Celebrities used to be the ones who primarily got it, but now, more and more everyday people are getting it. What is it? Plastic surgery. Also, the volume of younger people getting is increasing significantly. Why? Does the rise in plastic surgery cases mean that we’re too focused on it?

We all have things that we don’t like or would change about our appearance. For many individuals, this means seeking out a surgical procedure to correct it. The idea of reconstructive surgery isn’t new. In fact, it dates back all the way to 400 B.C.E. in India; you could actually get skin grafts and noses mended. The ancient Romans would do surgery on mangled faces and ears. Cosmetic plastic surgery is when someone changes their appearance for aesthetic rather than medical reasons. It ranges from non-invasive procedures to invasive procedures.

While the concept isn’t new, our society has shifted its focus to size acceptance, body positivity, and fat activism. Despite this change, the number of people getting cosmetic procedures has risen steadily over the past five years. Data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) indicates that nearly a quarter million more cosmetic procedures were performed in 2018 than in 2017, with an estimated $16 billion spent in 2018 alone.

According to the ASPS, the top five surgical procedures were breast augmentation, liposuction, nose reshaping, eyelid surgery, and tummy tuck. The number of minimally invasive procedures also increased in 2018, with the most popular being Botox, fillers, chemical peel, laser hair removal, and microdermabrasion.

Why are Cosmetic Procedures on the Rise?

When you look at American culture, it’s easy to see why plastic surgery is such a big part of it. Movies and TV shows star beautiful people, cultivating and promoting the idea of perfection. This concept of beauty skews our thoughts on how we should look. Not only do we admire celebrities and social media stars, but we envy them and want to look like them. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize there’s no such thing as a perfect body or face. Instead, we often feel deeply insecure about our looks. People feel self-conscious about the most minor things.

The majority of surgeons surveyed (97%) say celebrities influence facial plastic surgery. Cell phones, selfies, and social media platforms have contributed to this desire for plastic surgery. On social media, you’re constantly seeing your face, which has enticed people to plastic surgery to correct things they don’t like. Many people share on social media the cosmetic work they pursue. This has helped to make it less taboo and more mainstream.

Another element contributing to the rise of plastic surgery is that many individuals see cosmetic surgery as a form of self-care. Millennials can be credited for owning this self-improvement concept. In a 2018 report from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), facial plastic surgeons have noticed a 72% increase in patients under 30 years old. Five years before, the number was only 58%. The study suggests that millennials have increased the demand for plastic surgery procedures because they’re fixated on self-care and growing up with social media.

The survey found that more patients were selecting preventative, cosmetic procedures, so they stay looking young. According to the report, the trends are moving away from “overly-enhanced looks” to more natural appearances. When it comes to gender, women are still the most common patients, with 86% of procedures being performed on them. The millennials’ attitude of not hiding cosmetic procedures has helped Gen Xers, and baby boomers feel that they don’t have to either.

Cosmetic procedures, both surgical and nonsurgical, have become more affordable. This is for a couple of reasons. The first is technology has helped the industry become safer and more reliable. Nonsurgical treatments are rapidly evolving. For instance, lasers didn’t exist ten years ago but are now used for various procedures. Another example, Botox used to be the only option for wrinkle removal. Currently, there are four others as well.

The second cause is there are many different financing options, such as medical credit cards, personal loans, and payment plans offered by doctor’s offices. Health insurance usually only covers cosmetic procedures if it’s for a medical reason. Botox is an excellent example of this because it has been shown to help with conditions like chronic migraines, excessive sweating, Bell’s palsy, and major depression. Some women choose a breast reduction to get relief from back problems.

A 2019 survey by RealSelf/Harris Poll suggested the top motives for those who’ve had or are thinking about a cosmetic treatment are “to improve self-esteem/confidence” and “to look as good as I feel.” That was the same regardless of if it was a surgical or non-surgical procedure. This became especially clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. With many people having to work remotely because of lockdowns, it has meant hours of staring at our faces on video calls. Many of us have started to analyze/criticize our appearances more, especially our faces. However, not only are you staring at your face, but you’re also looking at other people’s faces and comparing the two side-by-side in real time.

Another part of the lockdown is that people have more time to think and research treatments, and lockdown makes it easy for people to stay home while healing. If they do go out in public, they can conceal their face behind a mask. A survey from the ASPS revealed 64% of cosmetic surgeons have seen an increase in virtual consultations since the start of the pandemic. It’s being referred to as the ‘Zoom Boom.’ It’s important to remember that the version of ourselves we see on our screens is deceiving because the angle, lighting, and limitations of the camera can distort features, causing you to look very different from how you do when you look in a mirror.

Cosmetic Surgery Concerns

Cosmetic procedures don’t come without risk, especially if you have multiple surgeries. As a result, plastic surgeons perform careful assessments to determine if undergoing surgery is safe or even possible. Unfortunately, when they refuse to do a procedure, some individuals take matters into their own hands. This can mean finding a less qualified doctor that will consent to operating or even perform “surgery” on themselves.

It is possible to become addicted to cosmetic surgery. It falls into the category of process or behavioral addiction, meaning a person is addicted to a specific behavior despite knowing the negative consequences. This means plastic surgery addicts experience a mental obsession with altering their face and body. Typically, this comes from underlying insecurities and the desire to look a certain way that fits their idea or society’s idea of beauty. No amount of cosmetic surgery will satisfy or equate to the picture of perfection the individual has in their head. Psychologists are worried that as plastic surgery becomes more common and affordable, rates of addiction to it will rise as well.

The process of addiction is often precipitated by body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). It was first introduced in the revised third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1987 and is a rare psychiatric condition (affecting about 1 – 2% of the general population, but 7 – 12% of those seeking plastic surgery). It’s described by persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or small defect in one’s appearance. The level of distress individuals experience regarding their appearance is vastly out of proportion to any actual physical fault. The severity of the condition varies.

Not only do these individuals obsessively think about their appearances in negative ways, but they also participate in obsessive-compulsive behaviors, such as mirror gazing, comparing personal features, skin picking, reassurance-seeking, and even “self-surgery” practices. Unfortunately, surgery doesn’t resolve the disorder; in fact, it actually leaves the person off worse than before because they usually have unrealistic expectations about the outcomes and suffer the pain and inconvenience of surgery without receiving the results they want.

BDD can create a downward spiral for these individuals to the point where 30 – 50% try to commit suicide. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has proven to be highly effective in treating both plastic surgery addiction and body dysmorphic disorder by helping individuals see themselves more realistically.

Some psychologists are concerned about the psychological impact on those who undergo cosmetic surgery and those who don’t. An analysis of 37 studies on patients’ psychological and psychosocial functioning before and after cosmetic surgery implies positive outcomes in patients, including improvements in body image and quality-of-life boost. However, the same research also found several predictors of poor outcomes, especially if individuals have unrealistic expectations or have a history of depression and anxiety.

The researchers found that patients who are dissatisfied with surgery may request repeat procedures or experience depression and adjustment problems, social isolation, family problems, self-destructive behaviors, and anger. Further study into all of these areas is going to be critical. Researchers suggest studies that try to answer the following questions: Does plastic surgery make patients feel better by improving their self-esteem, quality of life, self-confidence, and interpersonal relationships?

Psychologists will most likely play an increasing role in the plastic surgery industry by conducting pre- and post-surgical patient assessments. For example, before surgery, psychologists can talk with patients about their appearance concerns and what makes someone a good or bad candidate for cosmetic surgery.

Surgeons can refer patients to mental health professionals, who can help determine a patient’s internal motivations for the surgery. Are they doing it for themselves or out of pressure from a romantic partner or friend? It’s essential to make sure the individual has realistic expectations about the procedures, and they aren’t expecting the surgery to end enduring personal issues. Psychotherapy and counseling help identify and deal with any underlining self-esteem issues.

Tips if You’re Considering Cosmetic Treatment

There are several things you should think about before getting plastic surgery. The first, and most important, is to ask yourself, “Why?” When answering, you need to be honest with yourself. The goal should be to make you feel better about yourself. It shouldn’t be about impressing someone else or making someone else happy.

The next essential thing is finding a reputable doctor who’s board certified. They should tell you what is best for you, not what is best for them. When describing what you want to be done, be specific about what you want to be different. Don’t assume the surgeon will know what you mean by “better skin” or “smaller breasts.” You must also be realistic in your expectations. Plastic surgery isn’t magic!

Many doctors warn the under-30 set not to overdo it because it could make you look older later. Their suggestions instead are sunblock, vitamin C, eating healthy, exercising, and not smoking. Doing these can also lead to self-empowerment and confidence on their own.

Is plastic surgery worth it? It depends on the situation. The value comes from what you take away mentally from the surgery. Do you feel more confident because you’re less self-conscious about your appearance? For most people, it only takes one or two procedures to be satisfied with the results. While there’s no limit to the number of cosmetic procedures you can have in a lifetime, keep in mind that fixing small, insignificant things can be unnecessary. Each one of us is unique, and we should embrace it!