This is something that resonates with Dr. Michael Keyes, the cosmetic surgeon behind Instagram account @CelebrityPlastics. He believes it is important to open his followers’ eyes to what can be achieved with cosmetic surgery. “I feel that from a moral standpoint, it is important to educate the public that these procedures exist, so someone sitting at home doesn’t feel bad that they don’t naturally look like their favorite celebrity,” he says. “Unfortunately, many celebrities lie about the procedures they’ve had done, which can cause people to attribute their ‘natural’ good looks to genetics, to their skin-care line or their fitness programs, which they conveniently charge for.”
More harm than good
The desire to lift the veil for the sake of transparency and the self-esteem of many is understandable. However, despite the good intentions behind many of these celebrity “before and after” accounts, this dissecting of the bodies and faces of people, even if they are famous, is causing us more harm than good. “Evidence suggests that looking at these kinds of before and after images don’t make people feel better, it actually makes them feel worse,” says Viren Swami, professor of social psychology at Cambridge’s Anglia Ruskin University, U.K., who specializes in body image and human appearance.
Despite the initial spike of satisfaction one might feel when the “perfection” we’ve been told to strive for is exposed as an illusion, what these images are ultimately doing is reinforcing the idea that there is a beauty ideal, and if we throw enough money at the situation, we too can attain it. And when you haven’t got the means or the resources to do so, it’s just one more way in which you aren’t measuring up to expectations. To quote that infamous meme: “You’re not ugly, you’re just broke.”
Indeed, when presented with a “before” you realize there is an “after” and rather than boosting our self-esteem and body image, this just emphasizes that our natural selves aren’t “good enough.” “They tell us that there is a possibility that you can do better,” says Swami. “When people view these images, they end up feeling more anxious about their bodies, they have lower self-esteem, and they’re much more likely to be willing to consider cosmetic surgery in the future.”
A catch-22 situation
Something that can also often get lost in the frenzy is that celebrities are under more pressure than anyone to conform to impossible standards of beauty. Living under the microscopic lens of the paparazzi and social media, they are taunted and shamed for so-called imperfections and then vilified and shamed when they take steps to live up to the ideal. It’s a catch-22 model of beauty where you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.