"Unrealistically perfect images" on social media influencing more and more teens to go under the knife
Experts told MEAWW that the amount of time a particular teen spends on social media has a huge impact on their propensity to opt for a cosmetic procedure at some point in time.
While we live in an age of selfies and constant social media sharing, there are a large number of teenagers who are undergoing cosmetic surgery to alter their appearance in a bid to somehow "fit in". Most teens believe that undergoing cosmetic surgery will improve their self-confidence, but does it really happen that way?
According to statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) about 229,000 cosmetic procedures were performed on patients aged 13 to 19 years in 2017 alone.
Various reports suggest that very few guidelines exist that ensure teen plastic surgeries are performed appropriately.
Moreover, in the current scenario, teenagers account for about four percent of all cosmetic surgery procedures, with the most common procedures being nose reshaping, male breast reduction and ear surgery. Adolescents, meanwhile, also account for a small percentage of total nonsurgical cosmetic procedures, such as laser hair removal, skin resurfacing and Botox injections.
While these procedures are frequently performed on adults with minimal side effects, higher levels of precision and caution need to be followed when the patients are adolescents or even teenagers. Most notable of the guidelines are age considerations, which vary based on each procedure and the growth and development of the area of the body being operated on.
Although today's social media-obsessed culture has contributed dramatically to a rise in plastic surgeries, teenagers seek them for a variety of reasons, ranging from addressing a health need to fixing a feature that has made them susceptible to bullying.
Mindy Erchull, a professor of Psychological Science at the University of Mary Washington, told MEA WorldWide that the answer to more and more teens opting for cosmetic surgeries lies in how these young kids perceive their own body image and their thought process built around it.
She says, "Girls and women are taught, in both explicit and implicit ways, that a great deal of their value comes from how they look. When women are perceived as 'attractive,' they receive social rewards and a great deal of positive feedback. However, societal beauty standards are narrow and largely unachievable, but women can and seek out many paths to help them get closer to meeting these standards."
But professor Erchull believes that cosmetic surgery might not always be the solution. "Surgery is a particularly costly path as insurance will rarely cover these types of elective procedures, so this is an option only a small group of financially privileged individuals actually have access to."
However, what exactly makes these young children feel so bad about their own body that they'd go to such length to get themselves 'fixed'?
Parents, peers and the power of the media are the biggest factors behind a young mind's understanding of their individual body image. "Parents, peers, and the media impact how women feel about their bodies and what they view as appropriate ways to intervene in regard to changing their appearance. Among young adults, peers and the media have been shown to be particularly impactful sources," explains Prof Erchull.
She further explained that celebrity influence is indeed a huge factor among teens resorting to cosmetic procedures. "People are more likely to engage in behaviors if they believe others approve of them. So if people believe their peers think undergoing elective cosmetic surgery procedures is a desirable path, they will likely be more open to doing so. Moreover, if they see their friends having these procedures, they are even more likely to seek them out themselves," she says.
Although the American Society of Plastic Surgeons emphasizes the importance of understanding a teen's motive for surgery and ensuring that every potential teenager undergoes a careful and extensive preoperative evaluation to ensure they are appropriate for the desired procedure, it is not always the case in real life. The emotional impact of cosmetic surgery is often far more than the monetary expense, and more so in the case of youngsters who go under the knife.
In both traditional and social media, young women frequently encounter carefully curated images of other women who meet the narrow beauty standards promoted by the media. However, a lot of women fail to realize that these images are often digitally manipulated to make women look thinner, have larger breasts, have smoother skin, etc.
And according to professor Erchull, this is where lies the crux of the problem. "When people spend a great deal of time on social media, it increases the odds of encountering these types of problematic images, and this contributes to body dissatisfaction. When people are dissatisfied with their bodies, they are more likely to engage in practices like disordered eating, (or) considering cosmetic surgery as a path for changing their appearance."
Dr. Anne Wilson, an expert on media & body image, seems to think that the amount of time a particular teen spends on social media has a huge impact on their propensity to opt for a cosmetic procedure at some point in time.
"(Although) Research is mixed with regard to whether screen time has negative mental health consequences, part of this may be because people use their devices in different ways," she says.
"Using social media for active social connection, for example, may not be harmful (or even positive); passively engaging in social media by scrolling through images of others who all appear to be more attractive, successful and happy than oneself is likely damaging."
So what's the best way out of it all?
Dr Wilson believes that the best way to combat the issue is to curb the evergrowing temptation to look flawless among teens, and to ensure that proper ethics are in place and followed by plastic surgeons whenever a teenage patient is involved.
She says, "Some people may adapt by deleting their social media accounts and engaging with people in real life. Others may simply choose to be more deliberate in their social media use - choosing to engage in ways that bring them joy, virtual community, and social connection, and choosing to avoid social media that produce dissatisfaction."
But a total disregard of plastic surgery as a whole is never going to be the answer to such problems. Dr Wilson iterates, "Not all plastic surgery is bad or unhealthy, and it's a choice people should have. But it's fair to critique the ethics of plastic surgeons if they target people who've been made vulnerable to body dissatisfaction through exposure to unrealistically perfect images. If it's not clear whether the problem is 'your face' or 'Instagram filters', why not take a hiatus from social media before deciding on a medical procedure?"