When I was thirteen, I read the Y/A novel “Uglies” by Scott Westerfield. It was about a dystopian future where everyone is considered ugly until they are turned “pretty” through government-enforced cosmetic surgeries at the age of sixteen.
While I enjoyed the book, I had always found the premise a bit silly. The concept of a society becoming so image obsessed that they resort to stripping people of their individuality through painful, dangerous, cosmetic procedures to achieve their rigid definition of beauty seemed too far-fetched at the time.
We still have a long way to go to reaching dystopian levels of enforced beauty ideals but it isn’t difficult to see similarities between our toxic obsession with beauty and plastic surgery compared to that in the book.
The concept of permanently altering yourself physically in the bid for beauty is nothing new. People all throughout history have done insane, borderline dangerous things to reach ever changing beauty ideals. From foot binding in Ancient china to fastening corsets too tightly to breathe in Victorian England, women have been expected all throughout history strive for beauty no matter the cost.
We’d like to think of ourselves as too evolved to engage in the somewhat barbaric beauty practises of the past but are we really? The beauty standards of the 21st century have been just as restrictive, dangerous and for the most part unobtainable. Unlike the 2000s, social media has had a large influence on beauty trends and beauty standards. Ever since the introduction of apps like Instagram and Snapchat they have been at the intersection of beauty and technology.
With Instagram’s popularity brought the era of influencers. With their backing of large and loyal followers, they held significant sway over what was deemed fashionable or not and leading the charge was Kylie Jenner.
While I’m not one to blame the Kar-Jenners for every societal problem, it’s impossible to ignore the impact they’ve had on beauty standards and how they’ve influenced the mainstreaming of plastic surgery culture. Kylie specifically was the “It girl” of that time, straddling the line of reality star and influencer. Known as her “King Kylie era”, Kylie swept Instagram and teen girls alike away with her coloured wigs, trademark makeup and her full lips.
Although she tried denying it at first, she later confessed to getting lip fillers. While she obviously had no obligation to disclose her cosmetic procedures and was also still a teenager at the time, many people found her misleading her largely younger fan base into believing they could achieve her cosmetically altered looks by buying a lip kit with her name on it problematic. This was a trend at the time with celebrities, especially the Kar-Jenners, with Kim, Khloe and Kylie all getting BBL’s while lying that these brand-new features were natural to sell whatever new slimming tea or exercise routine.
Still, her confession opened the floodgates and caused an increase in popularity for lip fillers and bbl’s. Over time, other influencers began to pop up sporting an uncanny similarity to Kylie’s look, thus the “Instagram look” was born. For those of us who were either too young or poor, filters were there to give us an insight to what we would like as slightly better altered versions of ourselves.
Made popular by Snapchat, the filters started off as fun little edits ranging from dog faces to flower crowns. While they still noticeably altered your face with slight lightening, contouring and slimming, they paled in comparison to the newly introduced Instagram filters. People were almost unrecognizable with full, pouty lips and a snatched, contoured face.
Even as Instagram still tried hiding behind the body positivity movement ironically growing alongside the culture of body-modification, the domino effect had started. From growing dissatisfaction of their looks, to full on body dysmorphia, the over use of filters had a detrimental effect to many young girls and women’s self-esteem and the only solution to that seemed like plastic surgery.
Its only seemed to have worsened in our new decade. With the 2020 lockdown confining meetings to virtual landscape people, became more aware of what they looked like. Plastic surgeons have said that many clients cite not liking what they saw in their Zoom video calls as reasons for getting surgery and using a picture of themselves with a filter on as their ideal look.
TikTok is another perpetuator of this unhealthy standard of beauty. While it doesn’t have the same picture-perfect, curated vibe that Instagram does, it adds another layer by constantly creating new reasons for women and girls to feel insecure. It seems like almost once a month the people on TikTok find a new feature to shame people for. From classics like large noses and thin hair, to absolutely niche insecurities like how much space is between your nose and upper lip.
The festering of insecurities and constant bombarding of conventional attractive people has created a community where being anything less than conventionally attractive equates to ugliness. Many people refuse to post themselves now in fear of being harassed for the simply crime of being “ugly”.
Luckily for us though, we’re also being bombarded by the advice to simply bite the bullet and get cosmetic surgery. With it becoming increasingly accessible and beauty standards getting higher, people look at it as the only logical choice. These surgeries are happening at increasingly younger ages as a supposed “preventative measure” even though plastic surgeons themselves do not advise it.
Still videos of women never older than twenty-five are repeatedly boosted on the for you page encouraging young girls and women to start their plastic surgery journeys young in order to attain the unobtainable beauty. Its incredibly telling that this type of content is being marketed mainly at women as society still values our beauty over all.
But similarly, to the “Instagram face”, there seems to be a uniformity to this new brand of beauty. Big doe eyes with long lashes, a preferably angular face, a button nose and full lips with hyper realistic TikTok filters seemingly being the blueprint.
But why should we all thrive to sand down our features to look like carbon copies of each other and shouldn’t we be thinking critically about what features we are lifting up? Bella Hadid has said on record that she regrets getting a nose job at fifteen because she misses her distinctive Middle Eastern nose and she has a point. Many of the features deemed undesirable are mainly non-Eurocentric features and it while it might sound dramatic, it’s incredibly disheartening to see a culture completely erased from a person’s face. POC are often ridiculed for their features and while “ethnic rhinoplasty” exists, its important to question why you want a nose job in the first place.
Beauty culture has become something incredibly pervasive and harmful in our society and enables industries, companies and people to take advantages of our insecurities. Plastic surgery is an individual’s choice and can be empowering like in the case of trans feminization procedures, but it’s necessary to critically think about why you want to permanently change the way you look in the first place. As someone who doesn’t like staring at her reflection for too long it’s important to learn not to be caught in a spiral of comparing ourselves to other people as a guide for how we “should” look and learn to stop seeking perfection and love ourselves at our most average. Like it or not, there’s a reason we aren’t all born looking the same. We need to embrace our uniqueness and remember that your features are proof that generations of your face have been loved.