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Channeling Pygmalion

Article-Channeling Pygmalion

Key iconKey Points

  • Over the past two decades, the percentage of U.S. adults classified as obese has expanded
  • By 2004, one-fifth of residents in 36 states were considered obese (CDC)
  • As a result, weight-loss surgery is becoming more prevalent ^65 percent of body contouring procedures in 2005 were performed on MWL patients

Teresa A. McNulty
Despite top health officials sounding the alarm, over the past two decades, the percentage of U.S. adults classified as obese (defined as having a BMI of 30 or higher) has expanded with the population's waistlines. According to the CDC, by 2004 one-fifth of the residents of 36 states were considered obese. Over 25 percent of the citizens of an additional nine states fell into the category. As this U.S. obesity epidemic continues to spread, and weight loss surgeries such as gastric banding become both less invasive and more prevalent, many readers will encounter this complex patient population with more frequency. Fully 65 percent of body contouring procedures in 2005 were performed on MWL patients, up some 31 percent from the prior two years. ASPS figures state that lower body lifts alone — one of the most common MWL surgeries — spiked by nearly 2,400 percent.

In perhaps no other surgical venue does the aesthetic practitioner more literally serve as sculptor. Ovid references the many creation myths that tell of immortals breathing life into figures of earth and stone. Sculptors since Michelangelo have written of their vision — not of sculpting a figure in marble — but rather, of releasing the figure trapped within the massive block. This seems the perfect analogy for how the cosmetic surgeon liberates the MWL patient through his science and his sculpting art. Perhaps the most apt metaphor for this Special Report topic is that of the mythological sculptor Pygmalion, whose ivory sculpture of Galatea was so realistic that it actually came to life. One depiction of Pygmalion's Galatea, painted in 1890 by the great French romantic Jean-Léon Gérôme, is the specific inspiration for our cover icon. Gérôme captured the enchantment of Pygmalion's artistry in Galatea's mid-transformation, as the life force, reflected in translucent pink flesh tones, spreads downward to her calves and feet — still the opaque white of the ivory from which Pygmalion has "emancipated" her.

In "Channeling Pygmalion: Body Contouring Post-MWL," we endeavor to highlight not only the intricate and artistic surgical skills which such post-bariatric crafting demand, but how the surgeon's gifted hands quite literally bestow new life to these patients previously imprisoned within their own flesh. As this issue went to press, JAMA published a disturbing study from Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard citing the escalating incidence of hypertension in U.S. children. Study investigators pointed to the creeping needle on the bathroom scale as the primary culprit. Clearly, honing aesthetic surgical skills, innovating and refining techniques and garnering a better understanding of this particularly challenging patient population is likely to be a long-term proposition. In these pages, we hope to make a start.

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