From the Journals

Social media use linked to acceptance of cosmetic surgery



Use of social media platforms such as Tinder, Snapchat, and Instagram, particularly in conjunction with photo-editing applications, may increase an individual’s acceptance of cosmetic surgery, a new study suggests.

Social media icons on phone

In JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, researchers report the outcomes of a web-based survey study involving 252 participants, 73.0% of whom were female. The survey asked participants about their use of social media, photo-editing tools such as Photoshop, VSCO, and Snapchat filters, and answered questionnaires to assess their self-esteem, self-worth, and attitudes toward cosmetic surgery.

All participants used at least one social media platform, with a mean of seven, and used a mean of two photo-editing applications; the analysis found that those who used more social media platforms were more likely to consider cosmetic surgery.

People who used Tinder and Snapchat ­– with or without photo filters – showed greater acceptance of cosmetic surgery, while those who used the photography mobile app VSCO and Instagram photo filters showed greater consideration but not acceptance of cosmetic surgery, compared with nonusers.

Participants whose self-worth was more closely tied to their appearance showed greater acceptance of cosmetic surgery. When it came to self-esteem, participants who used YouTube, WhatsApp, VSCO, and Photoshop had lower self-esteem scores, compared with nonusers.

Overall, nearly two-thirds of survey participants said they used photo-editing applications to change the lighting of images, but only 5.16% said they used these applications to make changes to face or body shape. This distinction was also seen in their acceptance of cosmetic surgery scores: Those who said they made changes to face and body shape showed higher acceptance scores than nonusers, but this was not seen in those who only used it for lighting adjustments.

“The rising trend of pursuing cosmetic surgery based on social media inspiration highlights the need to better understand patients’ motivations to seek cosmetic surgery,” wrote Jonlin Chen, a medical student at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, and coauthors.

Commenting on the association between YouTube use, lower self-esteem, and higher acceptance of cosmetic surgery, the authors suggested that the platform may generate appearance comparisons between users by allowing them to access beauty-related videos and connect with other users interested in cosmetics.

Michael J. Reilly, MD, department of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery and Keon M. Parsa, MD, from the department of psychiatry at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, commented in an accompanying editorial that the findings of this study illustrate an increased trend seen by facial plastic surgeons (JAMA Facial Plast Surg. 2019 June 27. doi: 10.1001/jamafacial.2019.0419). The study “shows the importance of understanding the underlying motives and characteristics of individuals seeking cosmetic surgery.” They noted that facial plastic surgeons can play a role in helping patients to improve their self-esteem, but it is also important to be aware of the clinical signs of depression, anxiety, and social isolation and refer for appropriate nonsurgical support when there are mental health concerns that go beyond the knife and needle.

The authors of the study did note that their choice of a web-based survey meant the demographic was likely to be skewed toward a younger, more social media–savvy demographic, and may not necessarily represent the broader population of individuals seeking cosmetic surgery.

No funding or conflicts of interest were declared.

SOURCE: Chen J et al. JAMA Facial Plast Surg. 2019 Jun 27. doi: 10.1001/jamafacial.2019.0328.

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