Stephen McCulley, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeon. MBChb, FCS(SA)Plast, FRCS(plast)

Breast Augmentation: How Do You Know Surgery Is The Right Decision

Breast augmentation surgery can give you the body you have always wanted, but if you’re considering having surgery, it’s a good idea to think about the reasons behind your choice.

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Breast augmentation is no longer the taboo subject it once was and thanks to the very natural results now available, many women choose to enhance what they have. In 2013, 11,123 women went under the knife to have their breast size increased, which was a 13% increase on the previous year. Although breast augmentation has been normalised in recent years, it is still a major operation which takes time to recover from properly. It’s also important to carefully consider your reasons for why you want cosmetic surgery and whether it is actually the right choice for you.

A loss of femininity

After a major life change such as pregnancy and birth, or hitting key milestones such as a 40th birthday, women can feel anxious about their appearance.

Becoming a mother can impact on how a woman views herself, particularly in the months straight after having a baby. According to a survey of 3,000 women, it takes around 18 months for women to feel attractive again after having a baby and many women thought of themselves as ‘saggy’ and ‘unattractive’ after giving birth. Women can feel a real sense of loss for how their bodies used to look and this, combined with the pressures of looking after young children and no longer having time for themselves, can intensify existing body image anxieties.

This sense of loss is also strong in patients who have had a mastectomy for breast cancer. Breasts are one of the ultimate representations of femininity, so having to have one or both breasts removed can be extremely emotional. It is for this reason that many women choose to have reconstructive surgery to improve their body image and make themselves feel feminine again after surgery.

This sense of loss, whether it be youth, pre-mastectomy or a pre-baby body related, comes with a lot of anxiety about appearance and a loss of self-esteem. For some women this is when they may consider surgery as an option to regain the body they had previously.

When breast augmentation masks a bigger problem

Breast augmentation surgery can improve how women feel about themselves and the anxieties they felt before surgery can be overcome as their positive self-image is restored.

For some women, there is a more concerning underlying problem of self-image and self-esteem which cosmetic surgery is unlikely to fix. Cosmetic surgery cannot transform how women feel about themselves if they are suffering from mental health issues. A survey of nearly 1,600 adolescent girls monitored over 13 years showed that women who already have symptoms of depression and anxiety became worse after having breast enlargement surgery. The research concluded that “A series of mental health symptoms predict cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic surgery does not in turn seem to alleviate such mental health problems”. In 2009 a similar report conducted over 5 years showed that women who have had breast surgery are happier with their body shape but the surgery didn’t increase their self-esteem.

There are a number of useful questions you can ask yourself to get to the bottom of your desire to have breast augmentation surgery and to help you decide if you want surgery for the right reasons:

  • When did you first decide to have this surgery?
  • Is there a particular event which has led you to consider having surgery?
  • Are you expecting this surgery to change your life as well as changing your body?
  • Are you having surgery to please someone else or to meet someone else’s expectations?
  • Are you expecting surgery to improve your social life or relationship?
  • What are your expectations for the surgery? Are they realistic?

If a specific issue is highlighted when you answer these questions, such as a desire to have surgery being triggered by relationship problems, then it’s worth discussing your concerns with a mental health professional before making a final decision on whether to go ahead with surgery.

The ideal circumstances for cosmetic surgery

Before having cosmetic surgery you should be psychologically healthy and able to make your own, autonomous decision that surgery is right for you. It’s vital that the four points below are in place before you undergo breast enlargement surgery:

  • You have a realistic view of any potential mental health issues which may be driving the decision to have surgery.
  • You have realistic expectations of the surgery – a good surgeon will discuss the expected outcome specific to your body size and shape and your individual circumstances.
  • You are healthy enough for the surgery and have made changes to improve your health such as quitting smoking, losing weight and improving fitness.
  • You choose a surgeon who has suitable training and skills.

With all of these in place, cosmetic surgery can be a powerful and useful tool in helping women to achieve a body they are happy with.

Further Resources

Read Stephen McCulley’s Complete Guide to Breast Augmentation and the Associated Risks for more information to help you decide whether breast surgery is the right decision for you.

Your Comprehensive Guide to Breast Enlargement features advice and information on every step of the breast enlargement process, including recovery.