Feminist groups and plastic surgeons are calling on the government to ban adverts for cosmetic surgery amid claims they target vulnerable groups for profit.
UK Feminista made the call in a joint letter and a report arguing that adverts for the cosmetic surgery industry deliberately entice women to feel insecure about their bodies in order to drive up demand to go under the knife.
Based on surveys of adverts in magazines and other media, the report, Cut It Out, claims that the adverts trivialise invasive surgery which carries “inherent health risks, including blood clots, post operative infection and heart attack”. It also cites cases in which patients have died of complications from cosmetic surgery, yet says cosmetic surgery businesses target women at vulnerable points in their life, for example new mums.
Their report and letter, which has been signed by numerous womens’ groups and plastic surgeons, comes in the wake of the PIP breast implants scandal, in which 30,000 women in France were advised to have their breast implants removed amid health fears. Another 40,000 British women were thought to have received PIP silicone implants.
Their calls are backed by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. BAAPS past president, consultant plastic surgeon Nigel Mercer, told Channel 4 News: “Ultimately, the advertising is there to sell a product. It is not there to inform.
“We apply a different set of values to the advertising of cosmetic surgery then we do with any other area of medicine. We have found, particularly with the PIP scandal, that people have been lured into taking decisions about having surgery done, and it’s about the business, not about providing medical care for a patient.”
The report also criticised the use of social media such as Facebook to promote surgery businesses. It quotes a message posted on the Harley Medical Group’s Facebook page: “Think about this if you’re having your lunch at your desk (again!) – new research shows that fat cells can build up on those areas of the body under pressure when we sit for long periods of time. This fat can be almost impossible to shift through diet and exercise…if you are stuck with stubborn pockets of fat that no amount of diet or exercise can rid you of, then liposuction might be an option.”
The UK’s cosmetic surgery industry is now estimated to be worth £2.3bn, the report claims. It said that the market for such procedures has flourished by 17 per cent between 2008 to 2010, and that of an estimated 100,000 cosmetic surgical procedures carried out each year, 90 per cent are for women.
The report says that cosmetic surgery advertising should be subject to the same levels of scrutiny as the sale of prescription medicines. Advertising for prescription medicines is strictly regulated under specific legislation – the Medicines (Advertising) Regulations, 1994, and the Medicines (Monitoring of Advertising) Regulations, 1994.
But UK Feminista insisted that it was not intending to specifically target women who had undergone cosmetic surgical procedures. Elli Moody, policy and campaigns manager at the organisation, told Channel 4 News: “We are looking at messages that adverts send out, where advertising is promoting invasive surgery, that has inherent risks, to promote a ‘beauty body’ ideal.”