Is beauty really pain? Exploring cosmetic surgery in the modern world

cosmetic surgery

The number of young people demanding cosmetic surgery, fillers and other aesthetic procedures peaked in the UK in 2019 and is set to rise this year. With more and more available options and fewer boundaries when it comes to social norms and regulations surrounding them, people as young as sixteen can legally get botox or lip fillers. 

At least a quarter of young girls admitted that they have considered cosmetic procedures**, and the ease they can access these services with, can not only be problematic as far as body image is concerned, but it could also potentially lead to long term health issues. 

The most open we’ve ever been

A whole wave of influencers and reality TV stars have been unapologetically open about their procedures in 2019, which is such a different climate from the days of Kylie Jenner refusing to admit to having lip fillers after being called out by millions of fans. 

Love Island’s Megan Barton-Hanson has been a proud advocate of cosmetic surgery since the beginning of her newly-found fame, admitting numerous times that, despite them not making her insecurities vanish, the procedures she’s had done have acted as a boost of confidence. “Kids at school were nasty” was her justification for her getting her ears pinned back when opening up to Kathy Burke for Channel 4***. 

The very idea that young girls would start changing their appearance because of bullying is not only sad, but it taps into a bigger issue: is cosmetic surgery a personal, emotional need and an attempt to boost our self-esteem, or is it a gateway to gaining acceptance from others? 

In a recent Snapchat poll, courtesy of VICE, almost 60% of participants said they perceived cosmetic procedures such as lip fillers comparable to getting a manicure****. This only goes to show we have come a long way from tabloid culture actively accusing celebrities of going under the knife, which has gone from being glamourised to being completely normalised by the media and, consequently, by Millennials and Gen Z-ers. 

Filtered face + body

There is no secret that social media has been putting immense pressure on young people, despite the common knowledge of how deceiving it can be in terms of everything from looks to lifestyle. 

Big eyes, small ‘pixie’ noses and big lips, accompanied by a size B cup, a flat stomach and a *insert peach emoji* to complete the perfect hourglass figure. This formula shot during golden hour and slightly face-tuned seems like the key to screen-success on an influencer ruled platform. 

Instagram is known to have contributed to the ever-growing trend of cosmetic surgery and it is, without a question, the perfect social network to drive its popularity and showcase idealism when it comes to beauty. 

From models (read: people whose job is to look picture-perfect) to influencers who proudly show their freshly injected pout or, in some cases, post pictures with their rhinoplasty cast, there is no more room for the stigma around plastic surgery. 

Despite this resulting in a progressive and forward-thinking way of acknowledging beauty and becoming more aware of how looks can be altered, it does cast a new shadow of accessibility over cosmetic procedures, allowing businesses to thrive off of digitally-formed insecurities more than ever before. 

Easy access 

There are more cosmetic clinics than ever in the UK and, due to the high demand, the jobs are extremely lucrative. This has resulted in a lot of small businesses opening up that offer anything from lip fillers to botox and even teeth whitening in a significantly more modest environment than the one of a big clinic. They are advertised through both Instagram and word-of-mouth, which can easily result in young people being attracted to them, especially in smaller cities and towns. 

During my first year at university, the lady that was doing my nails also happened to offer lip fillers, alongside other services such as permanent make-up and eyebrow microblading. Whilst being sat in the chair we were chatting away and I couldn’t help not to ask about lip fillers, mainly due to curiosity. 

Her immediate response was “Should I book you in? You can put a deposit down today and come in next week.” At the time, my nineteen-year-old was so tempted, purely because of the ease of it and the accessible price she was offering me the procedure for. 

I opted to stick to overlying my lips every day, but multiple girls I knew were regularly getting fillers, which started to draw me into the idea even more. “I cannot wait until payday, I need to get my fillers” is a line that I often still hear, a few years later from when I had that little thrill of temptation. I must admit, despite seeing cosmetic procedures as fairly normal, I still wonder whether the girls that opt for them would have done the same if there wasn’t a clinic down the road from them or if the prices weren’t quite as low.  

Even if you are someone who has chosen to swim against the tide when it comes to any kind of surgery, you might find that several places approach you on Instagram to tell you about their offers. 

I must admit, the first time a cosmetic clinic liked one of my photos, I couldn’t help but analyse whether there was some subliminal messaging involved. I started questioning whether my lips were big enough or whether my smile lines were particularly visible in that particular selfie. Then, I had a message request that read “Hi lovely, just to let you know, this Monday you can get 1ml of filler for only £80”. 

Despite it being no different to how other businesses attract clients (Instagram messaging is the baby version of a promotional email, after all), I found the fact that it was a cosmetic clinic approaching me rather than a clothing website terrifying. What’s more, I was very much aware that I have probably received the message because I lived in that particular area, or perhaps because we were following similar pages, but there was still a part of me thinking that someone who works there must have thought that “I needed fillers”. And had I been younger and more self-conscious, I don’t know if could have said no to the offer…

Health

Nowadays, high street giants such as Superdrug are offering botox for convenient prices, very similarly to the way they offer eyebrow threading. Their regulations are, indeed, stricter than the ones of a stand-alone clinic, but the issue remains the same: will this push more people to turn to anti-wrinkle injectables due to its accessibility and convenience? 

Superdrug has been called out by both the NHS and the media for potentially triggering people with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, with many people worried that this reasonably priced ‘beauty fix’ could be detrimental to people’s mental health. 

When it comes to physical health, infection, blood loss and scarring are only the mild potential implications of a procedure. For more serious surgeries, nerve damage, organ damage and any complications of anaesthesia can occur and, despite the cases being rare, it is still a risk we need to consider when deciding to resort to any kind of cosmetic intervention. 

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