Plastic Surgery In the Pandemic

The pandemic has changed the way we view our bodies, whether it be through apps like Tiktok and Instagram, or through comparing ourselves to the unrealistic beauty standards people online. This can have disastrous consequences, something we are already beginning to see in the world of plastic surgery.

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The belief in one’s ability to exert control over the environment and to produce desired results is essential for an individual’s well-being. This idea was reinforced by research findings suggesting that when individuals feel that they aren't able to produce desired results, they show feelings of helplessness and depression. When the pandemic rolled out, many felt that they lost control of their own lives. And because humans have an innate desire to be in control, many turned to plastic surgery.

Plastic surgery has always played a significant role in our society. Whether it be breast augmentation, liposuction, or a facelift, these procedures were all happening well before the pandemic. And for a short bit in the beginning of the pandemic, numbers fell; many elective procedures were banned by hospitals in an attempt to control the virus, and many were hesitant to take such a significant step in the midst of a pandemic. But as time went on, the vaccine emerged and restrictions were lifted, and many saw this as a “golden opportunity.”

Despite the shutdown in 2020 and the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic itself, Americans have bypassed the revenues of previous years in plastic surgery. An estimated 1.4 million surgical and non-surgical procedures were done in the past year, with plastic surgeons performing an average of 600 more procedures than they did in 2020—a 40 percent increase.

Scientists coined it the “Zoom Boom.” The common concerns associated with cosmetic procedures often include how to take time off to recover and balance work and wondering what others will think and how they will react. The pandemic provided a solution for all that. As life switched over to platforms like Zoom, social interactions were considerably limited. Many cosmetic procedures require a significant amount of recovery time—one that would considerably cut into vacation days. But now, patients were able to do the necessary work from their beds. One plastic surgeon was in awe after one of his patients returned back to his remote work one week after his high definition liposuction, a procedure that usually has a three to four week recovery period.

The pandemic even provided a solution for the concerns of facial procedures. As mask-wearing became more normalized, people were able to get their noses, faces, and lips done again. Scientists highlighted that because any evidence of the procedure is hidden behind the mask during the entire recovery period, the patient is able to take their mask off when they have fully recovered, and people are able to see the finished product without the patient having to show visible marks such as bruising or swelling.

While the pandemic was able to provide solutions for many concerns people had regarding plastic surgery, it also created the very insecurities that led to more plastic surgery in the first place. With most people stuck at home, people turned to social media, some for boredom, and others for the feeling of some sort of human connection. Apps like TikTok saw an increase from 680 million active users in 2018 to over 1.1 billion monthly active users in 2021.

On Tiktok, many trends revolve around proving beauty, such as testing to see how symmetrical one’s face or how big one’s lips are. These types of videos fueled a new beauty standard that caused millions of people stuck at home to re-examine their own bodies—even if the comparison was a video with a filter. Some surgeons even mentioned how many of their patients came in using influencer lingo, claiming that they noticed they had “facial asymmetry” or even that they wanted to look like a certain influencer whom they admire.

The spike in plastic surgery is also a result of Zoom. With the increased usage of Zoom and other video platforms to communicate, many went from seeing their face only occasionally during the workday to regularly looking into a mirror-image of themself on the screen. With this, many became more aware of features such as wrinkles or lines, and new insecurities fueled a desire to get them fixed. While there was still an emphasis on the body, Zoom-related factors like these led to an increase specifically in facial cosmetic procedures.

However, just because there was an increased emphasis on the face due to platforms like Zoom, this didn’t stop people from wanting surgery for their bodies. In fact, there was a rapid increase in body contouring procedures when everything opened back up in 2021, with a 24.7 percent increase in fat reduction procedures and a 15 percent increase in skin tightening procedures. Many surgeons feel that this is due to quarantine’s contribution to overall decreased physical activity, leading to things such as weight gain.

Interestingly enough, plastic surgeons also noticed a trend in plastic surgery that corresponded with COVID trends. For example, when there seemed to be a spike in COVID cases just around the corner, more patients came in for procedures as the likelihood of a shutdown increased again. People feared that they wouldn’t be able to get themselves “fixed” before everything shut down again. Comparatively, when the vaccine came out to the public, there was a dip in the number of plastic surgeries. The vaccine showed many people that this was the beginning of a shift to the real world again, prompting people began to shift back to their normal life. Schedules were filled up, and many did not have as much time to spare, such as the time needed to recover at home.

It is important to note the psychological effects of social media and plastic surgery, especially on our younger generations. They pose the question: how far will we go for social media? On social media today, there are millions of filters and millions of people who edit their photos, faces, and bodies to perfection. And the scary part is that we now have younger children using apps like TikTok and Instagram. When they see what society defines as a perfect face or a perfect body, their insecurities and self-doubts take root, worsening as time goes on. There is nothing wrong with plastic surgery, but it shouldn’t be necessary for people to feel beautiful.