Aesthetic surgery and reconstructive surgery: opposites or complementary?

Ah! The never-ending debate! We often compare aesthetic surgery with corrective and reconstructive surgery. From a patient’s point of view, aesthetic surgery only fulfils a desire for beauty, even conformism driven by a sort of shallowness.

From a practitioner’s point of view, this branch of surgery is less serious as it does not involve repairing the body – as a result of a condition, deformity, accident, etc. Yet they are both closely linked, and all the better! The story of Suzanne Noel, pioneer of aesthetic surgery and major feminist, proves it.


What is aesthetic surgery?

Aesthetic surgery focuses on the appearance of the patient. In theory, it focuses on improving this appearance by working on the symmetry, proportions, and the “beautiful”, namely the harmony and balance, by treating patients that are not ill and have not been victims of an accident, or a procedure, or a pathological change in their body. As such, we cannot say that aesthetic surgery improves the functioning of the body or a part of the body, or repairs a disorder. Having a totally subjective dimension, the approach to aesthetic surgery and its accomplishment make it complex and fascinating.

Here are some procedures known as aesthetic:

Face surgery:

  • Any lift such as a face, neck or temple lift, a blepharoplasty to rejuvenate the eyes
  • A rhinoplasty when it involves correcting a slight bump or asymmetry that does not cause any problems with breathing or any problems such as sinusitis

Body contouring surgery:

  • Lipsuction
  • Lipofilling
  • Breast augmentation or breast ptosis

As for aesthetic medicine, the aims are the same as with aesthetic surgery: improve the appearance (face and body) and rejuvenate. This is achieved using less invasive or even non-invasive solutions of which the effects are temporary and require regular sessions: botulinum toxin or hyaluronic injections, peels, laser or radiofrequency treatments… Aesthetic medicine has grown considerably in recent years and is now part of an approach to “age well” with a focus on natural, subtle results, far from clichés and standardized beauty.


And reconstructive surgery?

In contrast, reconstructive surgery aims to repair the appearance of a body after a trauma, disease or deformation, to correct and improve body function. There is a reparative side that is more than just restoring good working order or how it should be “ordinarily”.

This is where the boundary becomes a little more blurred and we begin to understand that you cannot have one discipline without the other.

Many consider that aesthetic surgery could be classed as reconstructive surgery! What about breast augmentation for example? Of course there is the purely aesthetic side but surgery like this often brings clear functional benefits by healing the deep malaise that can be extremely debilitating for the patient.

This is from the patient’s point of view. But what about the surgeon? Do we have to on the one hand settle with making “beautiful” and on the other settle with just repairing the body? The answer is no, fortunately.

Often, when aesthetic surgery comprises a restorative aspect, it can be partially covered by French National Health Insurance.


A common base and complementarity dedicated to the patient

Do you know Suzanne Noel, the first French female plastic surgeon? The book by the novelist Leila Slimani A mains nues [With bare hands], for whom I was technical adviser, tells the story of this pioneer. Her incredible story highlights the close and indisputable link between reconstructive surgery and aesthetic surgery. Before becoming an aesthetic surgeon, Suzanne Noel worked on the reconstruction of the broken faces during World War I. Very specific cases, almost “hopeless”, naturally pushed her to try new techniques, to innovate in terms of face surgery… and, therefore, to establish this bridge between aesthetic surgery and corrective surgery. If we want to repair, why not restore balance and improve to achieve harmony?

In reality, there is often an overlap between reconstructive and aesthetic surgery. Whatever the type of surgery performed, the ultimate goal must always be to maximize the aesthetic result and this as much as possible.

It thus seems quite clear that a good reconstructive surgeon must have training in and an eye for aesthetics – the pursuit of something purely functional not being enough – and an aesthetic surgeon must have sound training in reconstructive surgery, the guarantee of an even more in-depth job as they are used to difficult cases. This interaction between the two is a gift!

And plastic surgery?

It is simply a combination of the two disciplines: reconstructive plastic surgery and aesthtic plastic surgery. “Plasty” is the repair of an organ or part of the body using surgery (corrective or aesthetic).
Whatever the plastic surgery procedure planned, it is essential that the surgeon and the patient meet at least twice to discuss patient history, motivations, and the desired – and feasible – aesthetic result, as well as the risks inherent to this surgery. With plastic surgery, to avoid disappointment it is absolutely essential to ensure that the expectations are realistic and to understand that any surgery carries numerous benefits but also risks.

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