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A New Year, A New You

New Year resolutions often focus on improving physical appearance to start January afresh—gym memberships, makeovers and, in many cases, cosmetic surgery. Miss Julie Brackenbury explores the psychological link between the two and the ethics of clinics capitalising with advertising deals

As a New Year approaches, many people take the time to consider all aspects of their life. This self-reflection can include relationships, finances, health and appearance—some are even inclined to explore the possibility of having a cosmetic procedure, whether non-surgical or surgical.

According to Beck (2012), there is an essential self—the real, genuine you—and the social self, which is worried about external validation. Most New Year resolutions are based on the social self, which is focused on “fitting in” and gaining approval from others.

People need reasons to do things they prevaricate about. Busy lifestyles squeeze in numerous priorities and obligations, sometimes neglecting other areas of our lives. The New Year resolution is a blank promise to behave in a certain way and gives either incentive for change, or an excuse for past behaviour. Psychologically, people try to find a way out of a difficult situation of past failure and New Year’s resolutions allow them to do just that.

However, nothing changes for aesthetic practitioners at this time of year and a considered approach, guided by qualified and reputable professionals, is vital.

Happiness and appearance

Dissatisfaction can be linked to possibility, as psychotherapist Katrina Pitts explains: “…if we are aware that it is possible to make a change, we begin to wonder whether we need that change.” While evidence suggests that cosmetic surgery does make us happier, this initial benefit can arguably be short-term or long-term in nature.

Still, it’s extraordinary that even though women have achieved so much in the 21st century, a female’s physical appearance is so inextricably linked to her happiness. Pitts says that, of the clients she sees, the amount of women with body image issues—ranging from eating disorders to body dysmorphic disorder—vastly outnumber her male clients. “That’s not to say men don’t experience it,” she explains. “But if a man has a beer belly he hates and said he was considering surgery, he would be mocked mercilessly. It’s interesting that surgery is far more socially acceptable for a woman.”

Most people tend to overindulge over the festive period and the temptation for a quick fix to redress the balance is at its strongest. As a consequence, public demand increases and practitioners are (even without advertising) busier than ever before, with clients wanting to start the new year off by getting a “quick fix” to begin the year with an improved appearance, or shed some excess pounds post-Christmas bingeing.

Following cosmetic procedures, patients may wish to avoid being in public during the recovery period and the holiday season makes it easier to avoid interaction with others.
However, correct timing should not be confused with the time of year. Consumer safety guidelines issued by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) consumer safety guidelines state that unless the circumstances are exceptional, consumers should avoid surgery if they have recently experienced major life events such as moving house, changing job, losing a loved one, the break-up of a relationship or the arrival of children.

Expectations and psychology

We are accustomed to the use of these words, but our personal expectations can have a lot to do with how our life unfolds. Some of us expect far too much from ourselves, often setting us up for results we may view as unacceptable or disappointing.

It is common that when you expect too much from yourself, you may also expect too much from others. Psychologists divide the motivation for surgery into internal and external reasoning. Is it shocking that one of the biggest external motivations is to please the opposite sex?

According to a study by Aberdeen University, a quarter of British women who have surgery do so to appear more attractive to their partners. Regrettably, anecdotes of a generous boyfriend “treating” or “encouraging” their girlfriend to a bra-full of silicone are not uncommon.

Consciously or not, we also know that men treat women with bigger breasts differently. Studies by Cornell University have demonstrated this point by identifying the correlation between waitresses’ tips and breast size and showed that as breast size increased, so did their tips.

According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, the number one New Year’s resolution in 2012 was to lose weight. Many people are consumed with the thoughts of diets, food, weight, or body image. People with eating disorders may spend 90–100% of every waking moment with these thoughts (Federici et al., 2012)

As a nursing or medical professional, you have the ability and the knowledge to advise your client on health and weight loss. Lifestyle changes are an ongoing process that requires both time and consistent support. Once an individual is ready to make a change, the challenging part is committing and following through.

So do your research and make a realistic plan that will prepare your client for success. Careful planning means setting small goals and taking things one step at a time. We know that that the clients who have poorer results are those who smoke and drink to excess, get poor sleep and are stressed. There is no harm in telling the client that they will have a better result if they are willing to change their lifestyle choices and habits.

Constructive criticism can still have positive effects and may spur on a client to achieve their goals. Many of us will have a background in working in the NHS and with a wide variety of patients, so utilise those learned skills. This will enhance the fact that you care—it is not about having a full blown health check and most clients will know this. It is about encouraging them to feel better and make better choices.

New Year advertising

Economic struggles have produced a more “bargain-seeking” society. However, aesthetic procedures and their standards need to be maintained, so that it is still considered an elite and advanced treatment performed by an experienced aesthetic practitioner. The BAAPS states that the government should step in to control advertising for cosmetic surgery and ban all special offers and inducements.

The marketing of body shaping treatments in the New Year is going to have an effect on insecurities, and may encourage patients to have a procedure they perhaps wouldn’t usually consider regardless of cost. It is advised that ethical considerations need to be strongly practiced with this in mind.

“These are businesses reliant on people in the lower income bracket taking up their finance plans,” stated Dr Mike Comins, former chairman of the British Association of Cosmetic Doctors, now known as the British College of Aesthetic Medicine. “These are vulnerable individuals who are seeking cosmetic enhancements because they have problems with self-esteem. Encouraging them to get into the stress of debt is just swapping once problem for another and when companies are that desperate to lure business you have to ask why,” he says.

In general, there is more advertising around the New Year; private hospitals hold open evenings offering “mini consultations”, which can involve a ten minute appointment with a consultant plastic surgeon at no charge. Cosmetic nurses also offer similar sessions—this is not necessarily a bad thing if the public are being well informed and myths derived from the media, friends and family are dispelled, in order for the client to make an informed decision without coercion.

Miss Julie Brackenbury RGN, INP is an aesthetic nurse specialist based the South West. She is a member of the British Association of Cosmetic Nurses. E: julie@jbcosmetic.jdfx.co.uk


Beck M N, Beck J C. “Breaking the Cycle of Compulsive Behavior”. Deseret Book Company, 1990.

Federici A, Wisniewski L, Ben-Porath D. “Description of an Intensive Dialectical Behavior Therapy Program for Multidiagnostic Clients With Eating Disorders”. Journal of Counseling & Development, 2012. 90: 330–338.

Pitts, K. http://www.stylist.co.uk/life/why-are-women-going-under-the-knife#image-rotator-1, 2012. Accessed 10.12.13

About the Author
Miss Julie Brackenbury, RGN, Independent Nurse Prescriber

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