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

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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 4

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20th July 2017

Number Four: Forgiveness.

This is a divisive one I reckon and far, far easier said than done.  I know plenty of people who (wronged by another) would NEVER forgive.  And don’t we see people who forgive as being a bit of a sap, right? There’s almost a badge of honour that goes with the attitude of “once you’ve wronged me, I’ll drop you like a bad habit”……..but the problem with this mentality is – very often – it’s coupled with a lasting deep resentment and bitterness.

It was almost a decade ago that I started really looking deep inside as to why I was feeling so unhappy and uncomfortable with my life and my experience of it.  Along with many other behaviours I needed to modify, my ability to forgive was definitely “up there” as needing work.

The art of forgiveness is multi-layered and isn’t just about letting someone off the hook who screwed you over.  Generally speaking,  when someone hurts you it’s perfectly natural to beat yourself up about the fact you let it happen in the first place. So, most importantly,  it’s also about the ability to forgive yourself too. I have a very analytical brain, so if something fails or goes wrong I have this destructive tendency to go up, down and round it a thousand times, trying to work out what on earth I could have done differently.  In doing so, every time I replay a scenario, I end up physically living through the whole shitty experience all over again.

In the end, it all boils down to this.  It’s in the past and you can’t change it. What you can do is change your experience of it.  Sure, if your partner has cheated on you and the relationship has ended, you are going to go through a period of hating the world, full stop.  That’s just natural. But sooner or later, the only person your hatred serves to destroy, is you.   It will quite literally eat you up inside. I personally know a couple of women who YEARS down the line just cannot speak about their ex-husband without a stream of vitriol and you know what; it’s just really sad that they’re still stuck in that place.

I had the most awful year in 2016.  A big business deal I’d put a great deal of time, money and effort into went wrong (through no fault of my own) and I was devastated, not to mention stressed out big time over the financial aspect of things.  Then, someone who I considered to be one of my closest friends, pretty much pushed our friendship under the bus. Blindsided,  I literally sat in my office for about three days straight, just sobbing.  I was so heart-broken.   Not long after this, my two-year romantic relationship tanked.   To round things off just nicely, I’d undertaken a major house move and the property I had relocated to turned out to be a nightmare.  I was going through a marathon of total crap, completely on my own and I was feeling more than a tad sorry for myself.  I cannot tell you how many times I replayed situations in my head, only to feel my heart rate rise and my whole body stiffen.  That’s the problem with being pissed off: it’s exhausting.

Although it happened in stages (some easier than others), I had to take the decision to allow myself to be angry for a time but then to (as I call it) “put things in the vault” and forgive all concerned.  There can be a myriad of reasons and circumstances as to why someone wrongs you and very often it’s not because they’re psychologically flawed or a monster.  Quite often it’s because they are having a tough time themselves or are just plain unhappy and haven’t figured out why.  When you hate the world it’s easy to  lash or and say (and do) things that normally you’d find reprehensible.  So, you need to recognise when you’re in this mindset, otherwise you’ll end up being the one doing the damage to those closest to you.  So as hard as it might be, try to be kind.

And by the way being kind, does not make you a sap.  It sets you free ultimately.  Is my relationship with the people who hurt me the same as it was before?  Do I just casually skip along, like it never happened? Of course not.  When something makes a friendship shift on a seismic level, it can never exist the way it did before.  This may mean ultimately, that you decide to walk away from the person concerned and that’s your decision.  Just do it with grace and not with the extended remix version of “I can’t believe this happened to me” on repeat.

Now a caveat. On the flip side of all of this, there are some people out there who will take advantage of you, just because they can. Or maybe they live a parasitic lifestyle or have a habit to feed.  Basically the addicts, narcissists and sociopaths of this world. They are not your problem or project and it is not your job to save these people. Never – and I mean NEVER – beat yourself up about why you didn’t spot this or spot that.  These particular characters are supremely skilled in getting under your radar – they’ve practised it on others many times.  For them, it’s survival of the fittest and you are just a supply source.  They don’t need your forgiveness and they certainly don’t deserve your time.  Sooner or later karma will be their medicine. In this scenario, the only person you need to be kind to is you. So feel free to drop these people like a bad habit.  You have my permission to put them in the vault and throw away the freakin’ key. Then go back to being fabulous and try not to give them a second thought.

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