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Commentary: Here’s what people who criticise plastic surgery don’t get

Plastic surgery conjures images of people who undergo invasive procedures for appearance’s sake, which can be problematic if it’s an obsessive behaviour - but keep an open mind at the end of the day, says Kristen Juliet Soh.

SINGAPORE: Think “plastic surgery” and most likely, gory invasive procedures involving going under the knife, a long recovery process, and dramatic before-and-after photos come to mind.

In popular culture, the term has often been associated with procedures that aim to enhance the appearance and aesthetic appeal of a patient.

While openness towards plastic surgery has improved over the last few decades, in 2020, they’re still generally a “hush hush” affair that most who have done the deed wouldn’t admit to people they have just met.

There are many reasons why people still frown upon its use.

Conservative folks think you shouldn’t alter your God-given features. Practical people think it’s ridiculous to subject yourself to medical risk in the name of beauty.

Others think it confers advantages to those who have the resources to look “better”.

The only exception to this finger-wagging judgement? Reconstructive surgery that help restore functions to defective body parts arising from accidents, birth defects or trauma, or surgery required to save lives.

This was the subject of a CNA Insider story, which highlighted the work by Dr Pek Chong Han, a plastic surgeon at a public hospital, who had operated on a pair of bacteria-infested feet, allowing the patient to play sports again, and a cancer-ridden tongue which aided the patient in speaking, among others.

His job title reads “plastic surgeon”, but it is not only about beautifying his patients. Even during the COVID-19 “circuit breaker”, when non-essential surgeries were postponed, he had many emergency cases.

His work is laudable and I have utmost respect for how surgeons like him have vastly improved the lives of patients.

But let’s look at the other side of this conundrum – what’s wrong with procedures that make you look better?


Most people think that only those who are vain and wish to forcefully defy the effects of time would consider plastic surgery, but many actually go for cosmetic procedures to feel more confident.

These old mindsets make sweeping assumptions about people’s motivations.

Think about that man who gets teased when he wears tight-fitting shirts because he has a medical condition called gynecomastia (commonly known as “man boobs”).

Think about the woman who feels self-conscious about her obvious eye bags and is tired of constantly being asked if she had slept poorly the previous night.

While reconstructive plastic surgery solves a visible physical defect, these treat a often hidden psychological concern and is a highly personal decision.

READ: Commentary: 'Are you sick?' Why more South Korean women are doing away with cosmetics 

READ: BIGBANG’s Seungri’s sex scandal and the end of K-pop’s innocence, a commentary

After you’ve exhausted exercise, diet and routines, shouldn’t you have the autonomy to reach for a different set of options?


What constitutes plastic surgery has changed over the years because of advancement in medical technology.

Thirty years ago, if you were looking to achieve a more defined jawline, get rid of wrinkles and a double chin, chances are a rhytidectomy (commonly known as a “face lift”) would be your best, if not only, option.

A traditional facelift involves making several incisions on the face, before the doctor redistributes fat and even reposition tissues and muscles to sculpt how the face looks. Finally, the doctor redrapes the skin before trimming away excess skin to complete the procedure.

In other words, it is an invasive surgery, with recovery a long, painful journey.

Today, to address the same concerns, you can pick from an array of non-invasive aesthetic procedures that do not involve surgery.

(Photo: Unsplash/NordWood Themes)

Aesthetic doctors are likely to recommend a combination of botulinum toxin (to relax wrinkles and to sharpen jawline), fillers or skinboosters (to fill in “hollow” areas that make the face look old), ultrasound or radiofrequency skin tightening, and fat-freezing (to reduce double chin).

Each can be performed over a lunchtime break in a few minutes. The patient can head back to the office after the treatment, with enough time to spare to get food from their favourite hawker stall.

Most people wouldn’t hesitate to invest in a concealer to hide acne scars and dark eye circles, or to go for brow embroidery so they can wake up to full and defined-looking brows. Such aesthetic treatments, as more permanent ways of making yourself look better, are simply an extension.

Why should there be less stigma in applying an anti-ageing serum compared to getting a botulinum toxin injection?

READ: Commentary: Does long-term WFH mean goodbye to makeup?

READ: Commentary: I’ve been career oriented my whole life, until the COVID-19 pandemic took my ambition


There’s no denying even the best things in life can take a sinister turn when it’s done excessively and obsessively.

There are ample tales of people who have gone for multiple, extensive surgeries in pursuit of unattainable beauty standards. These are the cases that anyone should be deeply concerned about and should discourage.

No amount of surgery can satisfy those never contented with how they look and yearn for “perfection” in their appearances.

It’s one thing to go for an aesthetic treatment so you look like a 40-year-old who takes good care of your appearance, and another to be a 40-year-old trying to pass off as a 20-year-old.

Those who do go for one surgery after another to constantly improve or preserve their looks may be trying to complete the void in their hearts that can only be filled with a better sense of self-acceptance.

But what if you’re considering aesthetic procedures that can fix beauty concerns that bother you and help you feel more confident once and for all? I say, go for it.


I’ve booked an appointment next month to get botulinum toxin jabs between my brows to relax my frown lines. They have become deeper in the last few years and they make me look tired, worried and even angry at times.

These injections, which used to treat problems like excessive sweating, neck spasms and migraines, are now most commonly known as an anti-ageing treatment.

My frown lines bug me and I can’t wait to get rid of them.

Does it bother me if people judge the decision I’ve made? Perhaps. But then again everyone who’s met me for the first time will have no idea.  

And maybe after they do get a chance to know me better, they’ll judge me less.

Kristen Juliet Soh is the editorial director and co-founder of Daily Vanity.

Source: CNA/sl


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