Depending on who you ask, cosmetic surgery is either advancing or in retreat. On the one hand, it has become more socially acceptable and a lot of the stigma around cosmetic surgery has been removed. And on the other hand, people are starting to take a more natural and holistic approach to surgery and looking for non-surgical alternatives to going under the knife. This can be seen across a range of surgeries, not just those related to the face.
The at-home medical device industry is also having an impact on how we treat perceived imperfections. However, at the heart of all these changes there is one driving force that is encouraging people to look at themselves more critically and find faults. Social media has forced us all to turn the lens on ourselves, and many experts will tell you that selfie culture is a huge driving force behind the rise in cosmetic surgery uptake. To understand how this came to be, we have to first look at the history of social media.
The history of social media and cosmetic surgery
The link between cosmetic surgery and social media was first noticed around the time video calling burst onto the scene. Apps like Skype offered us a new perspective on our faces, and many people found that they didn’t like what they and other people saw.
The unflattering angle that many people make Skype and Face time calls from – below the chin looking up – led some people to the cosmetic surgeon’s office to ask about a facelift. As facelifts would traditionally leave a scar that is visible from this angle, surgeons were prompted to find a new method that would conceal the scar – at least on Skype calls. This was the start of digital devices having an impact on how we want to be perceived.
The celebrity effect
Celebrities like the Kardashians and other reality TV stars are the primary driving force behind the popularization for cosmetic surgery. In many ways, they have normalized it and brought it into our lives in a very invasive way. Young people can follow their lives on social media and they feel connected to them. Social media creates a level playing field between everyone, and if you have the will and the money, you can follow in your idol’s footsteps. Whether that means by buying the same clothing or getting the same surgery or cosmetic procedure.
Young people most at risk
The Kylie Jenner challenge offered the perfect example of how young people can be negatively influenced by social media. Although not directly linked to the star, the challenge was named after her as a result of her famous pout. Young people were then creating suction with a shot glass in an effort to make their lips swell to the same proportions as the reality TV star. This ended in disaster for some as the shot glasses can easily shatter leaving behind life-changing scars.
While she wasn’t directly responsible for this craze, it could be argued that she is indirectly responsible for it. By posting images of her new pout on social media and denying all claims that she’s had any cosmetic work done, she created room for speculation about how she had achieved this new look. Despite denying for a long time that she’d had any work done, it was later revealed that Jenner had lip fillers and other surgical procedures done. As she is very young, she has made it more acceptable for young girls to think about getting the same procedures.
The problem many surgeons face is that patients are coming to them with heavily augmented photos as a point of reference. While the burden is always on the surgeon to manage expectations of the patient, there are always some unscrupulous surgeons who will allow patients to go ahead with surgery knowing full well that they will not get the results they expect. And the reason they can’t get these results is that the results aren’t real. By basing their goals on a heavily filtered image, the patient is already set up for failure.
What can be done?
At a basic level, everyone would benefit from taking a step back from social media and learning to accept their bodies as they are. However, being unhappy with our appearances isn’t a new thing. Social media has just made it more prevalent and pushed it to the fore. The burden lands with cosmetic surgeons and non-surgical treatment providers to step up and be more responsible with how they market and administer treatment. Ensuring that patients have realistic expectations is essential to the success of a surgery and surgeons need to understand that there is an emotional side to surgery in addition to physically changing a person’s body.
Technology fights technology
One solution that can help to fight back against the heavily filtered images setting the benchmark for beauty is virtual reality. Some surgeons are already using this in their consultation procedure as it allows patients to see what they will actually look like after surgery. It works by scanning the body and creating a digital version which can then be altered to different specifications based on the different outcomes of surgeries. Patients can then step into a virtual room of mirrors and “try on” different surgical outcomes.
For breast augmentation patients, this can be essential to ensuring they don’t go too big or too small. Likewise, rhinoplasty patients can avoid follow-up surgery by having a better understanding of how their surgery will shape their face.
It’s important not to stigmatize cosmetic surgery again and dismiss people’s wishes based on their love for celebrity culture. Often, there are underlying emotional and mental issues that need to be addressed before surgery can be successful. By including virtual reality in the consultation process, surgeons are much more likely to get to the heart of their patient’s intentions and understand their motivations for going under the knife. Once a surgeon has achieved this, it doesn’t matter if they are following in the footsteps of their favourite celebrity, as their true intentions and motivations will become abundantly clear.
Rebecca Harper is a freelance writer and beauty trend spotter living in London. She works with a number of clinics, including Gary Ross, to identify trends in cosmetic surgery.