Plastic Surgery as a Status Symbol

Plastic Surgery as a Status Symbol

Beauty standards and social status have always been linked. In fact, beauty ideals have historically related to an individual’s wealth and ability to present themselves a certain way. For example, pale skin was revered as high class in Victorian England, while the ancient Greeks preferred a voluptuous female form. Today, we are seeing a strong connection between social status and plastic surgery. In this article, we’ll explore the connection between the two and what it means for your practice.

Social Media and Plastic Surgery

There is no denying that wildly popular social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook have impacted today’s beauty standards and, possibly, contributed to a rise in plastic surgery procedures. In 2018, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported that Americans spent approximately $16.5 billion on cosmetic surgery, including over seven million neurotoxin injection procedures and two and a half million filler injections.

This increase can be partially attributed to innovation in the field—patients can opt to augment their lips, chisel their jawline, and define their cheekbones with non-invasive filler instead of surgery. But social media has also contributed to both an increased acceptance of, and desire for, cosmetic procedures, many of which are not solely for the purpose of ‘fixing’ a cosmetic issue.

Popular apps like Snapchat and Instagram are primarily visual platforms, and their rise in popularity has caused a shift in how individuals see and present themselves. With tools like FaceTune and a seemingly never-ending selection of filters, anyone can produce a flawlessly Photoshopped version of themselves in seconds. As such, it’s easy to see why some patients might seek cosmetic surgery to replicate the images.

This has caused an important shift in attitude toward plastic surgery. In the past, cosmetic procedures often focused on reversing the signs of aging or revising the appearance of facial features. Today, an increasingly younger client base is seeking a specific look and is not shy about going to a plastic surgeon to achieve it.

Instagram Face

Popular influencers have had a huge influence on current beauty standards. Many clients bring photographs of Kim Kardashian or Kylie Jenner to their plastic surgeons’ office as a reference for how they’d like to look. It’s no surprise that a specific look has emerged as incredibly popular.

In a 2019 New Yorker article, journalist Jia Tolentino describes this look as ‘Instagram Face.’ It is characterized by large, plump lips, flawless skin, high cheekbones, and a small nose, and not only is it enhanced by Instagram filters and FaceTune, but underneath the effects it is often enhanced by fillers, Botox, or other cosmetic procedures. The look leans toward the extreme rather than the subtle and doesn’t hide the fact that enhancements have been made. Ultimately, ‘Instagram face’ is popular because it’s enhanced.

This look is prized among young women and the steps necessary to achieve it have also become an important marker of status. Whereas many celebrities have denied or hidden the fact that they received plastic surgery in the past, a new crop of Instagram influencers and beauty-focused celebrities are happy to plug their favorite surgeons in their social media posts, or even take their fans with them to the clinic.

No longer a secret, plastic surgery is now something to brag about online. This shift in culture has led to growing popularity for practitioners, as well. Celebrity plastic surgeons are launching their own successful social media pages, with follower counts approaching those of their famous clientele. This further encourages the desire for the public to have these procedures—not just from anyone, but from the doctors who are treating their favorite influencers. 

Changing Plastic Surgery Demographics

Increased acceptance of and desire for plastic surgery is changing the demographics of those seeking procedures. In the past five years, Botox use amongst those between the ages of 19 and 34 has increased by 87 percent. Once seen as a way to reverse the signs of aging, younger patients are seeking Botox as a way to prevent aging from occurring.

Increased familiarity with the procedure has led to Botox and similar procedures being seen as part of taking care of yourself and not just to treat lines and wrinkles. Just as pale skin was prized because it showed that individuals led a life of leisure, the enhanced ‘Instagram face’ aesthetic is popular because it shows that you can afford to engage in a certain standard of self-care.


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