Last year, plastic surgeons performed more than 14.9 million surgical and 18.8 million non-surgical procedures worldwide, according to The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS).
Humanity has long had an obsession with beauty ideals — the evidence is there throughout history, from Ancient Egypt to Marie Antoinette to the fashionistas that defined the 20th century. The desire to physically alter our appearance followed suit. The first recorded facelift was performed just after the turn of the century in 1901.
Many even risk their lives for beauty — famous opera singer Dame Nellie Melba died of an infection related to her facelift surgery in 1931. Thankfully, surgery techniques have improved dramatically since then.
Until recently, cosmetic operations were often considered taboo, and many kept their procedures under wraps for fear of what society might say.
However, with the rise of social media, people openly accept plastic surgery as a standard beauty procedure. More people are flocking to get those nips and tucks that make them appear younger, thinner, or more idealistic.
In fact, the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reports a continuing rise in aesthetic surgery with a 41.3% increase over the last four years.
The Digital Beauty Ideal
Content creators and influencers on social media apps like TikTok and Instagram are notorious for using filters. Many are upfront about it, often showing what they look like without the enhancements. Very few individuals have flawless skin, symmetrical features, and ideal body proportions.
“Social media influences people's perceptions of their self-image because the platforms make it easy to compare looks and lifestyles,” says LaToyia Downs, a travel writer and influencer. “Influencers only show the ‘positive' aspect of their daily lives, leading people to think they have a dream life and are always put together.”
Both mental health professionals and plastic surgeons agree that after discussion with their patients, the evidence suggests digitally enhanced images lead to redefinitions of beauty norms, impacting an individual's self-esteem. “Social media platforms have become a breeding ground for comparison and self-evaluation, often promoting unrealistic beauty standards,” says Utah plastic surgeon Dr. Jerry Chidester.
Influencer Culture and Aspirational Content
What is popular has always shaped beauty ideals, and the advent of social media brings a constant stream of almost instantaneous content any time users pick up their phones. “Unlike traditional media, social media encourages user-generated content, allowing individuals to engage directly with these trends and ideals,” says Dr. Chidester.
Dr. Aaron Gilson, a plastic surgeon in Oregon, says, “Influencers definitely have an impact not only on what people identify as beautiful but also on how to achieve that result.” For example, Dr. Gilson mentions a trend known as Barbie Botox or Trap Tox. This procedure uses botox injected into the trapezius in order to make the neck appear longer. Surgeries have noticed a surge in this procedure brought on by influencers. “In promoting procedures or body enhancements as normal, or even expected, influencers can directly shape the perception of beauty and what it takes to obtain that ideal.”
Generational Trends and Cultural Influences
TikTok —the current leader in short-form video social media — has an audience of approximately 135 million U.S. users. Of those, 25% are under 20, and only 11% are over 50. Most users range from 21 to 49. Dr. Gilson points out that one study demonstrated that millennials utilized social media to research breast augmentation more than any other age group.
Extensive studies have been carried out to examine the effects of advertising on body image. It's easy to understand how social media, loaded with person-to-person advertising, can affect and sway an audience. This effect is particularly relevant for a young audience in the process of discovering their self-identity.
Clinical Psychologist Aura De Los Santos says, “Social media strongly impacts people's perception of themselves. Many women are looking for images on social networks of other people as a reference for plastic surgery. Younger generations are being influenced more than previous generations because years and possibly decades ago, social media and technology, in general, were not as directly a part of our lives as it is now.”
The Psychological Impact
The continuous use of social media has influenced many individuals' mental health. Studies show it elevates stress, anxiety, and even depression. Social media also shapes people's self-perception, leading them to make unfavorable comparisons with others. Often this fosters a desire to emulate the images, equating being attractive to being happy.
“Social media is the place many people take to compare their lives. They compare their bodies, clothes, what they have and feel bad as they lack more,” says De Los Santos. “Those with body dysmorphic disorder may suffer from comparing their bodies to what they see on social media. They constantly criticize themselves, focusing on their flaws.”
On the other hand, Dr. Chidester believes some males and females are discovering procedures to enhance their self-confidence and address long-standing issues that may have been affecting their self-perception and mental health. “It wasn’t until the introduction of these platforms and people’s willingness to share their plastic surgery journeys that people were even aware of the full spectrum of what plastic surgery has to offer,” he says.
Balancing Authenticity and Aspiration
De Los Santos says that some individuals on social media lack confidence in their appearance, and only post pictures if they apply filters. Similarly, some individuals prefer not to go out without makeup, uneasy about their natural looks. Consistently relying on filters due to insecurities may eventually drive people to consider permanent modifications in order to see their preferred image reflected when they gaze in the mirror.
“Filtered photos promote unrealistic alterations like changing skin texture, skin complexion, slimming the jaw, widening and brightening the eyes, and moving the eyes further apart,” explains Dr. Gilson. “These photos appear over and over; they can become perceived as normal to an individual whose feed is filled with filter-manipulated photos and videos. I've counseled many patients that what they describe, or the photo they use to demonstrate their desired results, is unrealistic and cannot be safely achieved.”
Responsibility of Content Creators and Social Media Users
Content creators have a duty to their viewers to be aware of these issues and create material that addresses these topics, listing risks, details of the procedure, and the effect on people's mental health. It's also essential that social media users take responsibility and make sure their sources and the influencers they view are reputable — just because someone has millions of viewers doesn't make them an accredited resource.
In addition, Dr. Gilson says, “Influencers and creators can begin creating content that is more honest to real life. This can be done by forgoing filters and digital enhancements, providing behind-the-scenes information, providing honest portrayals of plastic surgery and aesthetic medicine, and minimizing targeting minors and susceptible audiences.”
As an alternative, De Los Santos suggests that the balance lies in individuals embracing life beyond social platforms, placing less emphasis on crafting an external image for others and prioritizing vital aspects like living fully, spending time with loved ones, and ultimately taking care of emotional well-being.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
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Ree Winter is a versatile journalist hailing from Australia and now making New Orleans her home. Ree's passion for solo travel shines through as she expertly tracks down fantastic flight deals and accommodations, sharing her extensive travel experiences with readers. With a Master's degree in Journalism and a Bachelor's degree featuring double majors in history and literature, she brings a unique blend of skills to her work. Ree's historical expertise extends to the world of architectural history, where she has worked as a tour guide in historic house museums. But her journey doesn't stop there; she's even delved into the art of coffee as a barista, running a coffee van at events and markets, making her a genuine connoisseur of coffee preparation. Today, Ree channels her insights and expertise into sharing these topics with readers at Wealth of Geeks.