From filters to fillers: plastic surgery in the public eye

Plastic surgery is a controversial debate, but should we look to hold social media accountable for exacerbating people’s desire to undergo it? My stance is firm: absolutely. 

Let’s talk about filters. Social media giants Snapchat and Instagram are a huge part of our daily lives. With the click of a button on these apps, a filter allows us to envision ourselves with plumper lips, smoother skin, a button nose, cat eye surgery (also known as canthoplasty), or a full, flawless face of makeup, all without having to lift a finger. We can use these features to distort our face back and forth from reality – augmenting and diminishing different features whenever we wish. The concern I have here is if we can see these ‘desirable’ alternatives that remove our insecurities when we send a Snapchat but have to ‘face’ our real-life selves every time we look in the mirror, these filters only inflate our insecurities. We get to a point where we no longer want to accept the real-life us.

But turning the filter on and off, watching the lines and acne scars disappear and reappear, is only one of the ways social media is inflating our insecurities. On Instagram, we cannot escape paid ads promoting Kylie Jenner’s new lip kit, or infinite other runway models’ immaculate ‘natural’ morning-face photos, a look mimicked by Snapchat’s filters. These photos are usually achieved by three layers of foundation and contour under a ‘natural’ looking filter, and a ‘natural’ angle and lighting which took them two hours to perfect. Our understanding of what ‘natural’ even looks like begins to morph into one distinct look.

This is why we should begin to interrogate the roles celebrities play in reinforcing these beauty standards. And not only through the layers of makeup, but the presence of botox, nose jobs and lip injections on our feeds. We should remain alert to how celebrities are paid to promote their cosmetics and therefore benefit monetarily from setting these standards and promoting them as ‘natural’, ‘desirable’, ‘easy’ or the source of happiness. 

Either way, the power of ‘Rich Girl Face’ (we’ve all seen that meme of Kylie and Kendall’s before and after captioned ‘I’m not ugly, I’m just poor’) is influential enough to convince audiences to invest heavily into becoming watered-down celebrity clones. All with the misplaced hope that smoother skin, smaller noses and ‘bikini bodies’ will ultimately make us feel happier. My bottom line: even if social media is not the root of all insecurities, it is certainly a vehicle for exacerbating these insecurities further and encouraging the desire for change.

In a recent video, Youtuber Sophie Tuxford acknowledges her recent rhinoplasty. She does, however, follow it up with a disclosure that she does not believe viewers should feel the pressure to do this themselves. My response to this is twofold: she takes an alternative approach to the ‘promotional’ culture, emphasising individual agency in making choices about our bodies, which is key. However, it is difficult to escape the sense that when other aspirational figures assimilate a certain look, their actions make a certain look desirable. 

With the number of outside social media influences pushing us towards cosmetic change to meet crafted standards, I do stand by the need for amplifying the conversation about how nonsensical these standards are. Even though we may recognise the fraudulence of social media, it is near impossible to remain impartial to the social media bias. For every ‘body positivity’ post, there are 20 others telling you how quick and easy it is to laser away every crease in your skin. And why does the antidote to the social media bias have to be to achieve and then preach self-love? Why is body acceptance not enough? Perhaps that’s a question for another day.

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Adelaide Cannell

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August 2021
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