Life&Style Writer Hannah O’Reilly discusses the impact that social media has on opinions about plastic surgery
When I was younger, cosmetic surgery was alien. I saw it as an exclusive procedure, limited to the elite and wealthy in other worlds, like Los Angeles or Miami. I would see photographs of breast enlargements in magazines and gaze with curiosity and awe, but that was as far as it would go. I never saw women like this on the school playground or in Tesco, and it remained a distant idea for most of my life. Recently, however, the prevalence of social media means that images of plastic surgery are more common – specifically, before and after photographs of nose jobs and jaw reconstruction – and so the idea seems a lot less other-worldly than it once did. The types of surgery that people want is changing, as is the demographic – in 2017, there were 229,000 plastic surgeries performed on teens aged 13-19 – and so are our attitudes towards it. This increase in procedures comes from the constant competition in the social media sphere, and in our normal life, to look the best – the all-encompassing strive for perfection. The Instagram models fight for the best features, the most popularity – the prettier you are, the higher your following will be – the stakes are higher and the pressure is immense. So, if everyone else is taking it to the next level, then why don’t I as well?
Plastic surgery is a divisive topic, and there is no black and white answer to whether it is good or bad. For those who suffer from extreme insecurity and anxiety about their appearance, to whom a larger nose or less defined chin impacts their confidence in a serious way, it would be rude to deny them the ability to improve their way of life by having a simple procedure. In addition, breast reductions for medical reasons cannot really be argued with, but this is less of a cosmetic issue and more of a health reason, and so a different story. It’s unfair for anyone to take the upper ground and try and tell someone what to do with their money – if this is something you want to do, then it’s your decision and we are not ones to judge.
However, there is still a clear issue here, and it lies in particular with these before and after photographs we see on Instagram and Twitter. For someone who is perfectly happy with the way they look and has no problem with the shape of their nose, it is very easy for doubt to creep in when you see this ‘better’ image. Despite the lack of pre-existing anxieties about appearance, once the thought is planted in your head, it continues to grow, with the promise that this is what will make us happier. For as long as we can remember, the concept of advertising is to make you want what you don’t have and create a problem so it can be fixed, and this is exactly what these images are doing to us.
It stems from this strive for perfection again, this recurring trope in advertising for women to look better, prettier, younger. It places such emphasis on looks above anything else, and ultimately this pursuit of perfection is impossible, as the beauty ideals change and the idea of perfection is constantly dynamic. This is another issue we see with this plastic surgery phenomenon. It only reinforces this age-old problem that there is one image of beauty, with a certain shape body, a certain shape of jaw, nose, lip, and so on, and only by going through with plastic surgery can we achieve this. It’s damaging to all these girls out there who do not fit in this category, who look different – inherently, the world is telling us that because you don’t fit this mould then you are not allowed to be attractive, and of course that is all that matters. It’s shallow and bizarre, and plastic surgery creeping in is taking it to an extreme level.
This is not to say anyone who wants to change their appearance is shallow – to a certain degree, it’s something we all do with clothes and makeup, for example. But, like with anything, there is an extent, a level where it stops being healthy self-expression and becomes a serious problem. We are fed this myth that once you alter one element of your appearance, that will be the end of that. Of course, everyone is different, but for some a single change in the way you look may not be enough. It’s a slippery slope – once you notice one imperfection, you start seeing more and more and it has the potential to be an uncontrollable addiction. It’s so hard when we live in this paradox of be happy with the way you look – but before you can be truly comfortable, here a few ways you should change yourself. The normalisation of plastic surgery procedures only reinforces this unhealthy obsession with perfection, an ultimately unattainable goal, and this is slowly feeding into the minds of the younger generations. It’s so important to remember that there is much more to life than this, and these other-worldly women who look so perfect, do so for a reason.