Updated: Oct 25, 2020
By Holly Shimabukuro
Mia Khalifa models post-rhinoplasty on her Instagram with over 21M followers
This summer, conversations regarding the effects of dishonesty on social media circulated after allegations of new lip fillers and photoshop surrounded Madison Beer’s TikTok and Instagram. Beer, who some say is the modern day “beauty standard,” has falsified these claims, yet a greater conversation remains. Amidst today’s perfect archetypes consisting of hourglass bodies, straight noses, and pouty lips, many teens are struggling to keep up with the unattainable physical expectations seen online. Without clear resolve, this draws attention to a greater topic in dispute: transparency concerning cosmetic surgery on influencers. Damaging stigmas encompass cosmetic surgery, often leading to dishonesty from celebrities about their procedures which ultimately perpetuates unrealistic ideals on impressionable bases. Those with large followings should be transparent with any body modifications, but this can only be expected once cosmetic surgery is de-stigmatized.
Before diving into this conversation, it is critical to distinguish between cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery. Often used interchangeably, the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery differentiates the two based on intent. Plastic surgery is the restoration of defects to rebuild a “normal function and appearance,” often in response to birth defects, trauma, disease, or burns. Contrastingly, cosmetic surgery is performed with the intent to enhance appearance through reconstruction or alteration to achieve a certain beauty aesthetic. Cosmetic surgery can be as considerable as liposuction or as minimal as botox. Now knowing the difference, this piece is focusing exclusively on cosmetic surgery.
Cosmetic surgery has been becoming more popular, as the number of minimally invasive operations has been steadily rising over the past five years in the US. In 2018, over 1.8 million US Americans had cosmetic surgery, a number raised by nearly a quarter million from the previous year. Even with the rise in numbers, negative connotations still surround these procedures.
Despite many dismissals of cosmetic surgery stigmas, negative perceptions regarding the procedural alterations of one’s appearance still uphold, causing it to remain a taboo subject. ‘All natural’ beauty is preferred, but often at the expense of those receiving cosmetic surgery who become labelled as “narcissistic” or “shallow.”
Historically, cosmetic surgery has widely been viewed as a costly practice for white and wealthy women, given the fact that these surgeries are not covered by insurance. With breast augmentations averaging around $4,000 –– excluding anesthesia, operating room expenses, and other unavoidable fees –– procedures like this are considered a luxury for most. As a result, recent movements embracing natural beauty have sparked largely in the BIPOC community.
All natural movements help many feel confident in their own skin, but these endeavors can quickly turn toxic. Of course, the goals of these movements are never intended on becoming malicious, for body positivity and self-confidence is the objective. However, cosmetic surgery is often looked down upon within these movements, as it opposes the ‘all natural’ narrative. While cosmetic surgery is mainly done to raise one’s confidence, this is often portrayed as the wrong type of body-embracement.
Harmful associations with cosmetic surgery can be seen on media sites and tabloids with frequent language that create an opposition towards these types of operations. Headlines that “expose” and “accuse” celebrities of getting work done sustain the taboo notions, as if cosmetic surgery is something to be ashamed of. Consequently, dishonesty regarding beautification procedures continues, feeding into the cycle.
In the sphere of celebrities and influencers, many have opinions against cosmetic surgery. Most reasons stem from all natural, self love sentiments, but others come from a place of animosity. Kristen Stewart in a 2015 Harper’s Bazaar Exclusive stamped cosmetic surgery as “vandalism,” adding the judgement that “the women who do are losing their minds,” fueling anti-surgery beliefs. These convictions make it harder for others to acknowledge these enhancements, once again sustaining unrealistic body and beauty standards.
When it comes to social media, effects of these unfeasible standards are amplified. Online, everything is posed but made to look candid. Without disclaimers reminding viewers about favorable angles, FaceTune, or cosmetic surgery, “ideal” body types are dangerously imprinted onto young people, who often compare themselves to this false reality.
A study of Social Media Use and Its Impact on Body Image by journalism and media expert Deanna Puglia’s found that “social media is a new avenue for individuals to engage in maladaptive body comparison processes, creating a need for health communication and behavior change interventions that address this issue, especially among vulnerable populations.”
Image via FHE Health.
Similarly, a Florida House Experience survey found that in 1,000 men and women, 65% of men compare their bodies to others on social media, with 37% of those comparing themselves unfavorably, and 87% of women compare their bodies to others on social media, with 50% of those comparing themselves unfavorably. Social media can often do more harm than good when it comes to the body image of impressionable teens. Without knowing if a certain influencer has had cosmetic surgery, young people will continue to compare themselves to surgically altered bodies with the misunderstanding that those bodies can be achieved naturally.
Concluding the dangers of social media and certain dishonesties, the cosmetic surgery loop has come full circle. Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with enhancing your physical appearance. If doing so makes you more confident and in love with your already beautiful body, by all means, do so. Confidence can be achieved in a variety of ways, none of which should be shamed. But it is important to remember that cosmetic surgery does not equate to insecurity. As Lady Gaga voiced, “promoting insecurity in the form of [cosmetic] surgery is infinitely more harmful than an artistic expression related to body modification.” Body positivity is about loving all bodies, including those with procedures.
Damaging stigmas must be ended, as cosmetic surgery is just a permanent version of any beauty enhancement, like shape-wear or makeup. In turn, celebrities should be more transparent with their bases, reminding all that their seemingly perfect faces and bodies were not achieved naturally, and cannot healthily be replicated. The heavily sought-after beauty standards will become recognized as unattainable without surgery, and previous societal expectations stemming solely from “natural beauty” will be dismantled.
In the end, openness from celebrities and knowing your worth is key. “Do not idolize the women you see on social media and base your self worth on comparisons that are unrealistic. If you’ve ever looked at my boobs and wished yours look like that, please remember mine are made out of the same material as the spatula in your kitchen drawer.” - Mia Khalifa
Written by writer Holly Shimabukuro