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05.01.13

Michelle Obama’s Arms Didn’t Actually Spawn the Upper Arm-Lift Craze

A new study seems to link Michelle Obama’s chiseled biceps to a 4,000 percent increase in upper-arm surgery in America in the last decade. But, Erin Cunningham reports, it’s not that simple.

While the first lady may be credited for the emergence of designers like Thom Browne and Jason Wu, and even for the recent popularity of bangs, the increase of upper-arm liposuction may not have much to do with her.

On Monday, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) reported a 4,473 percent increase in brachioplasties, or upper-arm lifts, since 2000. And as a result of its recent online poll, the ASPS also reported that the most desired upper arms by women belong to Michelle Obama.

The report made it sound as if the first lady’s chiseled biceps had—like her $3 billion-dollar effect on the fashion industry—inspired people to get upper-arm surgery. “Women Opting for Surgery to Get Michelle Obama’s Arms,” the Los Angeles Times reported. Vanity Fair put it: “Michelle Obama’s Arms Are More Coveted Than Jennifer Aniston.” And Glamour asked its readers: “Would You Have Plastic Surgery to Get Arms Like Michelle Obama’s?”

But while the ASPS reported that upper-arm lifts jumped more than 4,000 percent between 2000 and 2006 among women, Business Insider points out that, according to previous ASPS yearly reports, since 2007, “there have been only single-digit increases or decreases year-to-year for the cosmetic procedure.” Since the Obamas didn’t take Washington by storm until 2008, it’s unlikely that Michelle Obama can be thanked (or blamed) for the upper-arm sensation.

People take pictures, view them right away, and see those arms they want to hide.

“The rise of brachioplasty has actually occurred over the past decade. It’s a procedure that has been fairly popular all along,” says Dr. Matthew Schulman, who practices plastic surgery in New York City. He adds that the procedure hasn’t just gotten more popular since the Obamas have been in the White House. Still, “she has a very visible role, she’s out there on more mainstream television, and constantly wears sleeveless dresses,” Schulman says.

Perhaps because of the rise social media, the immediate awareness of one’s body type has created a more self-conscious audience, says Dr. Darrick E. Antell, assistant clinical professor of surgery at Columbia University. “People take pictures, view them right away, and see those arms they want to hide,” he says. “Michelle is sort of an icon, she’s stylish, and she’s typically photographed from the waist up.” Since mobile devices now have video and camera capabilities, the readiness with which images can be uploaded and viewed leaves one little time to prepare to confront one’s flaws.

Doctors point to widespread weight loss across the nation and advanced surgical technologies as the dominant factors that have contributed to the rise of brachioplasties—not Michelle Obama. As Antell explains, “People today are losing much more weight than in the past, which leads to an excess of loose skin.” The development of microliposuction, too, has made the upper-arm procedure less severe, the scar management less difficult, and the recovery time much faster. (Patients can be back to work as quickly as the span of a long weekend.)

Whether it be Megan Fox’s breasts, Jennifer Lopez’s behind, or yes, even these famous and talked-about upper arms, the plastic surgeons say it’s really less about wanting Michelle Obama’s body and more about wanting a body that makes it easier to dress like, and have the elegance of, Michelle Obama. Now that’s a true Obama effect.