Sandra Kobrin

(WOMENSENEWS)–I definitely have a little more jiggle than I’d like. More wrinkles, too.

But the last thing I want to do is check into a hospital for cosmetic surgery and never check out. A flat tummy or a chiseled chin is not something you risk your life for. Not in my book.

But I feel like I’m in a shrinking majority that’s hanging on for dear life.

Our society is getting positively hooked on plastic surgery. Since 1997 the number of cosmetic procedures performed each year has soared by more than fivefold, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in Arlington Heights, Ill.

Nearly 11 million cosmetic surgery procedures were performed in 2006, up 7 percent from the year before. Almost 10 million of the surgeries last year were performed on women. Breast augmentations (329,000) top the 2006 list of 1.9 million invasive surgical procedures. These are surgeries that require anesthesia and they are far from risk-free.

The signals urging women to maintain or reclaim their youth have become ingrained in our culture. Day spas that administer non-invasive cosmetic procedures pop up as regularly in strip malls as 7-11’s and botox injections are even being administered by eye doctors.

But what’s scary is that more than ever, smart, professional, successful women are undergoing expensive, complicated life-threatening cosmetic surgeries. With all they have going for them, more and more of these successful women are choosing to roll the dice with their lives in search of a flatter tummy, less wrinkles or firmer breasts.

The most recent high-profile and tragic example, of course, is Donda West, the 58-year-old mother of hip-hop music superstar Kanye West.

Achievements Weren’t Enough

An accomplished educator, West was a former chair of Chicago State University’s English department and a Fulbright scholar who left academia in 2004 to assist with Kanye’s career. She was a wonderful role model for both her students and her son. On some level, however, that wasn’t enough.

On Nov. 9 she went in for a tummy tuck and a breast reduction and was sent home that night to recuperate. The next evening, paramedics brought an unresponsive West to the Centinela Freeman Regional Medical Center in Marina del Rey, where an attempt to revive her failed. After an autopsy, the Los Angeles coroner said that the initial indications were that West died from complications from the surgery.

According to CNN, West knew she was an at-risk surgical patient, but elected to do the surgery anyway. She had visited another surgeon–Dr. Andre Aboolian of Beverly Hills–in June who refused to perform the cosmetic surgery.

Aboolian said she contacted him again two weeks before her recent surgery saying she was ready to go forward, but he noted he needed a medical clearance before he would perform it.

"I always insist on a medical clearance for women over 40, and in this instance it was particularly important because of a condition she had that I felt could have led to a heart attack," Aboolian said in a statement through his publicist, according to CNN.

West found another doctor with two malpractice cases that ended in payouts and two DUIs on his record. She had the surgery anyway.

Other High-Profile Deaths

Other high-profile deaths from plastic-surgery complications include former Nigerian first lady Stella Obasanjo, who died in 2005, and Olivia Goldsmith, author of the 1996 best seller "The First Wives Club," who died three years ago during a chin-tuck. Ironically, in her 1998 novel, "Switcheroo," her main character, who wants a face lift to compete with a younger woman, is told by her doctor, "Are you insane? You need a psychiatrist, not a plastic surgeon." If only Goldsmith had heeded the part of herself who knew better.

But these women are just the cases we hear about. Thousands of women elect to imperil themselves for the chance to look a little thinner, a little younger; an urge that is stoked by a cosmetic surgery industry that puts millions into marketing every year.

The popular media only seems to abet the crime. Even a newspaper like The New York Times–counted on to play its Great Gray Lady role at such moments–seems caught up in the mania. In an Oct. 4 article about women who are opting for cosmetic surgery to reverse the effects of pregnancy and childbirth the Times’ headline read "Skin Deep: Is the ‘Mom Job’ Really Necessary?"

Necessary? It’s the wrong word to ever associate with the "mom job trifecta," which packages a breast lift, tummy tuck and dash of liposuction into one expensive and risky craze.

It’s Not Like Going to a Spa

"There is no such thing as a minor procedure in cosmetic surgery. It’s not like going to the spa or salon," said Los Angeles cosmetic surgeon Dr. Barry Friedberg. "Tummy tucks are a big operation and, in my mind, one of the most dangerous cosmetic procedures. And the patients who have them tend to be a high-risk group. They’re older, often they’ve had children, often they’re heavier. There are risks of strokes, bleeding, post-operative problems. And sometimes it’s hard to tell patients about these things, but it’s got to be safety first."

A 2003 University of California, Los Angeles, study that asked 52,000 adults "If money were no object, would you ever consider getting cosmetic surgery or liposuction to improve your looks or body?" found 71 percent of women expressed at least possible interest. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 303,000 liposuctions and 140,000 tummy tuck surgeries were performed just last year.

The plastic surgery holiday gift card

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons doesn’t track the number of deaths due to cosmetic surgery but notes that serious complications from office-based surgery occur once in every 298 cases.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that the risks of dying from liposuction–the third most common cosmetic surgical procedure–are worse than car accidents. For every 100,000 liposuction procedures the death risk is between 20 and 100; for every 100,000 car accidents the death risk is 16.

But the cosmetic surgery industry doesn’t let that faze them. Like last year’s overzealous mortgage market, it offers all kinds of ways for consumers to pay for procedures that cost between $2,000 and $5,000 each, including deferred payment plans and accepting credit cards.

At this time of year you can even come across a seasonal marketing initiative: plastic surgery holiday gift cards.

Just perfect: a present that says hey, you’re just not good enough.

If anyone out there has me on their shopping list, I’d rather take my chances with a new car.

Sandra Kobrin is a Los Angeles writer and columnist.

For more information:

American Society of Plastic Surgeons:

Rodeo Drive Plastic Surgery gift card:

"Raising Kanye," By Donda West: