Facing Facts: Is our addiction to cosmetic procedures a mental health issue?

by , on
12th December 2017

Our increasing acceptance of cosmetic procedures and plastic surgery is hardly headline news anymore but there’s no denying the sheer velocity of it’s popularity over the last three years…..particularly amongst young girls.

So what has changed?  Why are twenty-something hotties getting regular Botox injections and lip augmentation treatments?  What is making attractive young girls with dewy, line-free skin and already ample lips, visit the cosmetic surgeon?

It’s no accident that in this current world of instant gratification – the one where young women are addicted to their social media feeds – the need for acceptance and to conform to the images they’re continually shown; is immense.  And it’s not just how they should look.  There’s the designer duds they need to wear, the car they should be driving and the (perceived) lifestyle they need to be living.  It’s exhausting and it’s relentless.

A case in point is the current poster-girl for cosmetic procedures – Kylie Jenner.  Along with completely changing her face (check out the infamous time-lapse video on YouTube and you’ll see she’s virtually unrecognisable from the girl she was three years ago) she has seemingly set the precedent for the image that girls in their teens and twenties want to project.   We now have an epidemic of young women who fanatically control and curate every element of their lives, all so that they can post the perfect selfie on Instagram.

Now you might be forgiven for thinking I have a downer on Ms. Jenner. I don’t.  However, she’s a girl born into relative wealth (even before the explosion of KUWTK ) and who has every contact and resource available to her in order to carve out the life she wants. Does that mean she doesn’t work hard? No.  Does it mean she deserves to be verbally pelted on social media? Of course not. But it does give her a huge advantage and set her apart from the vast majority of other young women her age.  Kylie Jenner is not the norm. Nor should she be held up as being so. It’s an unrealistic benchmark and moreover, it sets people up to feel like failures.

Which is precisely where things get to start a bit messed up.   Here’s a synopsis of what Freud believed about The Pleasure Principle and our need for instant gratification.

“The id is an important part of our personality because as newborns, it allows us to get our basic needs met. Freud believed that the id is based on our pleasure principle. In other words, the id wants whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the reality of the situation”.

So, how does this relate to an addiction to cosmetic procedures?  Well, it’s ultimately the pursuit of instant gratification (how many people liked our photo, viewed our video etc.) through altering our appearance or portraying a certain lifestyle;  at the expense of what is actually going to give us long-term fulfilment.  And this is where – like any unhelpful behaviour or coping strategy – the need for many young women to continually get cosmetic procedures, is potentially a mental-health ticking time bomb.

“That’s all a bit dramatic Laney”, you might say.  Well no, it’s not.  Just think about it.  In a sea of young women fighting for social airspace and acceptance; what happens when your wrinkle- free forehead, overly large lips and teeth veneers still haven’t landed you a rich boyfriend/husband or a career as a millionaire Beauty Entrepreneur? Plus there’s the mounting cost of all this work (not to mention the financed Mercedes parked on your mums drive). Just what happens when you’re still feeling desperately insecure about your appearance ( now your celebrity idol has had yet another procedure done and you literally can’t …well…..keep up) despite having all of this stuff done? What then?

It’s because of this very factor, that the cosmetic enhancement industry needs to not feed this potential mental health issue. From an emotional standpoint, they have a real responsibility to manage expectations about what a cosmetic procedure can (and can’t) do.

Before you start thinking I despise the cosmetic enhancements industry; it’s actually quite the opposite. In the right circumstances, a cosmetic procedure can transform someone’s life and provide them with a new-found level of confidence  they didn’t have before.  In those cases, it’s not just about instant gratification.  It’s a life-changing and pivotal decision in their lives that provides them with real fulfilment long-term.  That’s why any cosmetic intervention has to be a well thought out decision and not something done on a whim (or because all your friends have it).  No amount of fillers or injections will make you happy, if fundamentally what you’re unhappy about or pursuing, actually isn’t (in reality) related to the size of your lips or how many people like your selfie on Instagram.

Need further convincing?  As I was writing this blog entry, a story flashed up on my Sky News feed.  The story had broken that day and involved ex Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya. He was voicing his concern over our unhealthy relationship with social media sites and how this manifests in our attaching importance to gratification, not fulfilment.  In his words:-

“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works. We are in a really bad state of affairs right now.”

 “We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short term signals – hearts, likes, thumbs up.”
So, the bad guy in all of this really isn’t cosmetic surgery at all.   The real issue lies with the diet of illusion and pursuit of perfection that our Millenials are being continually force-fed – every single day. As a result,  it should be no great surprise when they’re turning to solutions that offer a short term buzz.  It therefore should also be no surprise, that they’re becoming addicted in the process.



LIFE SKILLS (WHAT I WISH THEY’D TAUGHT ME IN SCHOOL) – Part 5: Selfishness isn’t a dirty word

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28th July 2017

Last year that was a big thing about the Danish word hygge which describes a particular kind of comfort.  The Interweb was awash with pictures of roaring fires, scented candles and squishy sofas. Normally sensible folk ran amok in John Lewis buying cashmere throws and knitted cushions, trying to recreate their own little sense of hygge at home.

Unfortunately, there isn’t such a term for a particular type of selfishness and consequently our associations with the term are generally negative.  When I looked for some interesting memes to accompany this article (about selfishness not being a bad thing necessarily) there were none to be found. Quite. Literally. None.  Fortunately, I love a challenge and I did find one that expressed perfectly what I am trying to say here:

There is a very good reason why they tell you to fit the oxygen mask to yourself first, isn’t there?  In the event of a problem, it means that in looking after yourself first, you are able to help others. However, other than being 30,000 feet up in the air or in the middle of the ocean; in daily life a lot of us grapple with this concept.

As women; I think we particularly struggle with the idea of looking after ourselves before others; especially as parents. How many times have you heard a frustrated female say “he’s just so selfish” about a partner or spouse? Maybe this difference between the sexes (in the sense of putting oneself first) harks way back to when men went out hunting and women were left looking after the family.  In order to make sure he brought back food for his tribe, I am quite certain that the accomplished hunter took care of himself (in terms of being fed, rested and watered) before he did anything else. Which actually makes perfect sense: particularly at a time when the roles between the sexes are becoming increasingly blurred.  With more and more women now the major breadwinner or going it alone entirely; isn’t it about time we let a little of that prehistoric psyche win through?

But the benefits of being selfish, reach far beyond our ability to put food on the table.  Looking after yourself first will also enable you to show up in a friendship, job or relationship as the best version of yourself you can possibly be.  If you are emotionally and physically drained because you are constantly putting everyone’s needs before yourself; sooner or later you will be running on fumes and have nothing left to give.

So maybe being selfish isn’t such a bad thing after all, but if you just can’t bring yourself to think of it that way, then call it self-hygge.