Science & Technology

Cut, tuck, lift: Tracking the rise of cosmetic surgery

Blown-up shots of smooth skin, cinched waists, and tight bums are hard to avoid and even harder to look away from. Whether appearing on social media feeds or on seedy pornography websites, idealized bodies are on display on virtually every device with a screen. Bombarded by unrealistic beauty standards, more and more people, particularly women, have sought to modify their bodies via surgical means.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), the total number of cosmetic surgical procedures, including breast augmentation and liposuction, remained relatively constant between 2000 and 2018 in the United States. However, minimally invasive cosmetic procedures, such as Botox and chemical peels, have increased 228 per cent in that same time period. Ninety-two percent of all these procedures were performed on women.

In an email to The McGill Tribune, Mario Luc, a plastic surgeon at McGill’s Department of Surgery and also a private practitioner, has been following the rising demand for cosmetic procedures and anticipates there will be advancements in the field in the near future.

“The demand will keep increasing for several more years,” Luc said. “The field of aesthetic surgery will continue to improve itself to provide reliable results and safety with refined techniques, protocols, and guidelines to increase patient satisfaction and safety.”

Many aspects of the pandemic have spurred an increase in procedures, including widespread weight gain and the ability to recover from surgery while shielded by a mask or computer screen.

In addition to these factors, social media may also be playing a role in the plastic surgery uptick. A notable example is the high volume of videos promoting plastic surgery to young, impressionable audiences on TikTok: Videos showing off rhinoplasties, the ubiquitous nose job, are particularly common, with over 3.2 billion views under #nosejob.

These 60-second videos often lack nuance, failing to acknowledge the significant cost and risk of cosmetic procedures. According to the ASPS, average prices can range from $400 for a Botox procedure to $7,600 for a facelift, or rhytidectomy.

More invasive surgical procedures have higher risks. Brazilian butt lifts, whose hashtag #BBL also boasts over 3.2 billion views on TikTok, is the most dangerous cosmetic surgery, having a death rate of 1 in 3,000. As for minimally invasive procedures, even a Botox shot lists symptoms ranging from headaches to permanent muscle paralysis.

Plastic surgeries often aim to emulate and exaggerate a specific body type, though the ideal is prone to changing like any other fashion trend. In addition, surgeries often attempt to recreate white, European features, such as smaller button noses or double eyelids. One notable exception is the Brazilian butt lift, which emulates the hypersexualized stereotypes of Black women, but is only truly attainable through surgical lifting for most. 

Many factors are at play in an individual’s decision to undergo a cosmetic procedure. In a survey conducted by realself, a healthcare marketplace that connects consumers to physicians and research about aesthetic treatments, revealed that the most common motivations for cosmetic procedures included wanting to improve self-esteem and confidence, and to look younger.

In a society where 53 per cent of girls are “unhappy with their bodies” by the age of 13, it is unsurprising that there is a large demand for such procedures. When standards of beauty come to impact all spheres of life—whether in the dating pool, the workplace, or the courtroom—there can be great pressure to conform.

Although cosmetic procedures always come with risks, having realistic expectations and opting for restorative procedures like facelifts instead of nose jobs are linked to greater psychosocial well-being. Consulting with recognized, trustworthy, and qualified surgeons is also crucial.

“We only use known safe and standard techniques and we keep everyone up to date in the latest safety protocols and measures, surgical techniques with constant and regular medical education,” Luc said.

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