We each had our reasons.
Sophia, a stunning beauty with perfect skin and insane makeup skills, was openly bashful about her thin lips. Julia, another stunner with her eyebrows microbladed and lashes Lashified to perfection, but couldn’t help her curiosity. What would a bigger pout do for her?
As we had all seen on Instagram, the results for Kylie Jenner were life altering.
Once a loud injection objector, when my 41st birthday passed by I noticed lines creep in around my once very full lips and felt a twinge. Were my strong opinions that easily bent?
With cell phones increasingly becoming a part of girls’ lives from very young ages, social media’s ability to influence female body image is undeniable. We are conditioned to check our phones for updates on celebrities, our friends and enemies. The comparison games that ensue are Olympian in effort, often convincing girls and women that they need to alter their faces and bodies to fit today’s expectations.
Whether we were aware of it or not, we were influenced by increased exposure to Zoom calls, Google meets and, of course, social media, according to Dr. Kristina Zakhary, an otolaryngology-head and neck surgeon with special focus in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery in Calgary.
“I believe it’s because of the increase in selfie culture,” Dr. Zakhary said.
While working in a high stress office during a pandemic, one of our momentary escapes was quick scrolls through Instagram. Between what we saw in our feeds and what services we learned would soon be available in our building, we fantasized how we would create our best selves.
We joked that we’d intertwine team building and promoting the businesses in the luxury apartment high rise we managed. Who wouldn’t want to attend “Bubble Tea and Botox?”
Victoria Rodner, Amy Good and Zara Burns state in their Journal of Service Marketing article that Instagram has normalized cosmetic procedures through the posts of influencers, so-called everyday people who demystify and promote services such as facial filler.
“Women are viewed as aesthetic entrepreneurs who are constantly working on the body and the self,” the marketing experts wrote.
The problem with influencers, Rodner, Good and Burns point out, is they minimize the pain, work and healing time for the procedures they are posting about.
Dr. Zahkary views social media as a double-edged sword for similar reasons. Platforms can provide education for patients and even for doctors while breaking down taboos.
“Nobody has a taboo about doing their makeup or cutting their hair, why should they have a taboo about enhancing how they look medically or surgically?” said Zakhary.
But Dr. Zakhary says that the truth is often distorted through lighting, makeup, filters, angle and photo alterations, setting viewers up for a collision with reality when embarking on their own enhancement journey.
“I feel like it can create unrealistic expectations for healing and for perfection,” said Dr. Zakhary.
Dr. Zakhary says she will not perform certain trendy procedures that are difficult or impossible to reverse and instead focuses on classic looks that suit one’s proportions will age better.
I certainly held unrealistic expectations. Post filler, both Sophia and Julia had lovely results and were pleased with their newly plumped lips, but mine were painful, blotchy and bruised. My lips ballooned out, so I happily hid them under a mask for months.
Nine months later they settled into a version I really enjoyed. Today, nearly two years later, I can still see results. I beat myself up for falling into a trend, yet now realize that’s like being upset for losing hold of a paper airplane inside a hurricane.
As Rodner, Good and Burns noted, the standards Instagram sets for women are altered by cosmetic procedures and photo filters, making perfection an intangible goal. And Dr. Zakhary reminded me that cosmetic procedures should not be about how you want to look but about how you want to feel.
“Perfection doesn’t exist. You have to appreciate that normal faces have asymmetries, they have little irregularities, which is actually beautiful, because it makes you who you are,” said Dr. Zakhary.
Registered psychologist Melissa Foster says that teen girls whose brains are not yet fully developed and are trying to find their identity while scrolling through Tik Tok have particularly difficult waters to navigate.
“The algorithms on Tik Tok are even worse,” said Foster.
Foster notes no matter the age, no woman escapes societal expectations.
“That’s a battle we all have to fight,” said Foster.
And Foster’s thoughts on the barrage of expectations young women face every day are clear.
“I think it’s completely unfair. I feel like we’ve all gone through it, right? As women, nobody gets away unscathed. It places expectations on us that are unfair, unreachable, unreasonable, right? And sets us up to struggle,” said Foster.
Instead of asking clients to stop scrolling, Foster says that awareness is key to understanding why we make certain decisions and believe certain things, such as women only have value for how attractive they are. And the same goes for following trends.
“Look inwards instead. If we’re constantly grasping and searching externally for things, we’re not ever going to find that peace that we need to find inside,” said Foster.
Ultimately I learned, do not bend to trends and do the inner, deeper heart work. But, with Julia’s wedding on the horizon… a little outer work may be in order.