Is Cyberbullying Behind Gen Z's Surge in Cosmetic Surgery?
Is Cyberbullying Behind the Rise in Cosmetic Surgery?
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Matthew Kelly
"Felt cute, might delete later." It's the perfect adage for the racked emotions that come with putting yourself out there on the internet — an anxiety that many young people have grown up with. It's no secret that combining social media with the general insecurities of adolescence creates a perfect storm for psychological stress, which has only increased in the last 10 years. Platforms continue to sprout cyberbullies and unrealistic beauty standards, and the ripple effects are now entering the offices of plastic surgeons.
According to a 2017 study published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, "adolescent bullying may be a key driver of interest in cosmetic surgery." In the group of almost 2,800 participants ages 11 to 16 who experienced bullying, 11 percent expressed a desire for plastic surgery — especially among girls.
Recently, TikToker Audrey Peters shared how negative comments amplified insecurities around what she called a double chin, ultimately contributing to her decision to go under the knife. "Obviously, commentary on the internet is super f*cking brutal. And everyone would be like, 'Stop shopping and get your double chin removed,'" Peters said in an interview with the New York Post. But Peters's choice to speak candidly about what was done and why offers both transparency and inspiration.
Best thing I ever did ILY @Elite Body Sculpture #plasticsurgery #liposuction #beforeandafter #doublechin #jawline #surgery #jawlinereduction♬ original sound - malibugabe
Millions of users have taken to TikTok to show off their liquid nose jobs and chin liposuction — creating cosmetic trends along the way. Just a quick search of the hashtag #chinlipo will yield a whopping 60 million views. Surprisingly, the social media trend cycle can be beneficial.
"The sharing and transference of knowledge and patient experiences has helped destigmatize nonsurgical and surgical procedures," double-board-certified facial plastic surgeon Akshay Sanan, MD, tells POPSUGAR. "Patients are more educated than ever before coming in for their consultation."
Still, it also has downsides. "When procedures, surgical and nonsurgical, start trending online, they are often requested by patients," Dr. Sanan says. So while facial trends may fade in mere months, that bullhorn lip lift might not. Plus, not all treatments are one-size-fits-all. "My job is to understand patients' goals and to determine whether that look is really truly what the patient desires or if they are being influenced by trends or societal pressures."
Echoing this responsibility, board-certified dermatologic surgeon Jason Emer, MD, often refers to a lyric from Coldplay's song "Clocks": "Am I a part of the cure, or am I part of the disease?" Though Chris Martin's early-'00s sad jam probably isn't describing the moral dilemma faced by cosmetic providers, it does offer much-needed introspection.
"A patient that has a selfie that they want to look like is an issue, because it's an altered vision of themselves," Dr. Emer tells us. "But if someone has severe acne scars or a recessed chin and we're changing the entire dynamic of their face, it can change their whole life," he adds. Ensuring that patients are making the right decision for themselves in the long term, both physically and emotionally, can be aided by bringing a therapist into the mix — a service that many providers like Dr. Emer are now opting into.
Los Angeles-based therapist Stephanie Anyakwo, LMFT, who works with aesthetic clinics, agrees. "Providers can speak to patients about the benefits of therapy and the importance of addressing some areas of need in therapy prior to undergoing any cosmetic procedure," says Anyakwo, who notes that this doesn't need to put a wrench in your timeline, either. "There is a misconception that therapy has to be a lifelong process, and that is false. Plenty of therapists provide treatment on a short-term and as-needed basis." So even a one-off appointment before you commit to surgery can be helpful.
Anyakwo also stresses that "cosmetic surgery alone does not heal." If left untreated, the effects of cyberbullying and negative self-images can lead to anxiety, depression, and other stress-related conditions. "This is where going to therapy or seeking some sort of counseling has a true benefit with healing your emotions, behaviors, and thought process."