Plastic Surgery′s Double-Edged Scalpel | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 25.04.2005
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Plastic Surgery's Double-Edged Scalpel

In the past 15 years, the number of Germans undergoing plastic surgery has risen from 100,000 to 700,000. The massive leap has the health ministry banging its ethical drum and calling for measures to nip the trend.


Breast surgery ranks after botox and lipo in the popularity stakes

Last week, Health Minister Ulla Schmidt, made a renewed appeal to would-be plastic surgery patients to carefully consider their actions before signing up to go under the knife in the name of physical improvement.

"Of course individuals may decide whether they wish to change themselves or the way they look," she said. "There is nothing wrong with make-up, jewelry, dyed hair, muscle training or a controlled diet as they don't damage the body. But when it comes to plastic surgery, we're dealing with an ethical question."

Bundesgesundheitsministerin Ulla Schmidt für Frauengalerie

Health and Social Security Minister Ulla Schmidt

The problem for Schmidt (photo) and her fellow lobbyists is the discrepancy between sick people who would like to be healthy but have to undergo surgery and healthy people who are prepared to risk their health in a bid to get closer to becoming body perfect.

Changing advertising standards

In an effort to slacken the growing trend, the cabinet has passed a draft which if sanctioned by parliament, would change the way in which plastic surgery clinics and doctors are allowed to advertise for patients. The greatest changes would be the outlawing of "before and after" pictures and "as recommended by" statements, currently both popular methods for luring the physically flawed.

Emma Titelseite 2002

Is this the problem?

Medical Association Berlin spokeswoman Sybille Golkowski welcomed any advertising restrictions, but said that those proposed by the government would have minimal impact.

"It's just a small piece in a mosaic," she said. "What we are talking about here is a zeitgeist and if we are to reverse the trend, we have to get the media to stop making such an issue of it."

An aged issue

But has it really ever been very different? Although cosmetic surgery is relatively new on the medical menu, the shifting desire for a particular body shape can be traced back through the centuries. In the 17th century, the corset defined and deformed European women seeking to keep up with the images being sold to them by those in high places.

Marilyn Monroe auf dem ersten Playboy Magazin

Marilyn Monroe had a figure to die for in her day

Eras come, eras go and shapes change accordingly and to entirely blame the increase in nip and tuck culture on today's media is a little facile. Firstly, the voluptuous 1950s were not without their own media coverage and secondly it is highly likely that body conscious women would have chosen to make occasional improvements decades if not centuries ago, had the world of medicine been advanced enough to offer it.

The fact is that there is indeed a clear desire -- particularly among women -- to make the most of themselves, and if that means resorting to surgical incisions, can that really be deemed an ethical issue? Opinion is clearly divided.

Please continue reading for the opposing argument

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