Unrealistic standards push more girls towards sturgical interventions

korea 1Donatella Versace. Caitlyn Jenner. Joan Rivers.

These are just a few examples of celebrities who have famously – or rather, infamously – undergone plastic surgery. They emerge not the beautiful butterflies they had been hoping for, but freakish, misshapen shadows of their former selves.

Despite the dangers and controversy that surround cosmetic surgery, history has proven that there is little that mankind won’t do in the impossible pursuit of youth.

The angst and self-loathing that accompanies our teenage decade has, for many years, been the focus of countless novels and movies. Typical adolescent problems have been mocked and exploited to the point where it is perceived as abnormal to not experience them during your adolescent life.

Hating your physical appearance has become – and it pains me to say – cool. As a teenager myself, I can confirm that those in my age group (girls especially) are very critical of themselves.

“I wish I had legs like you!”

“Do my thighs look fat in this picture?”

“I hate my nose, it’s way too big.”

Social media’s explosive outbreak has done nothing but aggravate this alarming condition. Essentially, teaching people that their self-worth is measured in the number of likes they receive, social media platforms have only encouraged a generation of ‘self-bullying’ – the constant condemnation of teens’ physical appearance.

From a young age, most children have been raised to think that ‘everyone is beautiful in their own way’. Well, according to the media and society, everyone IS beautiful in their own way, but only if they are white, size 0, and have legs longer than the list of people against Donald Trump. Studies suggest that persistent exposure to these impossible standards during childhood and adolescence lays the foundation for the negative effects of media during early adulthood.

These incessant put downs have become ubiquitous, no longer a surprise to any teen or adult surfing the big bad internet these days.

Brick houses can no longer protect us from the huffing and puffing of the digital wolves.

This hypercritical behaviour has, without a doubt, had an effect on the worrying rise of eating disorders. Terrifying pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia ‘thinspiration’ websites have cropped up all over the internet, just a few clicks away. Thousands of haunting images are displayed with pride: emaciated girls and boys with paper-thin skin and glass bones, one step away from shattering.

The effect of media on women’s body dissatisfaction, thin ideal internalization, and disordered eating appears to be stronger among young adults than children and adolescents, so it is no surprise that the Royal College of Psychiatrists in the UK has laid the blame for this unprecedented rise firmly at the door of social media. This link between social media, eating disorders and in turn, plastic surgery, is too large to ignore.

Take South Korea, for example. Known as the plastic surgery capital of the world, Korea has seen a gradual drop in the ages of those undergoing procedures. In 2014, the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons reported that a staggering one in five South Korean women have had some form of surgery – and this number, distressingly, includes adolescents. Teens have become the new target in the market for plastic surgery: double eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty) has become a common graduation gift for Korean high schoolers.

In fact, the number of cases of plastic surgery in teens has risen. In 2012, more than 236,000 cosmetic procedures were performed on patients ages 19 and younger, according to the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons.

Why has Korean society accepted plastic surgery to be the norm? To many, myself included, to some extent, the double eyelid surgery is a symbol of white America’s history of cultural dominance over South Korea. But, this has been brought about by much more than just America’s cultural dominance. It points to the low self-esteem that clearly many people (women especially) possess. The need to fit in has been hammered into their consciousness for so long that the appalling after-effects of this will be felt for generations to come, not only by today’s Korean teens.

The rise of faux celebrities made famous on Instagram and other social media platforms are a source of inspiration – or ‘faux-piration’- for adolescents. Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Cara Delevingne: these girls are deemed ‘body goals’ and motivation for the younger generation, creating hordes of confused teenagers obsessed with the perfect lives of their idols. Toned abs and photoshopped faces fill their social media feeds daily.

These stars are idolised by teens who become fixated on attaining the models’ perfectly symmetrical and impossibly flawless features; spawning thousands of fan sites and contributing to their collective total of 119.1 million Instagram followers. The problem is this: teens on the street think they too can achieve Kardashian-esque, faux-celebrity, teen-Instagrammer popularity.

The harsh reality is that it took a lot of questionable and quite shocking procedures for America’s ‘royal family’ to get where they are.

Maybe in twenty, thirty years I will feel the first pangs of longing for when my skin was supple and hair lustrous. How easy it would be to go under the knife, to turn back the years.

But for now, I don’t. And to be honest, I don’t think I ever will.

Zara Abdullah
December 2017

Photo credit: Orla Redding in Korea