The filtered reality: How the social media ‘Like’ button is powering up the cosmetic surgeon’s scalpel

By Our Reporter
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Representational Photo by Getty Images. Licensed under the Unsplash+ License

When Kylie Jenner revealed her augmented lips, the world didn’t just watch; it made appointments at cosmetic clinics. The event underscored the phenomenal influence of social media, and it’s precisely this sway that a recent University of South Australia study sought to understand, especially its role in shaping young women’s attitudes toward cosmetic surgery.

The researchers discovered that women aged between 18 and 29 who are frequent users of social media platforms are more prone to self-judgement and are increasingly open to the idea of cosmetic surgery. Out of 238 participants, 16% had already had cosmetic procedures, and an astonishing 54% were open to getting some form of cosmetic surgery in the future. Only a mere 31% firmly stated they would never consider it.

But it’s not just about vanity or the desire for aesthetic perfection. According to Lauren Conboy, a UniSA researcher and PhD candidate, the findings of the study reveal a deeply troubling impact of social networking sites on the body image and self-compassion of young women. “The prevalence of body dissatisfaction among young women has long been a pervasive issue. With social media promoting unattainable beauty standards, it’s not surprising to see a spike in the number of young women opting for cosmetic surgeries,” she noted.

Self-compassion, a term that doesn’t get as much airtime as body confidence or self-esteem, is the act of accepting one’s flaws without harsh criticism. The study found a clear correlation between a high frequency of social media use and a negative sense of self-compassion. And a poor sense of self-compassion, it turns out, is a major predictor of positive attitudes toward cosmetic surgery.

Co-researcher Dr. John Mingoia stressed the importance of mitigating the consequences of this new form of peer pressure. “Social media platforms, owing to their massive reach, can serve as a tool for spreading more positive messages that could help counter harmful beauty standards,” he suggested. The point is underscored by another concerning statistic: Even after undergoing cosmetic surgery, less than 40% of women are actually happy with the results.

Medical professionals are advised to assess not just the physical suitability of young women for these procedures, but also their psychological readiness. “Before they go ‘under the knife,’ young women need to address the root of their body image concerns. Otherwise, they may end up in an endless cycle of surgeries without ever feeling content with their bodies,” warns Conboy.

In an era where beauty is increasingly manufactured and even outsourced, the study serves as a timely wake-up call. Cosmetic surgery numbers have nearly doubled in less than a decade, from 117,000 in 2010 to more than 225,000 in 2018. Now, with nearly seven million Australians contemplating some form of cosmetic surgery within the next decade, we are forced to ask: When will we ‘unfollow’ these unrealistic ideals and start embracing our true selves?


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