In March this year, the chair of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons penned an editorial warning about the inappropriate use of social media by plastic surgeons.

Writing in the Australian Journal of Plastic Surgery, Dr Richard Theile said that: “the ethical framework by which we exist as surgeons must be solidly based in our professionalism. Our moral cues don’t come from Instagram, where clients may have a different sense of the seriousness and consequence of surgical procedures.”

Highlighted in the editorial were particular concerns raised over the ability of social media to trivialise, sexualise and demean patients undergoing surgical procedures.

A recent survey study suggests there is a strong link between social media use and acceptance of cosmetic surgery procedures.

Over a three month period, the researchers recruited more than 250 people to participate in the survey research through online platforms like Instagram and Facebook. The people involved reported demographic data, as well as the social media platforms they used and how many hours a day they used those platforms.

They were also asked about their use of photo-editing tools – including photo-editing software like Photoshop, but also photo-filtering applications like Snapchat (that have various filters to hollow your cheeks, plump your lips or make your eyes bigger).

Finally, they were asked how often they digitally enhanced their own photos, how often they took selfies, and about their self-esteem.

Most of the survey respondents were women with an average age of 24. The researchers found that the more social media applications a person used, the more likely they were to consider cosmetic surgery.

Those who used Tinder and Snapchat were more likely to have a positive attitude to surgery, compared with other apps.

Interestingly, they also found that people who had removed or untagged themselves from social media photographs were also more likely to want surgery, perhaps suggesting they were especially conscious about their presentation or body image.

Implications

Some cosmetic surgeons report a phenomenon they coin ‘Snapchat dysmorphia’ – patients presenting to a surgeon and wanting procedures to make them look more like the software-filtered version of themselves.

The authors say the links between social media and cosmetic surgery acceptance demonstrated in their paper are a foundation for conversations between doctors and patients on why cosmetic surgery is being sought and what the expectations of a treatment are.

Last Reviewed: 16/04/2020

© Norman Swan Medical Communications.



References

For reference: Chen, et al (2019). Association Between the Use of Social Media and Photograph Editing Applications, Self-esteem, and Cosmetic Surgery Acceptance. JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery doi: 10.1001/jamafacial.2019.0328.

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