If we change our face to go out in public, both virtually and physically, does that mean we no longer accept our real face?
From Victorian rosy cheeks to 90s' heroin chic', there has always been some beauty ideal. Today, lips should be as full as possible, cheekbones accentuated, and noses narrow. Not only beauty ideals, but especially the methods to fulfill them became more extreme over time. The simple accentuation with makeup has developed into a normalization of surgical procedures and Botox treatments.
For Sara Benamara, model and Co-Founder of the body-positive model agency Spicee, the reason for deciding to have a nose job goes back a long way. As one of three children of foreign origin, in an all-German school, she had to listen to daily comments about her big lips and nose – even her family used to tease her about her nose and acne. "Already as a child, I asked: Can you have your lips made smaller?" she says. Today, full lips are considered a beauty ideal, at the moment, but the nose remains a problem, although she never commented about it on her social media.
"I find it incredibly difficult to post pictures on social media without a filter. And when I don't use a filter, I always hold my phone in front of my nose. Sometimes I even feel ashamed when I meet people in real life for the first time, and they see what my nose looks like." Valentina Belleza, a model, influencer, and young mom, decided to get her nose done long before Instagram came up. On Facebook, she received many messages from women who wanted to hear about her experience. Today, she describes it as one of her best decisions, which pushed her self-confidence immensely.
"When I had my lips done, though, I think I started at 20, the topic was not yet so far that people talked openly about it. There was still a lot of hate for it. Today, getting Botox injections is quite normalized. However, I think you should be transparent about it because who do I want to lead on to having a perfect life and look perfectly? Clearly, I would rather post what I think looks good, but I think you should still be honest about having had plastic surgery."
The decision to have plastic surgery is up to each person – however, in times of influencers like Pipper Vospa being paid to promote their so-called 'tweakments', do we not fear how this will affect the youngest on those platforms? Valentina: "As a 14-year-old girl, filters can make you look like you're in your 20s, which can be very disturbing." According to Dr. Benjamin Debuc, a plastic surgeon based in Paris, “normally, injectables are not permanent, so mostly there are no physical long-term consequences. However, starting too young can cause psychological effects – it can fuel a wrong perception of the face and aging process."
Of course, it is impossible to generalize that all social media has a detrimental effect on the mental lives of young people. A study by the British health organization, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), and the Young Health Movement (YHM) ranked the most popular social media and their impact on young people. The clear winner with the most positive ratings was YouTube, while Instagram came in last. Instagram was described as a platform for self-expression; however, it also puts a lot of pressure on its users and gives them a feeling of inadequacy or even social anxiety.
The danger is that the increasing fakeness of the online world through photoshop, face filters, and co will spill over into the real world to such an extent that plastic surgery, to change your whole appearance, will become the norm for the next generation. Therefore, the Norwegian parliament decided in favor of a legal obligation to label edited images on social media – a step towards safe media usage or a shot in the dark?
Valentina adds: "I try to keep my son away from social media as much as possible, but he is the alpha generation who will be in his teens in 10 years. So much will change again between now and then. But at what point are we capable of weighing this big decision for ourselves? Especially when it comes to highly appearance-altering procedures. Where educational institutions fail and the voice of society is louder than that of our parents, psychological counseling could become a method to counteract the later regret of a highly altering cosmetic surgery. Deppy Telikostoglou, the co-founder Spicee, says: "Liposuction, for example, is one of the most dangerous operations in general, and yet numerous people choose to have it. Nowadays, I wouldn't do it, but when I was younger, and if I had the money, I would have agreed without thinking about it."
Instagram generally flags the use of face filters in a picture, but not with well-known personalities like the Kardashians. For Gen Z in particular, such selfies can create false expectations about their body development and appearance. Social media does provide space for discussion, education, and a place for like-minded people to meet. However, the negative side should not be underestimated. In addition to bullying at school, there is also anonymous bullying online. For our youngest, the virtual world is more accurate than we might imagine, and accordingly, it also has a strong influence on our emotional and physical well-being in real life. Is that why we are so obsessed with our faces and is social media to blame for our desire to change our appearance to such an extreme these days?
Dr. Debuc emphasizes the importance of educating about injections: “The first rule for me is that I only do one part at a time and I never do Botox and Hyaluronic acid at the same time because sometimes it can modify the face too much. When you treat a part of the face, it also modifies the rest of the face. For example, if someone wants more volume in the cheekbones and in the lips, in fact by adding more volume to the cheekbones it will also slightly modify the architecture of your lips and sometimes that's already enough for the patient." Some people apply makeup or use filters to enhance their features, and other people change their entire face with extreme makeup or surgery. A distinction must be made between appearance-adjusting and appearance-changing procedures and the reason for the change. It has long been a routine procedure for babies to have their ears pinned back. But why is such a procedure considered not bad and others are?
Sara: "I think it's okay if people say they don't want to look natural; there are also people who say they explicitly want to look unnatural. However, it's important, especially as an influencer, to show the reality and indicate what's not natural about their online appearance."
"Beauty ideals have always existed, and people have always measured themselves against them. They're always changing because of many different influences, not just because of social media but also because political things sometimes play a role. That's why I think it's important to consider whether this plastic surgery I want to do is just a trend, or will I still like it in 10 years? That's why education is so important." We seek constant approval, both from our social environment and on social media. But to what point is it normal, and when does it become unhealthy? Is an opinion from a stranger worth that much?
Especially with Gen Z spending a lot of time on platforms like TikTok, where there are filters to slim your body and change your whole appearance, our youngest seem at risk to develop an unhealthy relationship with their natural appearance. Stating that a picture is edited cannot be enough when the visual message is still desirable but unattainable. We, therefore, need to keep the discussion open and stop being so fake to ourselves and our environment – a surgery for yourself is worth a lot, but changing for others can negatively impact everyone around you, as Dr. Debuc highlights: “Plastic surgery is really only about the patients and their feelings. When patients ask me 'what would you do', I never answer, because my perception of the face is different from their's, and only the patient's opinion counts. I ask them back 'what upsets you so that I know how I can correct it."
For society, it is important to speak openly about plastic and cosmetic surgery – to educate and create awareness about the preventive approach of injections, but also about its psychological effects at certain ages. As an individual who decides for a treatment, the most important is to take the time to think about it and only do one step at a time, as Dr. Benjamin Debuc emphasizes: “We all feel different about ourselves and like or dislike features of our faces. Plastic surgery can help to get rid of the complexes and boost your confidence, but it is really important to only treat one part of the face at a time and leave time to think about it.”
Photos: Elia Pellegrini