Plastic Surgery And Social Media: What Current Trends Tell Us

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated May 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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Plastic surgery trends and social media are often connected. With billions of people receiving their news and information online, social stereotypes and beliefs about what is "beautiful" have started being advertised online and showcased to people of all ages and body types. A plastic surgery practice can post their work on social media, showing "before and after" photos and sharing the process of someone's surgery with the world. 

To understand this phenomenon, it can be essential to know how it impacts mental health and what current trends indicate. 

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How does social media change perceptions of plastic surgery? 

A business's social media presence can profoundly impact users, as over 4.8 billion people worldwide use social media platforms in some capacity. Popular platforms like TikTok connect users with popular creators or influencers who connect with users through their niche content, share products, and, make advertisements for companies, and connect with users through their niche content. 

Some of these influencers are plastic surgery influencers, sharing their jobs as plastic surgeons or the work they've received as clients. 

According to studies, 63% of all plastic-surgery-related posts were made by plastic surgeons, showcasing that many plastic surgery posts on social media are made by the people offering the services themselves. Plastic surgeons were also among the most popular influencers on social media. However, despite its popularity, some people may wonder if plastic surgery content is ethical. 

For example, influencers who plastic surgeons or clinics pay to get a surgery done may be undergoing the procedures, as they are receiving financial rewards and followers for doing so rather than because they need or want a procedure done for personal satisfaction. In addition, those who consent to have their videos or photos of surgery shared online may not consent to negative comments from others or how their body is perceived. 

Plastic surgery transformation videos may work on the premise that one's body is "bad" before and "amazing" after., This spreads the message to people using social media users that certain bodily traits are "ugly" and others are "beautiful." Someone with a specific body type who sees their specific body type in a "before" video may feel shame and come to believe they need plastic surgery to be beautiful. 

Are there positive mental health impacts from plastic surgery influencing? 

Although plastic surgery influencing may cause some mental health challenges, there are also positive effects of some doctors sharing their stories. Plastic surgery is not only used for cosmetic surgery and aesthetic plastic surgery practice. It can also be used for lifesaving gender-affirming surgeries, skin grafts, and reconstructive surgeries that help individuals live more authentically. 

However, research suggests it may be best for plastic surgery influencers to ensure their posts are inclusive, as cosmetic procedure posts online have been associated with racial disparity in access to gender-affirming surgery. In one study, white surgeons were 2.3 times less likely to include BIPOC subjects in their posts, which can lead to a lack of proper representation. 

Additionally, despite the many positive impacts of gender-affirming care, only 1% of content by plastic surgeons on social media is LGBT-related, meaning the representation may not be as significant as in other industries. 

Getty/AnnaStills

Plastic surgery trends 

According to one study, there are a few plastic surgery trends that rise above the rest in social media posts, including the following: 

  • Breast augmentation 
  • Breast implant removal 
  • Breast reduction 
  • Brow lift
  • Butt lift 
  • Hair transplantation 
  • Lip augmentation 
  • Blepharoplasty 
  • Botox
  • Brachioplasty 
  • Rhinoplasty 

Surgeons taking advantage of these trends may post photos and videos of these procedures, including before and after images. A potential plastic surgery patient can comment directly on the video or photo and ask the surgeon how much the procedure costs, how the healing process works, and other questions they may have previously only been able to ask in a clinical environment. Other users can also offer input on their experiences, though this may lead to misinformed individuals and potentially offering unsafe or untrue medical advice. 

Research on social media and plastic surgery 

Several studies have been done on the impact of social media on plastic surgery decisions and mental health. In one such study, 816 female university students were asked about whether they were influenced by social media accounts sharing plastic and reconstructive surgery content. 48.5% of the respondents were influenced to consider undergoing cosmetic procedures, and 51.4% followed plastic surgeons on social media. 

Another study examined age groups and which social media platforms were most used to access plastic surgery accounts. The researchers found that younger generations were more likely to use Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok, and older generations were more likely to use Facebook and YouTube. The researchers found that breast augmentation was the most common content for the younger generations, and liposuction was the most viewed content for older generations. 

Examining plastic surgery perceptions 

A 2022 study looked at the impact of plastic surgery influencing on viewers, as well as plastic surgery perceptions about undergoing cosmetic procedures. The study found that most content on Twitter and Instagram was not posted by certified or licensed surgeons, and some videos on YouTube were misleading and biased. In addition, they connected the desire to undergo cosmetic surgery with increased social anxiety, unrealistic expectations, and more frequent selfie-taking behaviors. 

Social media influence may also impact people living with eating disorders. Procedures that take fat from the body, change its shape, or thin body parts can cause individuals with eating disorders to want to change themselves using cosmetic treatments that may damage their health. Without a proper mental health evaluation, which may mean that some plastic surgeons can offer procedures that may worsen one's mental health or image, leading to compulsive cosmetic surgeries for some individuals. For people with body dysmorphic disorder, this effect can also be dangerous, leading to more frequent surgery due to frequent obsessions about body size or appearance. 

How to cope with body image issues

If you are struggling with body image issues due to the content you see online, below are a few ways you can care for yourself and reduce its impacts. 

Take a social media break

Social media is popular and often offers a way for individuals to connect with others positively online. However, it can also worsen mental health and is associated with a higher instance of eating disorders in sensitive populations, like young girls. However, no matter your gender, weight, body size, or mental health status, taking a break from social media may be beneficial when plastic surgery influencing impacts you. 

A social media break might involve cutting out platforms commonly showing you plastic surgery or body-related content. However, you can also take a break from this content by blocking creators who share it when they come up or unfollowing people who commonly talk about plastic surgery and body image. Blocking someone doesn't necessarily mean you think they're a terrible person but that you want to protect your feed from content that makes you feel worse. 

Follow body positive creators 

If you have a lot of plastic surgery content on your feed, it may be due to what you're searching for online, and what videos or photos you interact with on social media, and the content you interact with frequently. Instead of following these creators, consider following and supporting the body-positive creators who share information about the process of learning to loving your body the way it is. People who post videos about loving the shape of their nose, their thighs, or their stomach may have more positive impacts than those who share videos about "needing to lose weight." 

If you are up to it, consider creating body-positive content yourself if you are over 18. You can create content by sharing what you love most about your body, what clothes you like to wear, and what self-care techniques you use when feeling down about your appearance. Being honest and open about these topics may help to counteract stereotypes about what bodies "should" look like, and it can help young, impressionable people see their body types in people they can look up to for inspiration. 

Create a pros and cons chart 

Seeing positive videos from plastic surgeons claiming they've "changed someone's life" or “made someone more beautiful” can make it seem that you could also achieve those results if you watched more content or invested a significant sum of money. However, ask yourself whether you genuinely want plastic surgery or are craving it because it's popular and others are doing it. 

You can examine your motivations for this procedure by making a pros and cons chart. In the chart, add the following four titles: 

  • Pros of getting plastic surgery 
  • Cons of getting plastic surgery 
  • Pros of not getting plastic surgery
  • Cons of not getting plastic surgery

After considering every side of the chart, talk to someone you trust and ask them what they would put on the chart. On your "pros of getting plastic surgery" list, ask yourself which of the reasons is due to mental illness, low self-esteem, or a desire to fit in. If these reasons behind your "pros" are unhealthy,” remove them from the list and consider speaking to a professional before moving forward. 

Getty/AnnaStills
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Talk to a therapist

Plastic surgery influencing may not be harmful in every circumstance, but it has been associated with some challenging outcomes for users, including an increased desire to get medically unnecessary and potentially risky procedures. For sensitive populations and people who might be living with mental illness, plastic surgery can worsen mental health or offer only temporary relief. Talking to a therapist is one way to discuss the decision to undergo cosmetic surgery in more detail and work through body image issues. 

If you are worried about meeting with a therapist in person due to stigma, embarrassment, or financial challenges, you can meet with a provider online through a platform like BetterHelp. Online therapy allows clients to match with a therapist with expertise in their area of concern. In addition, it offers the choice between phone, video, or live chat sessions. 

Studies back up the effectiveness of online therapy. One study found that online therapy was associated with long-term effectiveness for clients with eating disorders, with results similar to in-person options. 

Takeaway 

Plastic surgery influencers and social media can impact mental health and body perception. For this reason, it may be beneficial to take a break from plastic surgery influencing accounts and work toward a deeper understanding of your true desires surrounding bodily procedures. 

If you're experiencing a mental health challenge due to social media or another concern, consider contacting a mental health professional for further guidance and compassionate support.

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