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Is The Rise In Surgical Procedures The Result Of Social Media Anxiety?

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Thankfully, I can (just about) remember life before social media. I joined Facebook a decade ago when I was 17, soon after it first caught on in the UK in 2006, but before that I had been similarly hooked to Bebo and Myspace – may they rest in peace. With that said, I can fondly reflect on a time in my early teens when I'd go into school on Monday and animatedly discuss with friends what we had all done over the weekend. In those innocent bygone days, there was no incessant social media stream or live posts updating us real time on what everyone we knew (and didn’t know) had been up to.

Now, we share every aspect of our existence with friends and strangers, constantly seeking validation and praise with images and messages broadcasting the shiniest version of our lives. Whether it’s a picture of our perfect porridge, a yoga pose, holiday snaps, an #ootd, a smug couple upload, a proposal or a filtered-to-fuck selfie, we are tirelessly gloating with curated images that are more often than not far removed from the reality of day-to-day living.

I’ll be the first to admit that if my selfie is not solid, it will not see the light of day, and I wait patiently, sometimes anxiously, for likes to flood in (or more likely ebb slowly) once posted.

Surely, these false ideals we’re inundated with and contributing to on social media and the subsequent pressure to constantly be camera-ready is having an alarming impact on Generation Y? Yes, celebrities have always been primped and preened to perfection, but now we can stalk their every move, buy their lipgloss, their clothing line, their hair extensions and undergo casual surgery to look like them. Even our friends, with the help of some good lighting, apps, contouring, filters and/or fillers, can look just as good – if not better. For someone who doesn't consider themselves to be particularly vain – nor am I an impressionable teen – I’ll be the first to admit that if my selfie or upload is not solid, it will not see the light of day, and I wait patiently, sometimes anxiously, for likes to flood in (or more likely ebb slowly) once posted.

New statistics published by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons in February 2016, reveal that a record number of over 15,000 Britons underwent cosmetic surgery in 2015, with the number of cosmetic operations growing by 13% overall since 2014. These facts and figures are especially interesting when we take into account the findings from a new survey on social media habits by Privilege Home Insurance, carried out by Opinium, which revealed that 6.9 million Brits or one in five social media users feel dejected when looking at posts online. The report also revealed that one in ten feel embarrassed if a post doesn’t receive enough likes, favourites, retweets or comments and the same percentage of people have even gone as far as deleting a post if it hasn’t received any interactions; a statistic that worryingly doubles amongst 18-34 year olds.

When it comes to posting personal photos on social media, 18% admitted that they only post a photo of them and friends if they look good in it, while 7% said they have never put a photo up of themselves without retouching it or filtering it first. Is our constant search for validation and gratification via social media leading more and more people to perfect and alter their appearance IRL? It seems so.

Women's cosmetic surgery rose 12.5% from 2014, and while breast augmentation continues to remain the most popular procedure for women (up 12% from 2014), reportedly, the oversized, spherical 'Jordan' look once associated with implants is no longer popular, as surgeons note patients now prefer more natural, proportionate enhancement.
Consultant plastic surgeon and BAAPS President Michael Cadier explains: “There’s no doubt that we are seeing an increase in demand for cosmetic surgery from both men and women. Whether this is inspired by celebrity culture and a recognition that the results of modern aesthetic procedures in the right hands can be subtle, natural-looking and attractive, what is most important is for patients to remember that surgery is on the whole life-changing and irreversible – far from a trivial ‘status symbol’ beauty treatment. The decision to undergo surgery must be well thought-out, with managed expectations, understanding the risks through fully informed consent and – most importantly – choosing the right specialist provider who is properly trained and accredited.”

Consultant plastic surgeon and former BAAPS President Douglas McGeorge agrees in part telling us: “I don’t actually think [young people] copy celebrities, I think the fact that the celebrities get talked about in the news so much and cosmetic surgery gets talked about just desensitises people to the idea of having aesthetic procedures so they don’t feel as concerned about having surgery as they might have in the past. It doesn’t normalise it, it just means that the barriers that were historically present have been lowered so more people would consider it i.e. there’s nothing wrong in having an aesthetic procedure. If you go back a generation, there was almost a guilt attached to having an aesthetic procedure, whereas now, if you have a problem, we know that medicine can address it; we know that the techniques are tried and tested and we know that the results are predictable and the complications are few.”

Someone who may know a fair bit about cosmetic procedures is Kylie Jenner, one of the most influential and examined people in the world with 58 million followers on Instagram. And she’s just 18. The globally-worshipped teen has undergone a drastic transformation in the past couple of years, reportedly having numerous procedures to alter her lips, face shape and bum, not to mention hair and lash extensions and a mask of makeup. Kylie clones can be seen everywhere, from the 13-year-old girl with the over-lined lips on the tube opposite you, to your colleague’s contour. Her influence is unparalleled.

In the latest issue of PAPER magazine, out this week and aptly titled 'YOUth', cover star Kylie makes reference to her unrivalled influence explaining: "It's really crazy. I never really think about it until I'll do a hair colour and then I'll see all my fans in the same hair colour. It's just crazy how much influence I have. It's cool.”
Cool or not, it's inescapable. But UK teen beauty blogger Emily Canham (with 372,000 Instagram followers herself) is insistent that young celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Bella Hadid, their social media presence and polished perfection, don’t have a direct impact on her self-esteem. "I think my generation, and those younger, are more obsessed with how they look than ever before. Yet I'm more than happy to go out makeup free. I don't feel the pressure to look 'camera ready' all the time as that's simply not realistic for me! Yes, I do think people are influenced by Kylie Jenner but I don't think anyone would spend money and go through surgery purely because she did it, it has to be for them. I have no issue with cosmetic procedures as long as you're doing it for the correct reason: for you. I think there is negativity around the subject because people are uneducated about it. At the end of the day, if you can afford it without it impacting negatively on your life and you've taken all the correct steps, then I'd say go for it."

Dr. Douglas McGeorge is adamant that though surgery is rising, the number of teenagers actually undergoing procedures is no greater than it has been. "With social media there’s a lot of talk about it but there isn’t necessarily a huge amount of activity [amongst young people.] There’s this myth that lots of 16-year-olds are having breast augmentations but this just isn’t the case. Only occasionally will you see a youngster who is below 18 coming and asking for a breast augmentation. The most common procedures amongst young girls are people who have a significant problem with their nose, prominent moles and prominent ears."

Perhaps we ought to wait for next year's results to see the true Kylie/Kardashian effect and the long-lasting implications of social media on the next generation's self-esteem but until then, feel free to follow me on Insta and give my selfies some love.
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