Russian lips. The fox-eye lift. The non-surgical nose job. As we enter further into the 2020s, the names of these trending cosmetic procedures are becoming as commonplace as different types of handbags. As recently as 2015, plastic surgeons in the UK were reporting an almost doubling in the number of women – and in particular, young women – seeking to surgically tweak their appearances.
The explanation? According to contemporary studies, celebrities, more accessible than ever through the of platforms such as Instagram, were reported as an influence in women’s cosmetic surgery choices by a staggering ninety-seven percent of surgeons. Now, with further studies showing that the effects of lockdown having had a negative impact on how we view our appearances, a new, unmoderated kind of social media content has become extremely popular – plastic surgery call-out videos.
Over the past two years, many content creators have been steadily garnering millions of views on their videos assessing the likely procedures undergone by actresses, singers and Instagram models alike. These include popular YouTubers such as board-certified plastic surgeon, Anthony Youn, who boasts 3.15 million subscribers, and unqualified, surgery enthusiast, Lorry Hill, whose videos regularly amass hundreds of thousands of hits. Often the videos will begin with a caveat over how the content is mere speculation (to avoid getting sued), before proceeding to compare before and after photos of a celebrity of intrigue. Indicative of the target audience, typical subjects for analysis are the faces of young, female pop culture icons, such as Ariana Grande, Madison Beer and K-Pop star, Lisa Manoban.
With our increased awareness over these procedures, and their new accessibility, it isn’t difficult to imagine why young women find the thought of image-based sleuthing so appealing. The idea of the impossible-seeming beauty of these celebrities being attainable – in a world where up to fifty percent of women compare their bodies unfavourably to those they see on social media – is as comforting as it is encouraging. Based on this idea, the creators of these videos would argue that what they are putting out onto youth-dominated platforms is helpful. They provide information on different procedures, while occasionally even advising their audience against more dangerous surgeries. Generally, their aim is not to shame those who wish to artificially enhance themselves, but rather to educate people on both the risks and the results. In the words of Lorry Hill, the goal of her channel is to “lift the veil of secrecy that surrounds plastic surgery, because everyone deserves to feel beautiful.”
But do these kinds of videos really make us feel beautiful? Or are they simply adding fuel to an already raging fire? In a 2021 study published by the University of South Florida, the effects that plastic surgery content on TikTok had on viewers was analysed. It was found that while content on the subject produced by those who had undergone the procedures – such as models and influencers – had an overall negative impact on the viewer’s self-image, that videos produced by surgeons – such as Anthony Youn – actually had a positive effect, in that they were able to moderate the intent behind those who might be considering a procedure themselves.
That would initially appear difficult to argue against. “This actually makes me feel better of myself, most people who are called “perfect” have most likely had something done.” One of the top comments on Lorry Hill’s most-viewed YouTube video, the statement is endorsed by thousands of replies from empathic individuals. Similar comments express frustration that celebrities do not disclose or admit to these surgeries, when they have spent so long comparing themselves to what they now believe are artificial features.
There is, however, one glaring issue. There is no way to verify the information that these creators are giving. Of course, the creators do not claim to know the exact surgeries that the celebrities have had done – yet they continue to speak authoritatively on the subject to a young and impressionable audience. Particularly, when this information is coming from an individual with medical credentials, their speculation is easily taken as fact.
For example, when watching two separate videos on Ariana Grande, Anthony Youn will have you believing that her nose is entirely natural, while Lorry Hill speculates that the pop sensation has spent upwards of fifty-thousand dollars on cosmetic work, including a rhinoplasty. Aside from potentially giving those who are considering undergoing these procedures false expectations, they also leave these celebrities open to undue harassment from women who now believe that their secret procedures have been personally responsible for their self esteem issues.
A prominent case of this is the singer and songwriter, Madison Beer, whose rise to fame has come with the caveat of an enormous amount of attention being placed upon her looks. Since appearing in the public eye, the twenty-two-year-old has been plagued by incessant plastic surgery rumours. Articles dating back to as early as 2015 can be found dissecting the then-teenaged star’s alleged procedures, while the singer has taken to TikTok multiple times to deny the relentless rumours. Several months ago, on top of other criticisms, the singer claimed that she has been “bullied, discredited, attacked and made fun of every day of my life since I was 12,” which has resulted in her suffering from mental health issues. While many continue to brush aside her pleas as a deflection, it is clear that in lieu of her mental distress, the issue of whether celebrities such as Madison are lying about their alleged procedures is no longer the point.
Though they wield a considerable amount of influence, public figures, with their own myriad of esteem issues, are not responsible for how we as individuals regulate our own self-image. The decisions of those who undergo cosmetic surgery, and who choose to disclose it, are those of the individual alone. Studies have shown that looking at these images on social media can be harmful. It has also been demonstrated that surgeon-verified information on cosmetic procedures can be beneficial. However, the mental health benefits of watching dubious analytical content, whose argued raison d’etre is formulated on those two facts, remains uncertain. Though viewers may find these videos to be a quick fix in terms of moderating their self-esteem, the problem remains that there will always be images to compare ourselves to. Natural, injected, photoshopped. Never before have we been undulated with so many examples of how we should look, and never before have we been presented with so much information on how we might achieve it.
It is easy to forget that our social media usage is something that we need to be educated on in terms of its potential to warp not only our self-perception but also how we view those around us. According to Jigsaw, an Irish platform dedicated to providing mental health aid to young people, the key to keeping your self-esteem healthy despite the onslaught of perfected online images is firstly to regulate who you follow. If your feed is filled with models, influencers and actresses, it may be time to filter out at least some of their content, or replace it with people who promote a more natural image. The second is simply to spend less time looking at social media. Though the trend for cosmetic enhancement is growing, most of the women around us still remain un-enhanced.
In an ideal world, celebrities would share what procedures they have had done freely. However, speculating, harassing and bullying them over it has only the potential result of undermining their mental health – and, ultimately, at the cost of little benefit to our own.