Self Esteem and Cosmetic Surgery

Written by Karl Perera BA, MA, DipLC
Updated: February 12th, 2021

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According to this review of studies, published in the medical Journal of Australia in 2002, both men and women are increasingly seeking to improve their appearance with cosmetic surgery. There are also claims that such surgery can improve mental health and self esteem. But is this true? In this article we will look at the evidence for this and I will offer advice, backed by the research, whether cosmetic surgery is a good idea or not for those seeking to build self confidence and self esteem.

According to Castle et al, (2002), most people who get cosmetic surgery seek to improve their physical appearance. Many studies have shown that patients often feel much better about themselves and experience improved self esteem and confidence (Ibid).

Not everyone agrees that cosmetic surgery increases self esteem, so let’s consider why this is, and whether or not cosmetic surgery is a good idea for boosting self esteem.

Are plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery different?

Before continuing let’s be clear about the two terms plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery and what differences there are. Will they have the same or different effects on a person’s confidence and self-esteem?

The two forms of surgery are different in several ways. According to the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, the goal of cosmetic surgery is to improve physical appearance, whereas plastic surgery aims to rebuild parts of the body to restore function. An example of plastic surgery would be a procedure on the nose to allow a patient to breathe better. An example of cosmetic surgery would be to make the nose longer or straighter so that the face appears more attractive.

What are the Reasons Why People Get Cosmetic Surgery?

It does not matter who you are or where you live at one point or another there must have been something that you wish that you could change about your appearance. Although most people are content to live with their appearance, an increasing number of people are choosing to have plastic surgery, (see Eurekalert!, published by the AAAS), to change what they deem as physical imperfections and to improve their self esteem.

For many, the idea of undergoing cosmetic surgery is a way of dealing with an insecurity that is having a profound effect on their everyday lives. One factor behind patients choosing to have cosmetic surgery is body image, and this study confirms that cosmetic surgery can improve a patient’s body image. Self esteem is closely related to body image and the above study did also find increased levels of self-esteem in those who had cosmetic surgery.

It has long been known that appearance, especially body image, is linked to self esteem. An increasing number of celebrities and other famous people are getting plastic surgery to maintain or change their appearance and body image. It is often difficult to turn on the television without seeing yet another famous person getting some sort of enhancing treatments such as a face lift or botox injection. But does it actually help to boost self esteem?

Changing your physical attributes may change your outlook on life. If you feel more comfortable in your own skin, then your outlook on life will change as well. In general, you will be much happier and you will be able to concentrate more on the quality of your personal and professional life. For women who have had children this can be especially true as the body might have changed in numerous ways. Many women would love to have a tummy tuck, liposuction or even a full body lift due to the weight gain during their pregnancy.

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With hair transplant before and after images such as these, as well as numerous other examples of cosmetic surgeries easily accessible online, there is plenty of information out there in order for the client to make an informed decision on whether cosmetic surgery will be helpful or not.

Ever since the occurrence of Size Zero, significant weight loss is one of the most common reasons for people wanting to obtain plastic surgery. Sagging skin and a mis-shapened body as time passes can alter one’s appearance. Both men and women who have lost a substantial amount of weight can benefit from a full body lift. Some smaller procedures such as a tummy tuck or breast reduction can also create an amazing difference in one’s appearance, boosting self esteem and helping you feel more attractive.

There are numerous procedures that one might consider when getting plastic surgery. As plastic surgery can be quite costly, it is important to make sure that it is really something that you want. In addition, recovery time can range from a couple of weeks to longer than six weeks depending on the procedure. It is imperative that you get adequate care and take time to rest so that all of the changes have time to heal properly. These are not only physical as mental health issues can arise before or after surgery. So make a careful decision before going ahead with any kind of surgery like this.

Cosmetic Surgery Can Bring New Found Confidence and Lasting Results

The time scale of confidence is different from person to person with some feeling confident for a number of months following their treatment and others experiencing this confidence for years. This study shows that there are longer-term (5 years) positive effects on patients who have had cosmetic surgery in order to enhance their appearance. The study does caution against such surgery for patients with certain psychological issues or mental health problems.

There are far more studies and follow ups carried out on a short term basis, say 6 months after surgery and so the evidence is more clear that there is a short term boost in patients’ happiness and body image up to this point. However, research is less clear that there is a permanent psychological change for those that have undergone a procedure. Therefore, anybody considering such surgery should be cautious and think carefully before deciding if it is for them or not.

If there is a number of underlying problems when building your confidence, it may also be beneficial to opt for a therapist or a member of your family as this will allow you to further explore the causes of the insecurity and lack of confidence and work towards bettering them for longer lasting results that boost confidence overall and help you to maintain a happy lifestyle.

So, whether you are looking to have a cosmetic procedure to remove an insecurity that you have been dealing with for a long time, or a temporary solution, such as lip fillers, there is a solution for you to help you feel happy and confident in your own skin. Which will you opt for to help you gain your confidence?

Conclusion – Does Cosmetic Surgery Help Build Self Esteem?

It does appear that cosmetic surgery may help those who suffer from problems with their self esteem and body image. However, I would not recommend such a drastic approach to everyone. There are certain risks, no matter how small, to having surgery. I would also question why you should need surgery to help you. The best answer to raising your self esteem is to look at your attitudes towards yourself and your appearance and understand what value you have as a person. You are not an object and you don’t need to look perfect. You are a unique individual, why should you decide that your imperfections, (and we all have them), need correcting for you to feel good about yourself? Do others really care?


  • American Society for Plastic Surgeons. (2020). Eurekalert!
  • American Board of Cosmetic Surgery Website. Cosmetic Surgery v Plastic Surgery.
  • Castle, D. J., Honigman, R. J., & Phillips, K. A. (2002). Does cosmetic surgery improve psychosocial wellbeing?. The Medical journal of Australia176(12), 601–604.
  • von Soest, T., Kvalem, I. L., Roald, H. E., & Skolleborg, K. C. (2009). The effects of cosmetic surgery on body image, self-esteem, and psychological problems. Journal of plastic, reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery62(10), 1238-1244.
  • von Soest T, Kvalem IL, Skolleborg KC, Roald HE. (2011). Psychosocial changes after cosmetic surgery: a 5-year follow-up study. Plastic Reconstruction Surgery. 128(3):765-72. doi: 10.1097/PRS.0b013e31822213f0. PMID: 21866003.
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Website Author and Editor Bio

Photo of Karl Perera, MA, DipLC Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA) and author of Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run since 1997 and is an expert in Self Esteem and Self Confidence.