Cosmetic surgery is surging in popularity in the UK, and the surge is most pronounced among young women who statistically consume the most online media. Many of these women undergo surgery in order to feel better about themselves. A perceived physical flaw is leading to a lack of confidence, which the patient aims to correct through surgery. In some cases, this surgery might be recommended by a medical professional. Obese patients might be told to look into a gastric band; those with crooked teeth might be told to look into dental surgery.
But does getting surgery really lead to body confidence?
Does Cosmetic Surgery Work?
The most important empirical question to consider here is whether getting cosmetic surgery actually solves the problem. Do women who elect to go under the knife feel better about themselves afterwards? Do they feel worse? There’s reason to suppose not. Back in 2009, a study of 155 female patients in plastic surgery clinics found no difference in psychological problems between patients before and after cosmetic surgery.
In the eye of the beholder
Another, related question is whether looking great really does make you feel great. Are beautiful people really any happier than hideous ones? There’s reason to believe that the answer is no. Studies which reach this conclusion attempt to find a link between the subject’s purported wellbeing, and their physical attractiveness in the view of a sample of observers. The conclusion is that how pretty a person is has no bearing whatsoever on their wellbeing.
With that said, the way they feel about themselves does have a big impact on how good people feel about themselves. People are, after all, biased when it comes to how attractive they are. Many readers might have encountered a stunningly beautiful person who’s forever moping about how plain they are, much to the annoyance of those listening (who aren’t quite so blessed).
In short, your opinion of yourself matters a great deal to how good you feel about yourself; the opinions of others do not.
The effect of Social Media
Of course, your opinion of yourself is something that might change based on the perception you have of yourself in comparison to others. Social media must take a large share of the blame for the insecurities of young women, who now have access to streams of images of idealised bodies. They might compare themselves, not to a representative sample of the general population, but to a carefully managed line-up of gorgeous celebrities. While cosmetic surgery might help them to alter their perception of themselves, quitting Instagram might do the same thing much more effectively.
Moreover, they might take to altering themselves digitally before they do the same thing on an operating table. If you can smudge out a blemish on your face using an Instagram filter, then it follows that you may want to make this happen in real life. This is a step which thousands of women in the UK take each year.