A perspective on the role of media in cosmetic medicine

At this point in the pandemic, most people have used a front-facing video chatting app to connect with colleagues, friends, and family. Many of us have probably also looked at our screens and noticed the gray hairs, the frown lines, and the blemishes.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports 15.6 million cosmetic procedures in 2020 despite lockdowns and mandatory shutdowns of elective procedures. Botox and soft-tissue fillers were the most sought-after injectable procedure, and procedures involving the face — rhinoplasty, facelifts, and eyelid surgeries — were the most sought-after cosmetic surgeries.

As we enter a post-pandemic life, we are unlikely to drop online chatting altogether. Companies have found it easier and cheaper to meet online, and the rise of new social media apps like TikTok will keep us cognizant of the way they look.

For some, a simple cosmetic procedure can greatly alleviate any personal dissatisfaction. However, many are unable to afford cosmetic procedures, and some continue to deal with anxiety and low self-esteem related to their appearances.

According to researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, among people getting cosmetic surgery, approximately 7 to 15 percent have body dysmorphic disorder, a condition in which an imagined or slight defect in appearance causes significant distress and impairment.

To compound the issue, social media and entertainment media continue to popularize very high — some might even argue, unattainable — expectations of beauty through pre-planned or choreographed visuals, photo editing, and cosmetic procedures.

How can our society address this issue?

It starts with teaching ourselves that the images we are presented with might not reflect reality. They might be edited, filtered, or touched up.

It is also important that the media and entertainment industries be more inclusive and representative of our society — one that is filled with people of different cultures, body types, skin tones, ethnicities, and sexual orientation.

Finally, it is important to form positive, supportive relationships with the people in our lives and to talk about body image and self-esteem with our peers, families, and doctors.

This article is not medical advice and should not substitute medical judgement.

Community Caregivers is a not-for-profit agency supported by community donations, and grants from the Albany County Department for Aging, the New York State Department of Health and Office for the Aging, and the United States Administration on Aging.

Editor’s note: Kanthi Bommareddy, M.D. is a former Community Caregivers student volunteer.