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Social media, airbrushing and celebs: Why are so many teenagers having cosmetic surgery?



Research suggests that an increasing number of teenagers are hoping to have cosmetic surgery to alter their appearance. In fact, in 2005, a magazine survey of 2,000 teenage girls found that 40% had considered plastic surgery.

September 15, 2015


Some are inspired by celebrities, others believe changing their appearance will stop them being bullied, and in some cases, teenagers are driven by a desire to look better in ‘selfies’ and on social media.

Although many teenagers wait until they reach the age of 18 before having surgery, some are able to gain access to the procedures they want before they reach this age, often with a parent’s permission.


Back to school surgery

Plastic surgeons in America have found that the summer holidays are the most common time for teens to undergo cosmetic surgery, with many students stating they want a new look at the start of term. According to The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), approximately 63,000 teenagers had cosmetic surgery in 2013, and 18,000 teenagers aged 13-19 got a form of Botox.

In 2013, Jennifer and Karen Lopez from South London hit the headlines after their mum paid more than £20,000 for them to have cosmetic surgery at the ages 14 and 15. Between them they had a nose jobs, breast enhancements, liposuction, and bum enlargements.

Jennifer said: “I envied curvy women like J-Lo. When I asked for the surgery, mum said ‘no’ at first and that I should wait until I was 18, when my curves might develop.

“But I wanted the results straight away. I kept on asking every day, saying how unhappy I was until, a year later, she agreed.”

So what are they key driving forces inspiring young people to go under the knife?



When anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label surveyed teenagers across the UK on a number of topics relating to bullying, one in five wished they could have breast implants while 5% wanted Botox because they believed it would improve their appearance and deter bullies.

Liam Hackett, founder and CEO of the charity said appearance-based bullying can have “devastating, long term impacts,” adding “young people are now considering drastic and invasive measures to alter their appearances due to insecurities and bullying.”



Extensive airbrushing in advertisements has been blamed for body image issues, with experts accusing airbrushed ads of giving young people unrealistic expectations, increasing the chance of eating disorders, and encouraging them to have cosmetic surgery.

Blaming the use of “impossibly perfect” models and airbrushing techniques, Claude Knights, chief executive of Kidscape says: “It’s a very visual world we are living in now.”

She adds: “This commercialisation of childhood leads in too many cases to distorted body image and low self-esteem.”



A report by NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh revealed 41% of girls aged seven to 10 said they felt under pressure to look like celebrities. With celebrities such as Kylie Jenner and Iggy Azalea having surgery in their teens and early twenties, perhaps for young people, surgery is no longer considered taboo and is being seen as relatively low risk.


Social Media

Teenagers are taking more photos of themselves than ever before and, by spending so much time on social media, they’re constantly exposed to images from friends that have been carefully chosen and edited to make the person in the photograph look their best.

When RealSelf asked 527 people interested in having surgery the question “Has social media influenced you to consider or choose to have a cosmetic procedure?” half confirmed it had an impact.

Scot Glasberg, MD of ASPS said:“Social media is affecting [cosmetic surgery] tremendously, especially among the younger crowd, because they see the way other people look and they think, ‘How do I get that, too?’”


A lack of regulation

With teenagers spending so much time using social media, looking at airbrushed images of models, and following their favourite celebrities’ every move, teenagers have never been under so much pressure to look their best.

Apprentice winner and skin care clinic owner, Leah Totton, says she has placed a ban on procedures for under-18s after a 14-year-old girl asked for Botox.

The industry is, to an extent, unregulated. In theory, under-18s need parental consent before they can undergo a cosmetic procedure, but there is nothing to stop young people buying dermal fillers online and carrying out procedures on themselves or friends with no experience or training.

Even Katie Price believes the law around cosmetic surgery needs to change. She says: “External pressure on young girls growing up today results in too many turning to surgery at a very young age. Are they having surgery to try and please themselves, or is it to try and please other people? Like all procedures, cosmetic surgery carries risks, and they are risks that you are better equipped to understand at 21.”

However, although more regulation may seem like the way to prevent young people undergoing treatment, US statistics suggest that even more needs to be done.  Despite being governed by stricter criteria than the UK, in 2012, 236,356 American 13 to 19-year-olds underwent cosmetic surgery of some kind.

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