Plastic surgery used to be super stigmatised and women would go to great lengths to keep theirs a secret, but now stars post the results of their own surgeries all the time. Of course, they’re not always honest about what they’ve had done, but their enhanced bodies end up shaping societal beauty standards anyway.
“When I was younger there was immense pressure on women to look a certain way, you saw it on the magazines,” body positive influencer Ariella Nyssa tells Girlfriend.
“These days the beauty standard has changed again and now we’ve got people getting BBLs… because we’ve got the Kardashians and all those celebrities [who shape] the body standards.”
That means just looking at photos of celebs who have had surgery – whether they’re honest about it or not – can have a huge impact on the way you look at your own body. Psychologist Deirdre Brandner explains to Girlfriend that this exact thing leaves many of her young clients feeling like every time they look at Insta they’re being reminded that “they aren’t good enough."
And yeah, obviously we’re going to feel bad about our own bodies when all we ever see is pics of celebs and influencers whose perfect bodies have been achieved through surgery. But it turns out that even when they’re honest about the work they’ve had done, it can have a bad impact on our own body image.
“Constant exposure to altered body image can lead to an unhealthy pressure to achieve unrealistic body types,” Deirdre says.
“Because our celebrities and influencers are honest about the procedures that they have undertaken, young women are presented with the narrative that to be beautiful you must make these changes.”
That’s right; seeing so many celebs get surgery has left us feeling (whether we realise it or not) that the only way we can be beautiful is to get the same kind of work done. It doesn’t help that we already have access to so many filters that show us what we could look like if we changed certain physical features.
Dr Tony Prochazka, who is a cosmetic surgeon at Cosmetic Avenue, Melbourne, says that filters are just as bad as celebs when it comes to normalising physical features that can (usually) only be achieved with surgery.
“Social media feeds tend to normalise physical attributes which are very far from normal: exaggerated breasts and buttocks with tiny waists, perfect unblemished skin, enormous eyes and lips, tiny noses, luscious cascading hair,” he tells Girlfriend.
And because we’ve all gotten so used to seeing what we and other people look like with those filters on, it’s affected the way we look at our actual features IRL. That in turn has led to an uptick in young girls trying to get plastic surgery.
“With the uptake of Instagram filters that have the ability to enlarge lips, shrink down the nose and heighten cheekbones, there has been a decline in the average plastic surgery age and a rise of teen surgery, particularly for facial procedures,” Dr Prochazka reveals.
But these procedures – even the “temporary” ones like lip filler – aren’t as easy and glamorous as so many influencers make them look! Dr Prochazka says there’s so much misinformation online and stars rarely discuss the risks and side effects involved.
Ariella knows that all too well, explaining that she’s seen what happens when friends impulsively jump into cosmetic procedures they think are “normal” and safe.
“Especially in the last 10 years with filler and Botox, they’re so accessible that everyone’s getting it. And now it’s like ‘well everyone’s getting it, so now I have to get it to keep up’,” she says.
“They’ve regretted It because they’ve gone somewhere they didn’t really know, they haven’t done their research.”
Not only can you end up with a disappointing result like Ariella’s friends, Dr Prochazka warns that even lip fillers can have some scary side effects if they go wrong.
“Even non-surgical treatments such as lip filler can be associated with side-effects which may range from mild (swelling and bruising) to disastrous (blindness),” he wanrs.
Of course, here at Girlfriend we’re all about self-love in every form and we’d never hate on anyone who chooses to alter their body if it makes them feel more confident. Ariella chose to undergo a breast reduction in 2020 and was super open and honest about her experience on social media.
But it was a decision she made for herself and one that came from a place of self-love, rather than trying to fit some unrealistic beauty ideal. She explains: “I was not living my best life with these huge boobs that were hurting my back, I couldn’t fit into any clothes and it was just uncomfortable for me.”
She urges other young women considering surgery to really think about why they want to change their bodies and make any decisions with self-love, rather than out of self-loathing. But how can you figure out if seeing surgery online is totally affecting your own body image?
Deirdre says it’s important for girls to understand that what they see on Insta isn’t always real and encourages them to be more critical of the media.
“Awareness of the way online images are filtered, edited and altered to present an idealised version of the person is important,” she says, adding that girls need to be able to “recognise how impossible that image is to achieve”.
Surrounding yourself with people who are supportive and body positive is also a great way to work on any insecurities you may feel as a result of being exposed to unrealistic body standards.
And if surgery is something you’ve thought about, make sure you talk to your family and trusted people first! We don’t encourage anyone to feel like they need surgery to be beautiful, but if you do want to do some research, make sure you hop off Insta for it.
“Online research can be difficult, as the internet is full of incorrect and/or misleading information,” Dr Prochazka warns.
“Anyone seeking a cosmetic procedure should firstly ensure that the practitioner delivering the service is either an Australian-registered doctor, or a nurse working in a clinic supervised by doctors… medical qualifications of doctors can be checked on the website of the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency (AHPRA).”
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