Cosmetic surgery is more popular than ever, with almost 1.9 million procedures performed in 2013 alone, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Today, racial and ethnic minorities comprise 22% of all patients, but this trend worries some, who fear that their racial identity will be obscured by these surgeries.
One such patient is Kendra Elia, a young, biracial medical student who identifies herself as African-American. She flew all the way from Fresno, California to New York City to get her fourth rhinoplasty procedure.
When asked by ABC News why she chose rhinoplasty, she said it came down to her appearance. “I just looked in the mirror one day and just maybe, you know makeup’s not changing anything. Not helping. Maybe it’s my nose,” she explained.
Her fourth procedure is her first one with a surgeon who specializes in “ethnic cosmetic surgery,” which he said refers to Asian, Hispanic and African-American patients.
This group has experienced some of the sharpest increases in the number of plastic surgeries performed. Asian-American patients received 126% more surgeries in 2013 than they did in 2005; Hispanics have gone under the knife 84% more than last decade, and for African-Americans, the number of procedures has increased by 56%.
And many patients, no matter their race, want similar looks, said Elia’s surgeon. “There’s this influence that the consumer, the patient gets that’s dictated by what magazines put in their magazines and how they Photoshop their models and their celebrities,” he said.
Another New York cosmetic surgeon agreed but said that it wasn’t up to surgeons to force these standards of beauty upon their patients. “We don’t define the beauty,” he explained to ABC News reporters, “beauty is defined by the media, the fashion industry and by the public.”
Some psychologists agree, saying that beauty is related to symmetry between facial features. Yet this “formula” only emphasizes fair skin and narrow features — a Western beauty ideal that many women do not fit.
For Elia, the quest for the perfect nose has resulted in four surgeries totaling $40,000, with her fourth — and, she hopes, her last — costing $14,000 alone. The last surgery was complicated by the fact that she didn’t have enough cartilage in her nose, so surgeons had to take a small amount of it from her ears.
Elia said that the surgery was money well spent, but her mother, Sylvia Barnett, disagreed and expressed worry that her daughter was losing her ethnic identity.
“I just always believed you work with what you have,” she said, citing makeup as a way to change one’s look.
Would Barnett have surgery to change her appearance? She said no: “I’m proud of my blackness, always been that way, and I don’t want to change a thing.”