The prevalence of aestheticians on every high street in every city has familiarised their services into the mainstream psyche, but that familiarity didn't grow in a vacuum. Aimee Doyle is looking the beauty, celebrity and lifestyle media dead in the eye and asking, to what degree are they responsible for the current fascination with all things aesthetics?
In a previous issue of YOUTH, we examined Celeb 3 – the new age of our relationship with celebrity culture. We looked at many avenues for discussion around this topic, but a theme that emerged consistently, from celeb-inspired memes to headlines, was the focus placed on appearance. This issue, we’ve gone deeper on this theme and examined the role the media has played in the cultural fixation with plastic surgery and cosmetic aesthetic intervention.
We have long been surrounded by images of celebrities, with the media highlighting the difference of ‘real’ vs ‘fake’. Fake is bad. Natural beauty has always been placed on a pedestal, seen almost as a badge of honour.
A vicious cycle is created – the media scrutinise those who don’t meet standard beauty expectations. Those scrutinised consider enhancement surgeries for various reasons potentially linked to this. If it’s obvious they have succumbed to societal pressure, they are deemed both insecure/unnatural.
Society and the media have also decided on a hierarchical state for cosmetic procedures; usually, something injectable (i.e filler) is seen as more acceptable than something requiring anesthetic (i.e implants/liposuction)
There has also long been a narrative that villainised those who chose weight loss surgery methods.
It would bear the question, created arguably through the para-social relationship dynamic between celebrity and audience, why do we feel entitled to this opinion on anyone else’s body and choices?
A frequent, and substantial argument is around the idea of those in the media as role models. If they are seen to embrace their ‘flaws’, it can be encouraging for their fans to do the same. This theory objectively holds some truth. Being shown one beauty standard does subconsciously suggest an ‘ideal’ way to look.
Take teeth as an example – the global teeth whitening market size reached 7.2 billion dollars in 2022 and was forecast to rise to 11.77 billion by 2030.
Cosmetic dentistry as an industry continues to boom – as we are sold the idea of ‘a perfect smile’ as almost a necessity.
The backlash faced by those who chose cosmetic procedures, particularly those appealing to a youth audience, bred a new approach to the honesty surrounding cosmetic procedures.
Kylie Jenner was initially quiet about her choice to have lip fillers, before ultimately admitting it was a choice made to address a long-term insecurity.
There's an argument for empowerment in making a choice that serves your own happiness. However, what's empowering for one confirms suspicion for another, and this did cement for many of Kylie’s fans that thin lips were something to be insecure about.
Perhaps the issue is the constant conversation around appearance, the analysis of faces, the speculation of what could be changed – the idea that we can always, always look better.
Is the real issue, the consumerist industry built on the idea of self-improvement?
Diet culture, hair growth vitamins, even skincare – there is so much money to be made by telling people to seek self-improvement.
This is a paradox of living alongside a modern culture which is aiming to grow and be seen as celebrating of flaws, while ultimately still promoting the idea that there is an ‘ideal beauty’, and better yet, you can pay for it.
For example, the appearance of freckles were recently celebrated, having been highlighted on fashion runways etc. This resulted in the possession of freckles being put on a pedestal and are now available as a permanent cosmetic procedure.
We’ve seen many television series created around this idea – The Swan, Khloe Kardashian’s Revenge Body. All of these productions carried the narrative that the secret to happiness lies in how we look. We would be introduced to contestants, initially explaining their unhappiness, traumas they have faced etc.
The middle section of the episode would take us through a plucky montage of exercise, surgery, new wardrobe and by the end of the 45 minute showing, we have someone who looks better and therefore, feels better. Apparently.
There has arguably been a shift in more recent years. Many of today’s celebrity figures do present a more diverse image. Brands and companies are also expected to follow, so more of the campaigns we see carry messaging that celebrates beauty in different forms, and self-acceptance - a good example being Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign. Online fashion brand ASOS do not photoshop many of their model’s images anymore and include examples of models wearing hearing aids. Djerf Avenue has also been praised for its inclusive approach to models on their website.
Ultimately, your body is your own. We celebrate the idea that every choice you make is your business and that is all. To modify, reduce, accentuate whatever it might be – the resources are readily available. Being aware of what may have led to the decision is the crucial point – a media focused on appearance, and a multi-billion industry founded on offering solutions to invented problems, are unlikely to go anywhere any time soon.