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The Psychology of Appearance

"Whether we admit it or not, appearance matters in our culture," says CHA team member David Sarwer, PhD. "Our society often idealizes attractive people. Research shows that those who are attractive typically receive preferential treatment across their life span."

"That’s why it’s not surprising that the way we look has a great deal to do with our own confidence and self-esteem," Sarwer continues. "Our appearance can shape our self-image and affect the way we deal with others."

Today's society spends millions of dollars to improve appearance -- from cosmetics and fashion to gym memberships. In addition, the societal and cultural pressures to be young looking, thin and beautiful have contributed to the current popularity of cosmetic surgery. "What was once considered trivial vanity is now seen as reality for some people: maintaining and improving appearance and body image is an important part of our quality of life," says Sarwer.

Center for Human Appearance surgeons and physicians provide a range of reconstructive surgery. This surgery helps adults and children whose appearance has been altered by physical trauma or diseases such as cancer -- or who have congenital (at birth) deformities. The Center for Human Appearance also provides services for individuals who choose aesthetic cosmetic surgery options.

The difference between cosmetic surgery and reconstructive surgery is the degree of normalcy desired, he explained. Cosmetic surgery usually seeks to enhance a normal appearance. Reconstructive surgery seeks to return patients to normalcy as much as possible.

Psychological consults by CHA psychologists are available to individuals undergoing cosmetic surgery, reconstructive surgery, or who have symptoms of an obsession with appearance called body dysmorphic disorder. For more information, see the topics below:


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Need an appointment? Request one online 24 hours/day, 7 days/week or call 800-789-PENN (7366) to speak to a referral counselor.

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