Instagram Filters for Your Face: The Rise in Plastic Surgery

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Snapchat and Instagram filters, once best known for adding animal ears and silly animations, have become staples in the social media landscape. These filters are also often designed to carefully improve your appearance, with effects that produce smooth, glowing skin and large, shining eyes.

Now, some users would like that look permanently, and people are flocking to doctors to see what can be done about it.

Many patients bring photos of themselves with Snapchat or Instagram filters to surgeons as examples of the look they’re trying to achieve. One doctor has referred to this phenomenon as ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia‘. Another surgeon estimated more than 90 percent of her millennial clientele reference social media filters when they consult for injectables. One dermatologist recently customized a Botox-and-filler procedure specifically designed to recreate the contoured look featured in some filters.

And it’s not just injectables – beyond Botox, patients are seeking out lip fillers to plump their pouts, eyelid surgery to make their eyes look larger, and other procedures that mimic the effects of digital filters.

These procedures are part of a much larger trend, with 1.8 million cosmetic surgical procedures taking place in 2017. Since 2000, plastic surgeries have increased 115 percent, with notable increases in:

  • Breast lifts +89%
  • Butt lifts +252%
  • Lower body lifts +3,973%
  • Upper arm lifts +4,959%

Breast implants, liposuction and tummy tuck surgeries still remain in the top 5 most popular plastic surgeries, and the average age of women going under the knife dropped below 40 for the first time – down from 42 in 2012 to 39 in 2017.

If that wasn’t alarming enough, girls under the age of 18 are increasingly seeking plastic surgery. From 2014 to 2015, there was an 80% increase in the number of girls under 18 receiving a labiaplasty, cosmetic surgery that trims and shapes the external genitalia. In fact, so many girls (as young as 9!) were seeking labiaplasties that the American College of Obsetricians and Gynecologists issued guidance to doctors urging them to reassure patients and suggest alternatives to surgery. (Labiaplasty overall is the fastest-growing cosmetic surgery, increasing 40% in just one year from 2015 to 2016, a disturbing trend in itself.)

And to head off any protests of “men get plastic surgeries too”, let me point out that women made up of 92% of all plastic surgeries in 2016, and 20% of American women would seriously consider plastic surgery. That number is 40% for younger women (aged 25-34), and climbs to 66% if cost were no issue. So while men do seek out cosmetic procedures, they are the overwhelming minority.

The combination of the “always on display” nature of social media and the aggressive increase in beauty standards is predictably going to drive more and more women to go under the knife. From makeup all the way to plastic surgery, it’s hugely profitable for corporations to keep women insecure – so it’s unlikely that the pressure will let up anytime soon. Even feminism itself has been co-opted by this narrative, claiming that cosmetic surgery is “empowering” to women, with advertisements and headlines like:

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But what’s truly empowering is teaching women and girls to embrace who they are unconditionally, physically and mentally. Love your body because it allows you to swim or dance or run or or hike or do yoga. Love your body and seek to become strong and healthy. Stop trying to trim off the parts you don’t like and instead realize that you are not your body – you are a person who is meant to live and love and dream and thrive. And your body is not a decoration, a thing to be objectified – it is the home in which you live. These are the messages that empower women and free them from the neverending, preoccupying cycle of insecurity and self-doubt created by beauty standards.


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