Does Online Imagery Increase the Desire for Cosmetic Surgery

Posted February 22, 2021
Online image increases desire for cosmetic surgery

Thanks to the amount of images posted daily on social media, people that are interested in enhancing or augmenting their facial appearance see many examples of the appearance of others. According to research that was published in Current Psychology, the viewing of facial cosmetic enhancements can increase the desire to undergo cosmetic surgery among young women. This was found to be especially true for those women who spend more time on various social media websites.

Online Imagery Study Information Examined

During the study of women ages 18-29, there were 118 women that were randomly assigned to view either 15 images of women that had received some type of facial cosmetic enhancements or 15 images of travel destinations. Of the 15 images that included facial cosmetic enhancements, the cosmetic surgery procedures included:

  • Soft tissue fillers – Fillers placed in the face provides volume in areas where it has been lost due to the aging process along with reducing facial lines.
  • Rhinoplasty – The shape, size and look of the nose is altered by making changes to the bone, cartilage or skin of the nose. A “nose job” can give an improved balance to the facial features along with improving the breathing ability of the patient.
  • Microdermabrasion – This cosmetic treatment uses a spray of microcrystals to improve the texture, pigmentation and feel of the skin.
  • Botox – Fine lines and wrinkles on the face are reduced thanks to neuromuscular blockers that limit the amount of muscle contractions in the targeted area.
  • Laser skin resurfacing – Facial wrinkles, blemishes, and acne scars are reduced using short, and pulsating, beams of light that are aimed at the targeted areas of the face. The laser that is used can be a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser or an erbium laser.

The cosmetic procedure photos used in the study were the type of photos that can be viewed on a regular basis on Instagram. The people that participated in the study were led to believe that the study was being conducted in order to examine the ability of individuals to recall the details of images they viewed.

The research team found that the study participants who viewed images of women with cosmetic enhancements went on to express a greater desire to undergo cosmetic surgery themselves. The increased desire to have cosmetic surgery among these women was greater than the study participants who viewed images related to travel.

The Study Team Speaks Out

The name of the study is “Effects of social media use on desire for cosmetic surgery among young women”. The authors of the study include Candice E. Walker, Eva G. Krumhuber, Steven Dayan and Adrian Furnham.

Walker is a master’s student at the University of the Arts London. According to Walker, “At the time of researching, influencers were becoming more of a fixture on social media, particularly Instagram; the platform was also gaining more traction as the primary media source for fashion, beauty & lifestyle news among young people.”

Walker went on to say “Similarly, I had read reports about increases in cosmetic procedures among young people, and that the procedures were being shown and discussed online. As a psychology student, I was interested to see why this was, and what the potential effects might be.”

The results discovered by the research team also found that social media was considered to be a strong predictor of the desire of the study participants to have cosmetic surgery as opposed to their dissatisfaction with the appearance of their body. Eva Krumhuber is the co-author of the study as well as an associate professor at University College London. She stated that “Women who are frequent social media users and who are less satisfied with their appearance are particularly likely to consider cosmetic surgery in the future.”

Walker added “I would like for people to take away the importance of being mindful of the media they consume, to think about how they interact with it and how it may be affecting their beliefs about themselves. For those who are interested in getting a cosmetic procedure, to consider their motivations for it, and what that are basing their decision on.”

Limitations of the Study

When it comes to research studies, there are often some limitations involved in the process and this includes the study conducted by Walker and her team. According to Krumhuber, “Most of the volunteers were university students or young professionals. Future research is needed to test whether the effects replicate with younger/older samples, and those from different occupational groups. Also, it would be interesting to assess whether trait and state self-esteem predict body dissatisfaction and the desire for cosmetic surgery.

Walker also hopes to expand the study participants in the future. “As the study only sampled young women, I think it would be interesting to examine the relationship between social media, body image and cosmetic surgery among men. The ever-changing nature of social media means that more up-to-date research is needed. So, if there is anyone reading this who is thinking of conducting a similar study, I would strongly encourage them to! Especially those from diverse cultural backgrounds where beauty standards and the norms around cosmetic surgery may differ.”

- MA


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