Recently, Fox had a television series called The Swan. It featured “ugly ducklings” in a beauty competition. Each contestant received free cosmetic surgery and cosmetic dentistry, and in each show, one was judged a winner and went on to compete in the next show.
Lorrie Arias of Corona in Southern California (now aged 38) had grown up with low self-esteem. She lost 120 pounds in the 1990s and had a lot of loose skin which she wanted to get rid of. She also wanted breast augmentation. She entered this competition in its second (and last) season. An added incentive for her was the promise of intensive therapy for participants. In 2002, she had lost her husband to cancer and was still grieving. She had two teen sons.
17 Cosmetic Procedures
Lorrie passed the show’s psychological screening and entered a six-week period of intensive “self-improvement” consisting in part of:
- Breast augmentation giving her a double-D cup size
- A facelift (or perhaps cheek implants)
- A tummy tuck
- Rhinoplasty to narrow the bridge of her nose
- A thigh lift
- Liposuction on the hips and perhaps elsewhere
- Porcelain dental veneers
During those six weeks, she was sequestered with no access to a mirror. She was unable to see how she looked, as even the television screens were sprayed with an aerosol deodorant to block any reflections. At the end of the six weeks, she was allowed to see herself.
“I had these huge eyeballs,” she said. “I thought I was looking at E.T.”
She did not win her competition segment. She received four counseling sessions with the show’s therapist, one Lynn Ianni of Los Angeles, all of which were taped for use on the show. In those sessions, she was questioned about her weight loss and her husband’s death, in attempts to make her cry for the show — there was no therapeutic follow-up.
The production company had provided three years of coverage in case anything went wrong with the surgeries. A year later she used it for corrective surgery on one thigh which had never healed fully. Her left hip was also given a fat injection to repair a hollow spot, but a wound on that hip was not repaired until another year later.
One porcelain veneer fell off and was lost, which required her to borrow $1,000 for a crown, as another veneer would have been too expensive. The show’s dentist did not return her calls.
The longer-term fallout
When she touches her eyebrow, she now feels that on the back of her head. Her belly has lost feeling and she cannot bend her head back comfortably. In 2008 she began twice-weekly therapy and applied for disability benefits on the basis of post-traumatic stress disorder and inability to work. She now lives with one teenage son, on Social Security survivor benefits, spending her days playing computer games and watching movies.
Was this a good cosmetic surgery candidate?
Granted, the show was very deficient in providing emotional support to its participants. Perhaps its medical professionals also did a questionable job with Lorrie’s procedures. She was used for the show’s ratings.
And what about the show’s candidate screening? This was a person with low self-esteem, grieving for her lost husband, who thought cosmetic surgery would transform her life and personality as well as her body and face.
Cosmetic surgery can indeed dramatically change the body and face, and most people feel better about those improvements. But after it’s all done, you are still the same person. Cosmetic surgery is not a substitute for therapy. The best cosmetic surgeons will screen their potential patients carefully. They will take all the time necessary to get clear on what that person’s goals are, and to make sure each person understands what to expect from each procedure.