Background: There is limited information about psychological predictors of cosmetic surgery and how cosmetic surgery influences subsequent changes in mental health and overall appearance satisfaction. To date, there is a lack of studies examining this issue, whereby representative population samples are assessed at an age before cosmetic surgery is typically conducted and followed up after such surgery has commonly been performed.
Method: We obtained data from a survey study following 1597 adolescent females from a representative Norwegian sample over a 13-year period. Participants provided information on cosmetic surgery, appearance satisfaction, mental health, risky sexual behavior, drug use and conduct problems at two time-points (overall response rate 67%).
Results: Of all participants, 78 (4.9%) reported having undergone cosmetic surgery, of whom 71 were operated on during the course of the study and seven before the first data collection. Symptoms of depression and anxiety [odds ratio (OR) 1.66, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.07-2.57] and a history of deliberate self-harm (OR 2.88, 95% CI 1.46-5.68), parasuicide (OR 3.29, 95% CI 1.53-7.08) and illicit drug use (OR 2.46, 95% CI 1.07-5.82) predicted prospective cosmetic surgery. Moreover, those who underwent surgery during the course of the study experienced a greater increase than other females in symptoms of depression and anxiety (t=2.07, p=0.04) and eating problems (t=2.71, p<0.01). Patients' use of alcohol also increased more than among non-patients (t=2.47, p=0.01).
Conclusions: A series of mental health symptoms predict cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic surgery does not in turn seem to alleviate such mental health problems.