A lot of headlines tossed around these days blame the so-called "Kardashian-effect" for an increase in young people choosing to have their taut teenage skin nipped and tucked into 'perfection,' but is there really any truth in the idea that celebrities encourage kids these days to go under the knife?
Below I investigate just how many young people are voluntarily putting themselves on the operating table (or undergoing painful injections) and see if there is really any evidence that points to perfectly polished stars leading them to the surgeons office.
Plastic Surgery Statistics
It's a depressing sign of the colossal amount of pressure women feel to look good that 91 percent of people who underwent cosmetic surgery in 2015 were female, so these are the people I will be scrutinizing under my magnifying glass.
There is currently no extensive public data available on the ages of people undergoing cosmetic procedures and, therefore, no way to separate the younger surgery enthusiasts from their older counterparts. Despite this, we can still learn about what sorts of procedures are the most popular and see what could be driving them.
People don't have surgery for no reason and the pie chart above is an indicator of what people consider beautiful - a concept that also plays a huge part in who will become a well-liked celebrity who people may look up to from an aesthetic point of view.
This fixation on wanting to be seen as beautiful seems to be hitting young people hard. As an example, a 2013 survey of Girl Guides suggested that a third of 11-21 year olds were unhappy with the way they looked, and some were so dissatisfied with their appearance that more than a quarter of them would seriously consider going under the knife to look 'better.'
The American Society Of Plastic Surgeons however, reports that a shocking 64 percent of facial surgery providers saw a noticeable jump in patients under the age of thirty visiting their clinics.
The same body also states that nearly 18,000 teens between the tender ages of 13 (yes, you read that right) and 19 were injected with a form of Botox in 2013. In short, there seems to be a hell of a lot of pressure on young people to look perfect.
The Celebrity Angle
A lot of websites and magazines are quick to point the finger at celebrities and their glossy social media presence as a catalyst for this leap in younger women opting for cosmetic 'enhancement.'
It's pretty easy to leap to this conclusion when you look at celebs such as Kylie Jenner, who has barely turned 18 years old and has already had 'work done,' are encouraging young people to emulate them to get a tiny taste of the glamorous lifestyle they represent, but are there any statistics to back this up?
In short, the answer is a resounding yes. Last year, 82 percent of surveyed surgeons reported that celebrities where a major influence in their patients’ decision to surgically alter their appearances.
According to Edwin Williams III, President of the AAFPRS, celebrities definitely play a huge part in young peoples' descision to surgically alter their appearances, in part thanks to the photoshopped images that are sold as reality, he explained:
"The teen and young adult years are a highly impressionable time and the more consumers are inundated with celebrity images via social media, the more they want to replicate the enhanced, re-touched images that are passed off as reality. We are seeing a younger demographic than ever before seeking consultations and treatments with facial plastic surgeons all over the country."
Is Celebrity Openness About Cosmetic Surgery Damaging Or Dutiful?
Celebrities have seemingly been ironing out creases and 'enhancing' their curves since the dawn of time (well, the dawn of anaesthetics!) but some argue that it is their openness about plastic surgery that is making it less stigmatized and more appealing to youths.
Plastic surgeons (who obviously have a vested interest in ensuring the industry remains buoyant) cite this as powerful move for personal satisfaction when it comes to obtaining the bodies that we really want...if we can afford them. In the words of plastic surgeon Dr. Rozina Ali:
"It’s a very positive, powerful thing for a celebrity to do, to come across as relatable and human in saying ‘I was worried about this, I did something about it, and now this is me and I like it.’ It takes a lot of courage and conviction to decide to change. You don’t have to apologise for how you’ve decided to do that."
Of course, in the case of Ariel Winter and her breast reduction surgery, this could indeed have a positive effect on young people as it is largely regarded as a surgery that is beneficial for health, but things get a lot hazier when it comes to purely cosmetic work.
Some, however, see this commodification of plastic surgery as a dangerous trend that can make people lose sight of the potentially dangerous and life-altering operations they are undergoing. Even some people in the industry such as consultant plastic surgeon Rajiv Grover are concerned, he explained:
"It certainly appears both genders seem encouraged by a new openness in glamorous celebrities admitting they have had ‘a little surgical help’ to enhance their looks. There is a danger, however, that this presents the image of cosmetic surgery as a commodity. The public must always be warned that an operation is not something that can simply be returned to the shop if you don’t like it"
How Big A Part Do Celebrities Really Play?
There have been surprisingly few studies in celebrities and their sphere of influence in the plastic surgery universe, especially when it comes to young people, but one British study by J. Maltby and Liza Day has a vague answer for us to consider.
After surveying 137 young people (between the ages of 18-23 years old) about various areas such as how acceptable they found plastic surgery on a whole, their self-esteem, their life satisfaction and how they responded to celebrity, they found clear correlations between celebrity worship and cosmetic surgery.
Those people who were drawn to one particular celebrity (or a particular look say, the cartoonish hour glass figure of glamour models) were more likely to go under the knife, even when the other factors were taken into effect. Or, in the words of the paper from Sheffield university.
"The current findings suggest that intense-personal celebrity worship, specifically of a
celebrity whose body shape is admired, does not only predict the incidence of elective cosmetic surgery over the period of eight months, but does so after controlling for a number of standardized known predictors of the incidence of elective cosmetic surgery. This new finding is consistent with the previous finding that intense-personal celebrity worship is related to a willingness to have elective cosmetic surgery."
While there is still a lot more research to be done to have a conclusive answer, it seems that spending too much time swooning over Kylie Jenner's pillowy lips could lead you going to great lengths to get a pair of your own.