TV News Coverage of Plastic Surgery, 1972-2004

By Cho, Sooyoung | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

TV News Coverage of Plastic Surgery, 1972-2004


Cho, Sooyoung, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


TV NEWS COVERAGE OF PLASTIC SURGERY, 1972-2004

This study content analyzed all of the 265 news story abstracts on various types of plastic surgery from the five major TV networks during the past three decades. Coverage increased during the time periods, concentrating in the 1990s when public health controversy about breast implants erupted. Overall, TV network news coverage was most concerned with the issue of safety and health risk and framed coverage with an emphasis on risk. Unlike traditional health reporting, which relies mostly on doctors in the field, news coverage about plastic surgery extensively used experts from other fields.

Most Americans today are generally familiar with plastic surgery. It has become a popular social phenomenon. According to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), nearly 8.4 million surgical and non-surgical procedures were performed in 2003. Eighty-seven percent of patients getting these procedures in 2003 were women and 13% were men.1 These statistics show an increase of 16% for women and 12% for men over 2002 figures. Clearly a growing number of people are interested in the possibility of plastic surgery. Furthermore, television reality shows like Fox's The Swan and ABC's Extreme Makeover have presented extreme plastic surgery cases, physically transforming ordinary people. Such TV programs may be a factor influencing people's decisions to pursue such an operation.

TV news is a primary source of health information and has the power to raise initial public awareness about a health issue.2 In addition, plastic surgery stories on TV news, because of its broad reach of various kinds of audiences, can heighten awareness not only for people considering operations, but also for their family members. In this regard, TV news is an important informational conduit about plastic surgery, and its selection of and emphasis on certain aspects is important to the public.3

Despite growing interest among Americans, few studies (and none for TV) have investigated news coverage of plastic surgery, such as issues, types of operations, and controversies. The purpose of this study was to examine and compare (1) the number of news reports devoted to plastic surgery over the last thirty years; (2) the types of cosmetic operations described; (3) the types of issues covered and frames used; and (4) the types of sources. This study describes and examines the news reporting patterns of this popular medical and social phenomenon over four time frames-the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000-2004.

Literature Review

Media and Plastic Surgery. Mass media's influence on women's body images has been well documented. Often, entertainment and thinideal media content is blamed as one of the factors responsible for promoting a distorted body image. Pipher blames the media for exalting thinness and contributing to higher rates of body dissatisfaction in young girls and women.4 Some studies found that media exposure and reading of women's fitness magazines promoted eating disorders and feelings of body dissatisfaction among women.5 This suggests that exposure to TDP (thinness depicting and promoting) media could damage many women's self- and body image.

In addition, television programs and fashion magazines appear to encourage the idea that women must be thin to be happy, popular, and successful.6 For example, primetime television programs often portray thin female characters as successful and as the object of desire by others, whereas overweight female characters receive negative comments from male characters.7 Conducting a focus group and interviews with two generations of Hispanic women about magazine use and their body image as compared to magazine depictions, Pompper and Koenig found that women of both generations emphasized the importance of personal appearance in competing for employment, which will determine their socio-economic status.8

Influenced by a social environment that emphasizes physical appearance, increasing numbers of women as well as men are attracted to the possibility of some type of plastic surgery. …

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