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The increasing availability of cosmetic treatments and its impact on youngsters: AN INTERVIEW WITH DR tony ortega

With social media channels plastering seemingly perfect images across our screens on a regular basis, young adults are faced with an overwhelming pressure to look a certain way. Frightening viral TikTok trends such as the ‘headphone wire challenge’ (which involves teens attempting to wrap their headphone wires around their waist to prove how small it is), and the obvious cosmetic enhancements of contestants on popular shows such as Love Island, promote an unhealthy obsession with body image - one that is often unattainable without surgery or other extreme measures.

To shed some more light on the increasing availability of cosmetic treatments and its impact on young people, we spoke to Dr Tony Ortega, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of the self-help guide #AreYouHereYet: How To STFU and Show Up For Yourself.

Tony shares his thoughts on the issue with us below.

The average age for cosmetic surgery keeps getting younger. Have you observed an increase in the number of young people becoming self-conscious about their looks over the last few years?

Absolutely. Since I work primarily with the LGBTQ+ community, I have seen an increase in clients being self-conscious about their looks. This was further exacerbated during quarantine, when gyms were not accessible. Also, since folks were spending more time with themselves, they became very present to not only their internal experience but their outward appearance as well. This could very well have led to an increase in wanting cosmetic surgery in younger populations.

The ‘Love Island Effect’ was coined after clinics reported a 200% rise in demand for procedures like lip fillers, in an attempt to achieve the enhanced look of contestants on the reality show. Do you think the increased visibility of surgically enhanced individuals has a negative impact on the body image of youngsters watching such shows?

This is definitely the case. When celebrities do something and it becomes popular as a result, it normalises it for us non-celebrity folks. Additionally, if we continue to talk about self-worth, folks may see how these surgical procedures add to a celebrity’s beauty, it should have the same effect on them as well. It's the striving for what you think you lack and want to have kind of phenomenon.

And what about social media? We scroll through pages of ‘perfect’ images every day and can change our faces in the blink of an eye with an Instagram filter - what effect is this having on young people?

Social media is probably the worst thing for someone's sense of self-worth. It is a fertile breeding ground for comparison. You see these influencers with all of these followers and thousands of likes and folks think that it has something to do with their physical beauty. They forget or may not be privy to things such as endorsements or use of appropriate hashtags, or even bots. They see beauty and popularity and equate it to love.

Conversations around body image and cosmetic surgery are usually focused on young women - have you seen an increase in young men becoming more self-conscious about their appearance?

Again, since I work primarily with LGBTQ+ individuals, young gay men historically are very self-conscious about their looks. They strive to achieve the traditional ‘gay male body’ and go to great lengths to do so. Not only will they resort to cosmetic surgeries but more dangerous body enhancements such as steroids or perhaps disordered eating. Unfortunately, this is becoming much more prevalent with younger gay males.

For young people considering cosmetic surgery or non-surgical treatments such as fillers, what questions would you recommend they ask themselves to ensure they are doing it for the right reasons?

As I would with any of my clients when faced with a decision, I ask them to examine their motives. Are they seeking this to fill some sort of void in their lives or are they truly wanting this to compliment their lives? I would advise them to be brutally honest with themselves about this question and then make a decision once they have arrived at an answer to it.

What advice would you give to young people when it comes to feeling pressured to look a certain way because of outside influences, such as influencers and reality stars?

First and foremost, to realise that so much of what we see on TV and social media is specifically curated for ratings/likes/etc. It rarely, if ever, reflects actual reality. Also, to start to identify their strengths and build upon those strengths, instead of focusing on perceived weaknesses and obsessing on what can be done about them.

Do you think more needs to be done to educate youngsters about the potential dangers of social media and the damage it can cause to their emotional wellbeing?

Seeing that social media is here to stay, there should be education in schools on it and also, mental health professionals should be more well versed.

Thanks once again to Dr Tony Ortega for sharing his expert insight into the topic. To find out more about his work and his latest book #AreYouHereYet: How To STFU and Show Up For Yourself, visit his personal website.

For more information on the impact of cosmetic surgery on youngsters, read our related interview with Michael Padraig-Acton.

Meanwhile, if you have had a negative experience with cosmetic surgery as a result of medical negligence, get in touch with the team at Cosmetic Surgery Solicitors to find out how we can help.

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