Posted by Gary Schwitzer in Health care journalism
The New York Times yesterday tweeted a headline – “Never Too Old for Plastic Surgery” – about this story.
While I’m very happy for the 83-year old woman in the piece for her happiness over her “new” $8,000 breasts, the piece was framed like an expensive billboard for plastic surgeons – only it didn’t cost them anything. The Times gave away the advertising space.
The story states:
“There are as many reasons for getting plastic surgery as there are older patients, experts say”…and…”some are simply sick of slackened jowls, jiggly underarms and saggy eyelids.”
There are a few other perspectives in the middle of the piece:
“Some critics question whether the benefits are worth the risks, which may be underestimated.”
But it is often how you END a piece that determines readers’ takeaway messages – and it is often also a sign of the message the journalist really wanted to convey. And this one concludes with a Harvard prof’s comment:
“If an older woman wants to regain eyelids or wants a breast that she doesn’t have to tuck into a waistband, then why not?”
Minnesota bioethicist Carl Elliott wrote a book, “Better Than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream.” In it, he wrote:
“We need to understand the complex relationship between enhancement technologies, the way we live now, and the kinds of people we have become.”
I asked for his comment on the NY Times story, and he wrote:
“Everyone agrees that one root of the problem is toxic social pressures. The problem is that giving in to these pressures just reinforces them. The more cosmetic surgery older people get, the more social pressure that other older people feel to get the surgery themselves. (And articles like this just make the problem worse.)
Also, does anyone really think that cosmetic surgery actually makes these people look younger? What it really does is make them look as if they’ve had work done. And having work done is not so much a marker of youth as it is of money.”
Online readers of the NY Times piece had their own comments, which included these:
• “It is fascinating to read how in the midst of a ghastly economic crisis, people are happily spending $8K for plastic surgery.”
• “Said in the article: I find that you have to keep up your appearance physically, even if you just want a companion or someone to ask you to dinner. My reply: How incredibly sad. And apparently ‘keeping up your appearance isn’t simply good grooming, but now includes going under the knife?!”
Said in the article: Mary Graham, a 77-year-old restaurant owner in Thomasville, Ga., got a face-lift and breast implants earlier this year. “The only time I go to the doctor is for plastic surgery,” she said. My reply: Is this something she should be bragging about?
Said in the article: Her plastic surgeon, Dr. Daniel Man of Boca Raton, Fla., who said he is seeing increasing numbers of patients over age 70, said, “These people are healthy and want to be an active part of society.” My reply: ….and we all know you can’t be an active part of society if you have sagging jowels!”
The Times piece got people talking. But it could have done a better job of broadening its scope to inform that discussion in a richer, deeper way.