the people who I would choose to share a house with upon my return, had already graduated and, for the most part, moved to London. Of course I have some old friends still in Leeds, and some great new ones I met in Germany who were also on Study Abroad, but the depletion in the ranks of my friends was probably about 90%, and led to a few initial months of horrible lonliness, not to mention the anxiety over moving into a house with people that I had never met before!
On the other hand, the fact that I was now virtually a friendless loner meant that I had to put myself out there again and try to meet some great new people, which I did manage to do, once I had decided that my moping was beginning to irritate the few remaining friends I had. I also managed to find a job, which has improved the situation further, while providing the means for a planned post-graduation trip to see as many of my Study Abroad friends as I can afford!