by Joan Kroan
Getty ImagesWould you buy a face lift from a model whose face never met a scalpel? Forty-some years ago it was considered unethical for plastic surgeons to advertise. Then the Department of Commerce said banning ads was a restraint of trade. Fast forward to today: Ads for new boobs, butts, and noses clutter the back pages of city magazines and beckon from the internet. Invariably, an important element in these come-ons is a comely, perfectly proportioned female model. Even Smart Beauty Guide, the new consumer website sponsored by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), a 2500-member group of board-certified plastic surgeons, uses models as window dressing. Hey, it works for Chanel, why not for Dr. So-and-So? But it turns out the pictures of pretty faces--and bodies--may backfire.
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One recent study showed that individuals considering cosmetic procedures were turned off by ads featuring models. The authors, who published their findings in the May 2013 issue of the Aesthetic Surgery Journal (ironically, the scientific publication of ASAPS), found that patients were turned off even more if the photos looked staged and if the models were scantily dressed. Va-va-va-voom may sell cars and perfume, but not surgery.
The study participants preferred to see before and after pictures of real patients--but not that real. "If the patient was too realistic"--meaning, not they were deemed less attractive--"observers tended to be disappointed." In those cases, patients concluded that the cost and recovery time "weren't worth the investment." The perfect compromise, concluded the researchers, would be before-and-afters of an attractive real-life patient, or a model who looks like she could be the girl next door.
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Over in England, plastic surgeons should take this study to heart. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) has announced that they want to outlaw the use of models in cosmetic-surgery ads, calling it a truth-in-advertising issue. The question is, will patients be enticed by reality--or will they want a little fantasy before they make the decision to have surgery?