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Plastic surgery in demand again

If the number of tummy tucks and other procedures is truly an economic indicator, good times are coming back.

By Karen Datko Feb 9, 2011 9:38PM

Economic news alert: The number of cosmetic surgeries increased 5% last year -- yet one more indication that the economy is on the mend. The number of breast augmentations, the procedure most in demand, totaled 296,000 in 2010. All told, 13.1 million body parts were altered.

The annual report from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons strongly suggests that people -- namely women -- are willing to spend again on expensive nonessentials. Traders and others who track the economy have taken note, Reuters reports.


"The pre-crisis trend of paying for a $6,000 to $7,000 breast augmentation operation on your credit card definitely changed in 2008 and 2009," society president Dr. Phil Haeck told Reuters. "Now many people have paid down their debts and have enough confidence in the economy to pay for operations again."


(Meanwhile, consumer debt increased by $6.1 billion in December, according to the Federal Reserve, the third straight monthly increase. Americans are also willing to use plastic again.)

This isn't the first time plastic-surgery rates have caught the attention of those who study economic ups and downs. Carmen Nobel of MainStreet called it the "vanity indicator" -- tracked by Millennium Research Group. Nobel wrote:

So-called "body contouring procedures" are heavily affected by economic factors, as are dental implant procedures, which are generally not covered by insurance claims. (Breast implant procedures and facelifts are only moderately affected by the economy, the firm reports.)

Plastic surgeon Thomas Fiala wrote at his blog last summer that two studies found "that the average surgeon revenue from cosmetic surgery procedures in their group very closely correlated with typical stock market indices, such as the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and others, at least looking retrospectively over the last few years." Post continues after video.

There are other weird economic indicators to keep an eye on, including:

  • The divorce indicator: The divorce rate dropped in part because real property to be divided wasn't worth nearly as much, Nobel said.
  • The underwear indicator: Michael Brush wrote at MSN Money that former Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan "reasons that because hardly anyone actually sees a guy's undies, they're the first thing men stop buying when the economy tightens."
  • The flesh indicator: It's long been thought that hems go down in bad times, but apparently more than knees get covered up. "When the financial mess hit ..., blouses began replacing halter tops, and midriffs started to vanish, observes Jeffrey Hirsch of the Stock Trader's Almanac, which looks for seasonal and other patterns that traders can play," Brush wrote.
  • The baby-making indicator: Nobel said the U.S. birth rate dropped from 4,315,000 in 2007 to 4,247,000 in 2008.

Then there's what another plastic surgeon/blogger calls the Implant Index. Dr. Richard Baxter wrote in the fall of 2009: "Interestingly, while breast augmentation surged past liposuction to claim the number one spot in cosmetic surgery popularity despite economic woes last year, the implants seemed to be smaller after years of edging ever larger."


He speculated that women who could still afford the procedure were opting for a more natural look, rather than flaunting their financial success when others were hurting. If the Implant Index "holds true, the 'C' cup economy is where we want to be," he wrote.


More from MSN Money:

Feb 10, 2011 9:07AM
Then again, some are opting for procedures to "look competitive".  to get jobs.  Sad, but unfortunately true.  Same with the weight loss trends, it is not just to feel better, but to look better for a job search.
Feb 10, 2011 12:25PM
Or perhaps to compete in the Lady Gaga look-a-like contest at The Hedonistic Experience Ball in Las Vegas. Stranger things have happened!
Feb 10, 2011 1:23PM
Maslow was right again.  Back from the depths of insecurity above the line to love and esteem.  Truly a reliable indicator of a recovering economy.
Feb 10, 2011 12:45PM
Great article. We understand the many benefits of cosmetic surgery and have seen amazing results with our membership program!
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