Plastic pictures: how is the ‘selfie generation’ changing cosmetic surgery?

9 October 2018 (Last Updated October 9th, 2018 11:11)

Every surgeon bears witness to different diseases of the human body, and their related behaviours. A cardiac surgeon sees people suffering from heart disease from their lifestyle choices, an orthopaedic surgeon sees joint and spine injuries from bad posture. But what do plastic surgeons see?

Plastic pictures: how is the ‘selfie generation’ changing cosmetic surgery?

Every surgeon bears witness to different diseases of the human body, and their related behaviours. A cardiac surgeon sees people suffering from heart disease from their lifestyle choices, an orthopaedic surgeon sees joint and spine injuries from bad posture. But what do plastic surgeons see?

Stereotypically, plastic surgery patients want to look more like their favourite stars. They want a stronger jaw, fuller lips, or a different nose. However, the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) has noticed a strange trend in recent years: people are bringing in photos of themselves.

The modern age is defined by the explosion of technology: first we had the internet, then stronger computers, but it can be argued that only when people were able to carry personal computers around in the form of smartphones that technology became truly inseparable from us. Now people are constantly using their phones, taking pictures of themselves, and sharing them with others. The term ‘selfie generation’ has a lot of truth to it. It’s been estimated that people are now looking at hundreds, if not thousands of times more photos of themselves than previously, due to the prevalence and importance of photos in the social media age.

What does this mean for us? People strongly motivated by selfies or social media spend a lot of time perfecting pictures of themselves; they look for the right angle, the right lighting to show off their best features. However, no amount of makeup or posing will change a weak jaw, or change an asymmetrical face. This is something that social media users have to face day after day. However, beauty apps give us a glimpse into who we could be. Many users will see an idealized version of themselves that they simply cannot achieve without the help of a plastic surgeon, and so they seek one out.

Last year alone, 55% of the surgeons of the AAFPRS have had a patient bring in a Photoshopped selfie of themselves as the goal of the surgery. This is a huge uptick of 42% from the year before, and the AAFPRS only expects this to grow.

Further compounding this is the growing number of celebrities, Instagram models, and social media influencers talking about their plastic procedures: how they’ve changed their looks for the better and how it has made them more confident and happier with themselves.

The problem with this is that a person will always have flaws, even if they’re purely imagined. No matter how beautiful a person is, there will be days where they don’t look their best. The solution is not to continue to find flaw with oneself but instead to accept, within reason, that looks can only be improved by so much. This constant aesthetic self-criticism has been informally dubbed ‘Snapchat dysmorphia’ and is a new and emergent part of an already documented psychological issue, body dysmorphia.

We should ask ourselves if this ubiquitous and constant use of selfies and beauty apps is healthy for ourselves as a society. Should we as people be constantly examining our each and every physical flaw, no matter how tiny? Even if we were able to prevent harm to those suffering from body dysmorphia, wouldn’t this constant self-analysis damage the self-confidence of the day-to-day social media user? Is this a technology that is helpful? Or harmful?