Celebrities, models and seemingly “perfect people” are everywhere thanks to the internet and the advent of social media. They were once confined to television, films, music videos and magazines, but they now permeate every aspect of our lives. As a consequence, people are becoming increasingly image conscious and self-aware.
Seldom an hour goes by without a friend or acquaintance posting a selfie on social media, which may or may not have been altered with filters to make the picture more flattering. This may seem innocent enough, but it is difficult for those observing the relentless procession of images not to compare themselves to the person in the picture.
A study by researchers in the UK and United States shows a link between time spent on Facebook and poor body image. “It seems the longer you spend on social media, the greater your chance of finding fault with your face and body,” says cosmetic surgeon Ricardo Frati.
It is almost inevitable that the rapid rise of social media will lead to a more image-conscious society, especially in young people
The selfie has established itself as a form of self-expression since it boomed in popularity with the advent of smartphones with a front-facing camera in 2010. We are now more visible than ever with more than 65 per cent of the UK public owning smartphones and 31 million people in Britain using Facebook.
The trend has been derided by some as a form of narcissism, but while this is controversial, it is clear that selfies have influenced the numbers of those requesting non-surgical facial procedures and facial plastic surgery.
According to a new study by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), one in three facial plastic surgeons surveyed saw an increase in requests for procedures due to patients being more self-aware of looks in social media.
The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons noted similar trends in its 2013 annual audit, noting that anti-ageing procedures were popular for both sexes, with eyelid surgery up by 14 per cent, face and neck lifts up 13 per cent, fat transfer (where fat is injected into the face to add volume) up 15 per cent and brow lift surgery up by 17 per cent.
“Social media platforms which are solely image based, force patients to hold a microscope up to their own image and often look at it with a more self-critical eye than ever before,” says AAFPRS president Edward Farrior.
A survey by Dove also revealed that 55 per cent of 18 to 29-year-old women in the UK claim social media has made them more self-conscious about their appearance. Over half of women aged under 40 say receiving “likes” on the pictures they post online improves their confidence.
It is not just faces and body shapes that people want to change, however. The demand for hand treatments, in the form of chemical peels, laser resurfacing and fillers, to improve the appearance of the hands has increased, perhaps as a result of social media bombardment of images of women displaying their engagement rings on perfect hands.
The downside of all this is that social media bullying, often relating to appearance, is becoming increasingly prevalent. Harley Street doctor Vincent Wong says: “We are exposed to more and more images of unattainable beauty thanks to social media; our faces and bodies are under constant scrutiny. This level of exposure leaves us open to criticism and even bullying about our looks, which puts immense pressure on some people to go to great lengths to alter their appearance.”
There are tragic stories about young people, who had been bullied on social media because of their looks, some of whom took their own lives as a consequence.
Clinical psychologist Stefan Cano comments: “It is almost inevitable that the rapid rise of social media will lead to a more image-conscious society, especially in young people. The immediacy provided by the internet to be able to follow new trends and styles promoted by celebrity, coupled with the self-promotion engendered by sites like YouTube and Instagram, will no doubt lead to pressure for some people to feel like they need to fit a ‘type’.
“This will no doubt lead to more people wanting to change their appearance, especially if profile pictures or selfies attract lots of negative trolling comments.”
It follows, therefore, that there will be much more interest in cosmetic procedures as a consequence of this, which will result in increased pressure on clinicians and surgeons to meet unrealistic patient expectations, namely those who want “celebrity perfection”. It also means people will be vulnerable to exploitation from unscrupulous and unqualified practitioners.
Dr Cano concludes: “At the heart of this issue is the fact that people considering cosmetic procedures should have the best available information, and also access to support mechanisms for advice and guidance.”