Is there an association between social media and the increase in the number of plastic surgery procedures performed in the past decade? Recent online news stories suggest that it is so and some plastic surgeons concur. Annual statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery show increases in just about any procedure you care to look at and these increases have been ongoing for some time. The face of plastic surgery looks very different today than from fifteen years ago and from a social media standpoint that time period is the equivalent of the precambrian period in history.
There is no question that the expanding number of social medial outlets, including such noteables as FaceBook, Skype and FaceTime on the iPhone, allow us to see ourselves like never before. Historically, one electively saw themselves in the mirror and or caught an occasional image of themselves in a store window or dressing room. But seeing ourselves in a mirror can one a false sense of their appearance as we naturally tend to look at ourselves from what we consider to be our best angle and even under the best lighting. (or lack thereof) Most of the image of ourselves comes from the front view and only rarely from the side profile or other oblique views. This is why very few of us like what we see in pictures, not because it may not be attractive, but because we don’t recognize that view of ourselves.
Have you ever made the mistake on your iPhone when taking a picture and accidentally pushed the image flip button? Rather than seeing what you wanted to take a picture of you see your own face… close-up. I have done it and it is not pretty. I would like to believe that the face I see is some distorted image of reality because of the poor quality of the lens and being so close. But deep down I know the camera quality on these phone is too good for that to be true.
Social media can also introduce pictures of ourselves that are both sustaining and even altered. Putting your pictures on Facebook or on a website can virtually last forever. Others taking your pictures and posting them on their websites or social pages can be impossible to remove, contrary to the public’s knowledge of how the internet works. This allows you and others to see yourself with great regularity, unlike that old snapshot that you hated and threw in a drawer so no one else would ever see it again. Because of this I know patients who have told me that they altered their pictures with Photoshop and other imaging tools before they ever posted them online.
So is social media driving people to have plastic surgery? It undoubtably is making some contribution but there are other factors that account for this rise far more significantly. There are more plastic surgeons and other physicians performing cosmetic procedures today than fifteen years ago. The population of the U.S. has also risen with an aging component that is more conscious of their appearances than any generation before them. Plastic surgery, like all medical specialities, has developed new cosmetic technologies, products and treatment techniques that didn’t exist in the 1990s. Collectively, these have contributed a lot more than any form of social media. But for some, social media can be the match that lights the kindling of desire for a new and improved look.
Dr. Barry Eppley