Australian Women’s Lived Experiences of Stigmatization After Cosmetic Surgery: A Qualitative Investigation

Sarah Bonell, Emma Austen, Gemma Sharp, Scott Griffiths

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Cosmetic surgery is highly popular, yet some cosmetic surgery recipients continue to face stigmatization. Our qualitative study provides a comprehensive analysis of cosmetic surgery recipients’ lived experiences of stigmatization in Australia. In particular, we examine the methods through which recipients postoperatively navigate and manage stigmatization. We interviewed 15 Australian women (28–59 years old) who had undergone cosmetic surgery and used reflexive thematic analysis to analyze transcripts. We generated three themes: (a) stigma awareness, (b) internalized stigma, and (c) navigating and managing stigma. Participants spoke at length about their experiences of stigma despite having generally positive outcomes of surgery. Further, they acknowledged experiences of internalized stigma and discussed the ways in which this stigma manifests (e.g., as guilt and shame for turning to cosmetic surgery “in place of” diet and exercise). Finally, and perhaps most notably, participants described engaging in ongoing stigma management. For example, some participants felt they needed to keep their surgeries a secret from others to avoid facing stigma. Conversely, other participants often detached themselves from negative stereotypes associated with surgery by failing to identify with the “stereotypical” cosmetic surgery recipients to whom they felt stigma applied. In other words, participants conceptualized a stigmatized “other”—a cosmetic surgery recipient unlike themselves who was more deserving of, and more likely to face, stigmatization. Findings have practical implications for cosmetic surgery recipients and their loved ones. By exploring cosmetic surgery stigmatization through the lens of its victims, the present study contributes to a growing understanding of cosmetic surgery stigma

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-177
Number of pages9
JournalStigma and Health
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Internalized stigma
  • Plastic surgery
  • Qualitative
  • Stigma

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