Michelle Obama’s Arms Spark Plastic Surgery Surge

New research provides a sorry insight into what some women care about.

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(Pete Souza/The White House)

I hate it when researchers or statisticians point to some new "trend" that makes women look foolish. I hate it even more when the evidence so appropriately puts almost the entire blame for the foolishness on the women themselves.

That, sadly, has happened with the release of a statistical analysis by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, which reported that there's been a huge increase in the number of people – almost all female – who are choosing to undergo surgery to get Michele Obama's arms. The number of such procedures, called a brachioplasty, has gone up by 4,378 percent since 2000, when only about 300 women had it done.

[See a collection of political cartoons on health care.]

And why would so many women (during a recession and post-recession struggle!) pony up for elective surgery to tighten their upper arms? Reports the Los Angeles Times:

… doctors didn't point to a single reason for the increase, but took note of poll data indicating that women "are paying closer attention to the arms of female celebrities" including Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore and Kelly Ripa. The most-admired arms of all? Those of First Lady Michelle Obama.

Arguably, this is an improvement in the sense that having sculpted upper arms communicates a sense of strength and authority, whereas breast augmentation indicates a vulnerability to arbitrary standards for a woman's body shape, and facelifts merely give one the appearance of being further from death.

[See pictures of Michelle Obama.]

But surgery? Is having defined triceps so important that a woman would actually undergo all the risks of going under the knife – not to mention the expense – for the result? Even more puzzling, the procedure leaves a scar, which sort of leaves the oiling-up part of the body-preening process a bit less satisfying.

There are millions of Americans without health insurance, and many more have such poor health insurance that they aren't getting the basic health care they need. It seems particularly absurd that Americans are spending money on things like Michele Obama arms when others can't get preventive care.

The so-called "Botax" – the proposed 5 percent tax on cosmetic procedures – was taken out of the Affordable Care Act and replaced by a 10 percent tax on artificial tanning. (The plastic surgery tax seemed doomed from the start, especially since it was arguably a tax on the southern California district represented by one of the bill's chief Capitol Hill negotiators). Upper-arm neurotics could pay more for the procedure. Or they could fix the problem with a two-word solution: triceps dips. Or even more efficiently, by a one-word solution: cardigan.

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