Experts launch surgical strike at nip and tuck culture

July 14, 2006

Sociologists this week called for greater regulation of the cosmetic surgery industries amid fears that the UK is sliding into a quick-fix makeover culture, writes Anthea Lipsett.

Anthony Elliot, sociology professor at Kent University and keynote speaker at the Economic and Social Research Council Identities and Social Action Programme conference, said the Government could no longer ignore people's desire to constantly refashion themselves, as reflected in television shows such as Extreme Makeover . Such programmes advocate the use of plastic surgery to improve people's appearance and lives.

"This is not a passing fad that will go away. This is a problem for all of us, whether we are caught up in it or not," Professor Elliot said. "There must be more regulation of the makeover industries. These are life-changing surgical procedures. Counselling is not sufficient back-up for the sorts of changes people are making to their identities. It is laughably inadequate."

According to Professor Elliot, surgical culture creates a fear of disposability in society.

"These short-term changes come at considerable social cost. Instead of seeing this as a trivial outcrop of popular culture, it's important we have a meaningful debate," he said.

"There are so many human and social problems that are amenable to these quick fixes. But the idea that you can put years of difficulties behind you and correct them overnight is crazy.

"We're seeing the consequences of this way of living with the take-off of 'want now' consumerism."

The conference brought together academics working on 25 research projects funded by a £4 million programme.

Margaret Wetherell, programme director and social sciences professor at the Open University, said: "We hope to help conceptually with thinking about this as an issue.

"Governments have typically avoided getting too involved in people's personal lives, but it's a real dilemma for both Labour and the Conservatives."

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