The rise in cosmetic enhancements is proof our ‘beauty image’ is getting skewed
Updated: May 2, 2022
By Emily Brown
Go ahead and admit it.
You've scrolled through Instagram, saw your friend's flawless face and gorgeous look and thought, "ugh, I wish I looked that beautiful."
And you might have even Googled "Botox" just to see how much it cost and what was involved.
And you wouldn't have been alone by a huge margin.
In fact, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) mentioned that about 229,000 cosmetic procedures were performed on patients aged 13 to 19 in 2017, through research by multiple board-certified plastic surgeons.
It's common - and it's only getting more common as a report by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery who states that those roughly between 23 and 38 years old have increased the demand for plastic-surgery procedures because of their fixation with self-care and growing up with social media.
But the trend is disturbing, and it's causing potentially dangerous mindsets for future generations when it comes to beauty standards.
Different clients are going to have different experiences getting cosmetic procedures done.
Individuals mention how they have a hard time feeling content when it comes to cosmetic work.
Mary Chandler Grisillo who is a 21 year old college student started getting her lips done at the age of 20, followed by botox at 21.
“It almost leaves you with never being content. Which sucks. You feel like you're a project, but really you are just trying to better yourself internally and externally. I tried to do both. I've focused on the outside appearances that I can improve and I think that's been a negative from getting work done. It just trains your brain to what can I do next, to make it even better”.
Social media is increasingly cited as a contributing factor to the rising public interest in cosmetic procedures.
Viewing cosmetic enhancement related material on social media, spending longer hours on social media, and having negative self-views when using social media are associated with an increased likelihood of undergoing cosmetic procedures in the future.
Recently there has been a higher demand for cosmetic enhancements especially across younger generations. Millennials, born 1981-1996, and Gen Z, born 1997-2012, are also becoming more consumed by social media.
Research is showing more individuals are unhappy with their appearance and their lives because they are comparing their lives to small snippets of other individuals.
Social media sites such as TikTok and Instagram have also been known for giving its users false body image and unrealistic beauty standards.
The modern day feminine beauty ideals are harming mental health, especially for younger generations. As well as building a beauty standard that is unattainable through natural beauty.
While cosmetic enhancements can be good for building self-confidence, it is important to go in knowing the full picture in regards to the positive and negative effects it has on mental health.
Over the last couple of years, it has become significantly more normalized to get cosmetic work done.
In an annual survey of 110 members of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 72 percent of the surgeons reported an increase in cosmetic surgery or injectables in patients under 30.
Almost everyone scrolls through social media, whether you want to admit it or not.
69% of adults and 81% of teens in the United States use social media daily, founded by Pew Research Center.
This puts a large amount of the population at an increased risk of feeling anxious or unhappy with themselves after viewing social media.
The high demand for cosmetic work has a direct correlation with the increased usage of social media across different generations. These social media sites are causing more mental health issues than society has ever seen.
Increased demand for cosmetic work
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that about 229,000 cosmetic procedures were performed on patients aged 13 to 19 in 2017.
Over the last couple of years, it has become significantly more normalized to get cosmetic work done. In an annual survey of 110 members of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 72 percent of the surgeons reported an increase in cosmetic surgery or injectables in patients under 30.
This high demand for cosmetic work seems to have a direct correlation with the increased usage of social media, according to a report by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
The study suggests that those between about 23 and 38 years old have increased the demand for plastic-surgery procedures because of their fixation with self-care and growing up with social media.
Abbey Francis, an injectables manager at Totality Medi Spa, said the industry has grown tremendously, and that the most popular procedures are the ones college girls are
most likely to get - lip fillers and lip flips.
“That's four units of Botox above your upper lip. That is super common,” she said. “I mean, probably five patients a day from 20 to 25 come in and do that.”
Cameron Moskos, the owner of Cameo Facial Aesthetics in both Charleston and Myrtle Beach, has had experience with this industry along both the West and East coasts.
“I would say on average, most patients start around 24-25,” she says. “That is when I started to see some people coming in for what we call sprinkles, botox, baby botox, and it's more about prevention. And then by 30 really most people are doing it.”
Baby Botox works the same as traditional botox but with smaller doses of the toxin.
The demand for cosmetic work is different everywhere, but Moskos personally believes the demand is greater out west.
“I do think the demand is higher on the West Coast,” she said, adding it seems more commonplace. “It's been around longer and you do see more college girls starting to dabble in it, and it is not unusual. You definitely see more lip filler, and the younger girls are getting baby Botox.”
Influence of social media
Social media has been increasingly cited as a contributing factor to the rising public interest in cosmetic procedures.
And since the Pew Research Center reports that 69% of adults and 81% of teens in the United States use social media, it’s no wonder that so many young people are interested in cosmetic work.
More social media creates more opportunity for young people - most often young women - to be unhappy with their appearance because they are constantly comparing their lives and their bodies to often unrealistic characteristics of others as seen on Instagram or TikTok.
Instagram recently came under scrutiny by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) for promoting negative body image.
Instagram has now partnered with the NEDA to raise awareness of perfectionist ideals on social media, according to Carolyn Merrell, head of Instagram’s global policy programs.
Viewing cosmetic enhancement related material on social media while also spending longer hours on social media and having negative self-views when using social platforms all contribute to an increased likelihood of undergoing cosmetic procedures in the future.
NBC News reported that seven women in their teens and 20s said the content they viewed on TikTok has pushed them to fixate more on their diets and exercise regimens to a dangerous extent.
Francis, from Totality Medi Spa, believes Instagram and TikTok absolutely have influenced more people to feel the need to get stuff done.
“I see a lot of girls come in and they show me posts and they say this is what I want, or I saw this TikTok, so social media is definitely an influencer in the cosmetic industry, and it will continue to be,'' Francis said.
“I saw a lot on TikTok and Instagram that having full lips is becoming part of the new imposed beauty standard,” Grisillo said.
“It made me insecure, because I've always had smaller lips. So it almost made me feel like I needed to get them done. And Botox I honestly saw a lot of the same things on TikTok, which was the main platform that made me feel like I needed to get this stuff done.”
One researcher depicted three common self perceptions from different individuals in the study.
Different women stated comments along the lines of; “I would like my body to look like the models who appear in magazines,” “TV programs are an important source of information about fashion and ‘being attractive,” and “I’ve felt pressure from TV or magazines to lose weight.”
All of these statements signal that social media is playing a big role in encouraging cosmetic procedures, such as botox and lip filler, and helping normalize the idea of cosmetic enhancement.
Both Grisillo and fellow college student Maja Bellars mention they do not know if they would have gotten work done as quickly as they did if it wasn't for social media sites, especially TikTok.
“I honestly don't know that I would have done it as early as I did if it weren't for me seeing the relevance of it on TikTok,” Grisillo said.
Bellars admitted in fact that social media was probably one of the major reasons she started botox.
“Seeing all these stunning people with skin that looks airbrushed made me want to jump on the botox train. I also used to have bad acne, but since Accutane I feel so much better about my skin, and the Botox is the cherry on top.”
Moskos noted that Cameo Aesthetics wouldn't be where it is without her Instagram. With 11.2K followers who keep up with her pictures, reels, and company, not only are they obsessed with Cameo, they want to know more about Moskos as well.
“I think what's cool about Instagram and social media is people can see all the before and after pictures, they love watching my reels where I'm actually doing treatment and they say it makes it less scary,” Moskos said.
“They see that this girl looks like them, she's 20-25, young professional, she just looks like a totally normal girl.”
Mental health impact
The aesthetic industry has definitely become more normalized, and the debate on whether it's hurting young women's mental health will continue to follow the industry wherever it goes.
A study done by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health reports that as more young girls and women alter their bodies, it seems possible that beauty norms will begin to reflect an appearance that is nearly impossible to achieve without altering one's natural self.
Some scholars throughout the study have suggested that a psychological screening should precede cosmetic procedures.
A psychological screening is simply just a way to better understand someone's strengths and weaknesses as well as identify potential problems and make treatment plans. It's a way to learn more about your mental health.
Grisillo started getting her lips done at the age of 20, followed by botox at 21. The procedures have made her feel more confident, but she also sees how it could be a “double edged sword.”
“I do feel myself getting more confident after receiving these things. But I will say it's a double edged sword, I feel confident. But once I do my lips, I think, oh, I would want to do my nose, it's a domino effect. Once you get one thing done, you want to do the whole nine with your entire face, your entire body, everything, so that is the dangerous part.”
In fact, Grisillo has noticed this happening within herself.
“It almost leaves you with never being content. Which sucks. You feel like you're a project, but really you are just trying to better yourself internally and externally. I tried to do both. I've focused on the outside appearances that I can improve and I think that's been a negative from getting work done. It just trains your brain to what can I do next, to make it even better,” said Grisillo.
Bellars, who has received botox, also notices the slippery slope.
"Now I see that I can alter my looks, which makes me look in the mirror and have more and more things I see that I could change, so that would be negative for me.”
The problem with normalization
For a long time, there has been a negative stigma associated with cosmetic surgery. It was something to be embarrassed about or to keep hidden.
“I sent a patient out the other day, because we were just about to start doing her lips, and she just could not stop panicking. It was her first time, she couldn't stop hyperventilating,” Francis said.
But fear of the procedures and shame over having work done is fading, and instead the popularity of cosmetic enhancement is leading to a potentially more significant issue - the normalization of cosmetic surgery.
“You're gonna start to see 18- year- olds who have really thin lips, and for Christmas or for their graduation, their parents are gonna say, ‘yes, you can get lip filler.’ It is going to be normal,” Moskos said.
As cosmetic procedures become more normalized - and even desired - the impact this will have on society’s views of beauty is not one to be ignored.
“I am going to get my botox done” is going to roll off the tongue the same way as “I am going to get a manicure” in the next couple of years, predicts Moskos.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health stated that more and more people report being unhappy with their appearance. In a 1997 US survey, 56% of women and 43% of men reported dissatisfaction with their overall appearance.
A more recent study in 2019 found that body dissatisfaction was higher in women than in men and was unaffected by age in women, and importance of appearance was higher in women than in men.
And most cosmetic procedures - 86 percent in fact - are performed on women, according to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
The extreme of this is a mental health condition known as body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphic disorder is a psychiatric illness characterized by a person’s obsessive thoughts about some aspect of their appearance that they believe is flawed.
Increasing social media influence and increasing screen time seems to be a factor in declining body image among teenagers.
As more young people - particularly young women - are drawn to having cosmetic work done in order to achieve a more flawless appearance, the “norm” for what is considered “attractive” in our society will shift. And possibly to standards that are out of reach in most people’s “natural” state.
The inevitable outcome of that is an insatiable need to keep getting more cosmetic work done to continue reaching for a near impossible beauty standard.
And a pretty expensive one.
Grisillo admitted that now she stresses about being able to afford getting her lips done in another six to nine months.
“So that sucks,” she said, “because I don't plan on stopping this now that I've started.”
So what’s next?
Overall, most people have a good experience when getting cosmetic enhancements. Of course positives and negatives will be present everywhere, but research is showing that people are happy.
Clients trust the professionals, professionals value their clients' trust and truly listen to what they have to say and what they want to get done.
Although research is showing clients are happy, it is also showing the negative strain cosmetic enhancements are putting on mental health as well as the natural beauty standard.
Essentially, it is a domino effect of always wanting more.
If 18 year olds are getting Botox for Christmas, what does this mean for the beauty norm in 10 years? And what are they going to be wanting done in 25? Or 30?
Research proves that the more people use social media the bigger possibility that they will get or think about getting cosmetic enhancements.
Multiple college students claim that social media has influenced their decisions on getting cosmetic work done. As well as introducing them to it sooner than they might have been if it was not all over their social media sites.
Social media is not going away, and neither is the demand for cosmetic enhancements. It is important we understand what is changing around us.
Cosmetic enhancements are not bad and are nothing anyone should be ashamed of. But letting these younger generations think they need Botox and lip fillers at 16 or 18 is harming their mental health and is essentially skewing society's beauty image as a whole.