Dr. York Yates

A state rich in plastic surgeons

It surprises many people, but studies have found that conservative, sober Utah shows the nation’s highest interest in breast implants, according to a plastic surgery marketing site realself.com. Forbes magazine, in 2007, went so far as to call Salt Lake City the “vainest” city in America because of its disproportionately high number of plastic surgeons for its population. Salt Lake has six plastic surgeons for every 100,000 residents, as compared to New York City’s four. Statewide, a 2010 survey found that the Beehive State as a whole came in at No. 8 for board-certified plastic surgeons, joining New York, California and Florida in the top 10. And during the recession, Utah’s plastic surgeons continued to prosper. (Hard numbers for Utah are difficult to break out because the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery lumps the state’s statistics under an eight-state region, which also includes California, Colorado and Arizona.) 

York Yates, a Layton plastic surgeon, says any surprises about Utahns’ enthusiastic embrace of cosmetic surgery or the state’s surfeit of highly-trained plastic surgeons says more about stereotypes of the heavily Mormon-influenced culture than reality. “People from the outside look at our conservative culture and think plastic surgery should be taboo here,” Yates says. “In fact, plastic surgery is more popular here than in many other parts of the country.” 

An openness to cosmetic work

Yates and his colleagues see something more subtle at work in Utah’s cosmetic surgery statistics. Because of Utah’s large Mormon population and generally conservative culture, women tend to get married young, have more babies early and in more rapid succession than women elsewhere.

“And they are done having their kids earlier,” says Yates, whose practice is mostly Mormon patients. “So you have the recipe of a young mother who is done having kids. You have a fairly affluent population. And then you add to that an openness about discussing plastic surgery.”

Utah women, especially Mormons, Yates says, tend to share their lives, including plastic surgery, with family and members in their local wards. He’s not sure exactly why they’re so frank. “My patients are really open and honest with their family and friends about the things they have done. They share and compare. It’s openly talked about.”

“You do a good service for one or two women within a ward, and pretty soon you see four or five more from that same ward or neighborhood,” Yates says. “Clearly, they are open and talking about it.”

‘Restoration’ not vanity

Stereotypes about the goals of cosmetic surgery itself also crumble in Utah. It’s not about sexy breasts or perfection through elaborate facial work. “The patients I see aren’t interested in being ‘done’ looking or tasteless,” says Yates. “They see the surgery as restorative. It’s young mothers who want their bodies back.”

Renato Saltz, a Salt Lake plastic surgeon, observes that, based on his practice, Utah’s conservative population nevertheless cares deeply about physical appearance. “Utah has some of the most beautiful people in the world, and they like to remain beautiful as they grow older.”

Saltz, who taught medicine at the University of Utah before going into private practice, says that while the number of Utah men interested in cosmetic work is lower than the national average, young mothers are much more open to it than average because of their relative youth and the support of friends and family. “Pregnancy really damages parts of the body, including stretch marks,” he says. “It is a direct result of repeated pregnancies —the tissues don’t get a chance to recover.”

Not surprisingly, plastic surgeons in Utah tend to be as conservative about their work as their patients. “I don’t like any ‘adventures.’ We screen our patients very well,” says Saltz. “My patients are in their 30s and 40s—it’s a mature population. They have real expectations. We don’t get many who say, ‘I want to look like Jennifer Lopez or Angelina Jolie.’ We take it seriously when they are looking for the wrong [self-image] solutions. Sometimes you just have to say no.”

Yates agrees. “I’m not a flamboyant type of guy. I’m here for a reason. I like normal.”

Another advantage of Utah’s young mommies is that they tend to be healthy and fit, allowing them to get their mommy makeover in one shot. “The patients are healthy,” Saltz says.” Good candidates for combined procedures.” 

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