I’ve been doing a lot of double taking on Instagram recently. Long time friends – faces I know and love – are often completely unrecognisable. What started out as a skin filter to cover up the signs of a hangover or a quick nip in the waist to camouflage post holiday bloat (I have been guilty of doing this a couple of times) has turned into full on airbrush Armageddon because tens of thousands of 20-somethings are having fillers to completely augment their face. Selfie dysmorphia it seems, has reached epidemic proportions.
So what’s driving young women to risk permanently damaging their looks and health by injecting ridiculous amounts of fillers into their lips, eyes, cheeks, noses and chins, often by people who have no medical training whatsoever? According to Save Face, a company running a government-recognised national register of accredited practitioners, the number of official complaints about non-surgical procedures has more than doubled to over 600 cases in the last three years. These have been mostly for lip fillers and tear trough treatments, usually administered by beauty therapists rather than qualified cosmetic doctors and surgeons.
According to top cosmetic surgeon Dr Paul Nassif, star of the E channel’s hit TV show Botched, what is driving this insatiable demand for tweakments are the face tuning apps on social media which have set wholly unrealistic ideals for female beauty. Women are posting images with laser cut jaws and chins, pillowy Angelina Jolie lips, saucer like eyes and tweaked noses, with skin pore freed and smoothed to marble like perfection. All of which are unnatural completely unobtainable.
This week I tried out some of the face tuning apps and it is no wonder young women are being driven to have increasingly unrealistic cosmetic treatments. In just five minutes I’d face tuned my own face and could barely recognise myself. I changed the length and width of my nose, the size of my eyes, eyebrows, shape of my face, sharpened my jawline, enlarged my lips and smoothed my skin to a glassy, poreless texture. By the end I looked 16. I am 45 years old.
The problem is that more and more women on social media and influencers are using this level of picture manipulation so young women are under increasing pressure to have augmentation procedures on their faces at younger and younger ages. It’s just not healthy.
On a recent edition of my ‘Editor’s List’ podcast, Dr Nassif reveals Selfie Dysmorphia as the biggest problem facing cosmetic doctors. Coupled with unregulated and irresponsible cowboy therapists in the UK this is a public health disaster waiting to happen.
In the past, the number of 20-somethings and millennials beating a path to his Nassif MD clinic in Beverly hills, and now also at his newly opened UK outpost in Manchester, would have been low, probably less than 20% of his clientele, but in the last year the number has risen steeply with a queue of young women asking for an excess of tweakments that will inevitably lead to freakish results. “Women are taking selfies and changing everything with facial tuning apps. They are looking at what they think is perfection. They take their features and make a ‘better version’ of themselves but a lot of times that better version is simply an unrealistic version.”
Nassif adds: “It’s the millenial generation that we are worried about most with selfie dysmorphia. They have moved away from requesting celebrity noses and instead they are bringing in filtered images of themselves that they want to have procedures to look like. That barely trained practitioners can set up shop performing fillers is one that has to stop, otherwise women will end up ruining their appearance permanently.”
On his hit TV show Botched, Dr Paul Nassif has long dealt with cosmetic surgery disasters which he and colleague Dr Terry Dubrow try to repair. Now however, they are seeing much more revision work required for women in their 20s with filler horror stories.
So what can be done about the selfie dysmorphia crisis? The answer is simple but two-fold. Firstly, we need to ban anyone without full medical training from injecting fillers. The complexity of the anatomy of the face cannot possibly be treated by someone who has just taken a one-day course in dermal fillers. The situation isn’t much better for toxin injections either and it’s just a 19 day part-time course to get a non-medical prescribers license.
If anything goes wrong or you have a reaction or an infection, someone without proper medical training would not be equipped to implement an effective rescue plan. At least if we shut off the market to cowboy therapists we will reduce the number of car crash filler cases. Then there’s the harder issue of creating a more realistic aesthetic for younger women. That might be harder. Perhaps it calls for women to have more realistic expectations of their own beauty otherwise, we are set to become caricatures of some false ideal.