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The increasing availability of cosmetic treatments and its impact on youngsters: AN INTERVIEW WITH DR Michael padraig-acton

In this day and age, youngsters are under a great deal of pressure to look like their favourite celebrities and influencers, with many opting to choose surgical and non-surgical procedures as soon as they hit 18. Thankfully, new legislation means that under 18s are now banned from getting dermal fillers or Botox - a law that is expected to prevent a shocking 41,000 botox injections being administered to minors every year. However, this doesn’t stop young people from feeling insecure. With social media flooding our news feeds with unrealistic body expectations, surgically-enhanced bodies are now seen as the norm.

We spoke to psychological therapist, counsellor and author, Michael Padraig-Acton, to discuss the increasing availability of cosmetic treatments and its impact on young people. With over 30 years of experience, he has a great deal of experience dealing with the complexities of body image in youngsters.

Michael 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?

Plastic and cosmetic surgeries have grown exponentially since the last decade or so, almost doubling to about 25 million procedures worldwide per year. There are many different ideas about the reasons why but the main one is social media, and we’re living a life that is two-dimensional in many ways. We take photographs, we have photographs taken of us. Photographs are important for the profiles of all of our social media accounts, Twitter, etc. Kids grow up now with photographs being taken all the time.

I hate my photograph being taken, I hate looking at myself on video so if I feel that way, imagine what a 14, 15, 17 or 20 year old is going to feel. Are my breasts big enough? Is my nose right? Is my chin okay?

Airbrushing has just been stopped by a lot of advertisers thank goodness, understanding that it is damaging to people when you airbrush a person’s photograph to the point when it’s really not them anymore. It makes other people want to live up to a perfectionist standard. And peer pressure is huge when it comes to cosmetic surgery, but it’s what surgeons rely upon. Aestheticians rely upon people wanting to look better and we’re all driven to look better. Haircuts at a hairdresser used to be an occasional thing. Now it’s an essential tool.

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?

Yes. The figures show a 20% increase globally in procedures for men. Anorexia has increased as much, if not more, among men. I look at some of these models on the catwalk and it’s a full-time job: starving yourself and building muscle. Men are just as much targets as women, if not more.

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?

Unless there is something really severe, like a cleft palate or significantly asymmetrical breasts, encourage them to let it go.

If the NHS or some kind of medical insurance will cover it, then it’s more than likely something that your child will be better off having done because it’s going to really impact their life. If the medical insurance or NHS won’t cover or entertain it, then encourage them to leave it well alone until they’re 21 or above.

Are you a 21 year old reading this and feel you have a severe issue? Ask some friends. Look around. Google some information. Don’t just go and book a procedure. You can’t undo a cosmetic procedure and they’re dangerous in many different ways. Before you have surgery, you’re told there is a 40 per cent risk of infection. That’s a real number.

Don’t go under the knife. Don’t have fillers. Surgery is rarely a one off deal where the changes are permanent. Noses and ears keep continuing to grow throughout your lifetime. So if you have something done to your nose or your ears in their twenties, they will continue to develop and grow. People don’t realise that breast implants should be changed every ten years. You can have grafts that are rejected by the body for no known reason after two, three or even ten years and you can be left disfigured.

It’s really a serious option to have surgery and it is an option. Unless it’s needed for some kind of severe issue, don’t have it done.

What advice would you give to parents of adolescents that are feeling pressured to look a certain way?

Unless there is something really severe, like a cleft palate or significantly asymmetrical breasts, encourage them to let it go.

If the NHS or some kind of medical insurance will cover it, then it’s more than likely something that your child will be better off having done because it’s going to really impact their life. If the medical insurance or NHS won’t cover or entertain it, then encourage them to leave it well alone until they’re 21 or above.

Are you a 21 year old reading this and feel you have a severe issue? Ask some friends. Look around. Google some information. Don’t just go and book a procedure. You can’t undo a cosmetic procedure and they’re dangerous in many different ways. Before you have surgery, you’re told there is a 40 per cent risk of infection. That’s a real number.

Don’t go under the knife. Don’t have fillers. Surgery is rarely a one off deal where the changes are permanent. Noses and ears keep continuing to grow throughout your lifetime. So if you have something done to your nose or your ears in their twenties, they will continue to develop and grow. People don’t realise that breast implants should be changed every ten years. You can have grafts that are rejected by the body for no known reason after two, three or even ten years and you can be left disfigured.

It’s really a serious option to have surgery and it is an option. Unless it’s needed for some kind of severe issue, don’t have it done.

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?

Firstly, in my opinion, filler is a surgical procedure. It’s putting something in the body. Don’t be fooled by the different terminology. Anything that’s injected or put inside the body is a procedure. This is something that annoys me at the moment because lots of people think some of these procedures such as fillers are harmless, but the body can reject it or you could have a reaction to it or get an infection.

Once you’ve read all the small print of what can go wrong, how often it needs to be changed, how long it lasts, etc., ask yourself what advice you would give to your dearest friend that is about to have this done?

And also, ask yourself why you are doing this? Are you doing it for yourself? Are you doing it to attract a certain guy or girl?

Do you predict that the desire to undergo cosmetic surgery/non-surgical treatments will continue to rise among young people? If so, what do you think needs to be done to stop this trend?

Well, I think we’re already making steps towards this with the Advertising Standards Authority cracking down on airbrushing models and using online filters to extremes where it’s not really a person anymore.

The media and Hollywood need to send out the message that it doesn’t matter what shape or size you are as long as you’re healthy, you have really good relationships and you are contributing, you have a passion in life. It’s not about how skinny we are. It’s not about how our cheekbones are. It’s not about our nose or our hair. That’s not what life’s about. Life is about us as a whole.

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?

That is happening. However, we can’t expect the world to take care of our children. We as parents need to take care of them. I have a parenting book, Learning How To Be A Good Enough Parent, coming out this November and it’s all about how we need to take responsibility for our children.

Whether they are children from zero to 21 or adult children, we need to understand our relationship with them and manage that. We all need guidance. We can’t control other people but we can educate them. And I guess we have to educate the people of today that it’s OK to be us. We are uniquely individual unless we are sculpted to all look the same. Wouldn’t that be a boring world?

Thanks once again to Michael for sharing his expert insight into the topic. Michael’s latest book, Power of You: Learning How To Leave (A Practical Guide to Stepping Away from Toxic Narcissistic Relationships) is available now. To find out more about his work, visit his personal website.

For more information on the impact of cosmetic surgery on youngsters, read our related interview with Dr Tony Ortega.

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.


If you have had dermal fillers that has gone wrong, our solicitors can help you. Read more about making a dermal fillers claim here or If you've had Breast implant Surgery that has gone , then our team of solicitors can help you, learn more about making a breast implant claim here

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