Fitness + Well-being

Social media may be fueling plastic surgery trends, docs warn

When Anna MacLellan was considering lip injections, she brought two things with her to her consult: photos of her lip idol Bella Thorne and photos of herself on social media in times she thought her lips were at their best. That's when they were perfectly lined to deliver the fullness and upper lip arch she desired. The problem was the 26-year-old New York City beauty publicist wanted her enhanced lips in real life — not just on social media.

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She saw board-certified plastic surgeon Norman Rowe, MD, for lip injections. Because she was thrilled with the results, three of her friends have since gone on to get the treatment, too.

“After I posted photos, no one caught on that I got anything done, but I would hear that something was different, or my lips looked amazing,” MacLellan told Fox News.

She’s among the rising number of young people prompted to seek aesthetic treatments inspired by social media images. In fact, in 2017, 42 percent of plastic surgeons from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) reported patients sought cosmetic procedures to look better in selfies, Instagram, and Snapchat.

“People are now seeing images of themselves repeatedly. With each glimpse of themselves at different times of the day, at different angles, and in different social settings and lighting, people are seeing what they look like to the outside world,” Fred Fedok, MD, FACS, president of the AAFPRS, told Fox News. And that can make even the most modest people laser-focus on perceived flaws, and compare themselves to friends and celebrities alike, he said.

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“Patients come to the office and remark that they ‘didn’t realize’ that this aspect of their nose look that way until they saw certain angle on one of the social media posts,” Fedok added. “Now that they see it, they want it corrected.” (He noted that the wide-angle perspective on many cellphone cameras can distort facial features in photos. “Many patients don’t realize that and seek consultation for rhinoplasty,” he said. (This is just something to keep in mind.)

But there’s another story behind the trend. In Rowe’s office, he notices it's the filters available on social media that is prompting patients to come in for a consult.  “People come in and say, ‘Can you make me look like this?’” he said.

In most cases, people come to see Rowe seeking small tweaks. They’ll point to a photo of what they look like with a filter. For example, it may give their skin a nice monochromatic look, so they want something that can even their skin tone. Or they want the lines around the corner of their eyes smoothed out or acne scars erased. Facials, peels, lasers, microneedling treatments, or injections are realistic ways to edge closer to looking like your Instagram profile pic.

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On the surface, it’s to look better, but what’s really going on? “Photoshop and filters are now accessible to everyone. For the generation in their 20s, this is what they’ve grown up with, and it places a new pressure on them,” Vivian Diller, PhD, a clinical psychologist and a consultant for beauty companies, told Fox News. “It’s not just the model and actor who feels like they’re supposed to look perfect but the everyday young person.” Essentially, you can look better than you really do — and now you feel pressure to match that.

For MacLellan, she’s happy with her decision to get her lips done. “I felt empowered by my choice,” she said. And that’s the key word: choice, Diller said. “There’s nothing wrong with choosing these treatments or plastic surgery. But once you feel like you’re being compelled or it's a should, step back and ask yourself why?” she advised. “Make sure your motivation is internal and you’re not trying to project the false imagery you think you need to attain,” MacLellan added.

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