Liposuction Lessons

Lori Gottlieb

At 5'6" and 115 pounds, 19-year old Tara (her name has been changed to protect her privacy) was considered by most standards--her high school friends in Los Angeles, her boyfriend, the latest height-weight charts--to have a great body. But the standards Tara was most concerned with were those of fashion models, teen actresses on television shows, and bony-looking girls she'd see dancing at cool nightclubs. None of these women seemed to have any fat on their thighs--in fact, they didn't seem to have thighs at all (even better!). No matter how much she dieted or exercised, Tara couldn't achieve this look. She became obsessed with her thighs, feeling she had "a genetic problem that weight loss couldn't help."

The Suction Solution
Enter liposuction, a procedure that almost 50,000 Americans underwent last year, nearly a quarter of them between the ages of 19 and 34. In liposuction, also known as "suction lipectomy," a surgeon makes small incisions in a localized area in order to suction out unwanted body fat. Tara was convinced it was the answer to all her problems. Both Tara's mother and Tara's best friend had had liposuction, and people were always complimenting them on their new bodies.

Tara, who worked out regularly, was a prime candidate for liposuction. The best candidates are those who are in good physical health and are of normal weight, but have pockets of fat that won't go away with diet or exercise. These areas tend to be around the hips for women (aka "saddlebags") and around the midriff in men (the famous "spare tire"). "These areas are terribly resistant to metabolism. You can't burn them off," says Richard D'Amico, M.D., chief of plastic surgery at Englewood Hospital in Englewood, New Jersey, and assistant clinical professor of plastic surgery at Mt. Sinai Medical School in New York City. D'Amico's clients have included super-lean marathon runners and fit models plagued by stubborn collections of fat cells.

Risks vs. Benefits
Sound like a quick fix? "This is not a lunch date. This is surgery," cautions D'Amico. Even "good" candidates should be aware of the risks associated with any surgical procedure (such as adverse reactions to anesthesia). Liposuction may also lead to bleeding, infection, or blood clots. Some women undergoing the procedure have even died of fatal bacterial infections or cardiac arrest. After the operation, patients may experience swelling, bleeding, bruising, numbness, tingling, and pain that can last for up to a few weeks.

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