Numerous surveys recently undertaken confirm that body image remains a major concern for young Australians. Mission Australia’s 2017 survey of young people aged 15-19 years revealed body image is one of the top three concerns identified by young people.
Poor body image is correlated with poor mental health outcomes including anxiety, depression, shame, social avoidance and suicidal ideation.
Worryingly, an increasing number of young Australians with an appearance in ‘normal range’ are now seeking cosmetic procedures/surgery, which exposes them to an array of unnecessary physical, surgical, psychological and psychosocial risks.
For example, some gynaecologists report as many as one young person per week wanting to ‘trim’ or ‘shape’ their genitalia. In June 2018, a pilot study conducted by Melbourne University revealed a sharp increase in the number of Australian girls, some as young as 11, seeking cosmetic surgery on their genitals. They concluded that demand appears to be driven by social pressures, and a lack of awareness generally about the true range of diversity.
Social media, the cult of celebrity, popular culture and peer pressure compound body dissatisfaction driving young people to view cosmetic surgery as a ‘quick fix’ solution to body image distress.
In February 2018, Instagram star Kurt Coleman, aged 21 years, renowned for his addiction to cosmetic surgery, revealed his deep concern that his public advocacy for cosmetic surgery has damaged the lives of some of his fans. “I made a lot of people think they needed it,” he said.
Since 2010, the number of cosmetic procedures and surgeries in Australia has doubled from approximately 117,000 procedures in 2010 to more than 225,000 today.
The Cosmetic Physicians College of Australasia (CPCA) estimates that Australians, across all age groups, spent more than $1 billion in 2015 and that has grown further in the past 3 years.
Breast augmentations performed have increased from approximately 5,000 patients per year to around 20,000 patients per year over the last decade.
Costs for cosmetic surgery vary depending on numerous factors. Young people are often price sensitive and seek out procedures at the lowest possible cost.
The Australasian Foundation for Plastic Surgery is running an awareness campaign to warn young people away from unnecessary appearance altering procedures among other initiatives:
- A new public health awareness and education campaign which will involve Specialist Plastic Surgeons speaking out against cosmetic surgery as a ‘quick fix’ solution to appearance anxiety, low self-esteem and poor body image. The Foundation will counteract advertising and marketing information about cosmetic procedures/surgery with facts, lived experience and research.
- Developing assessment protocols for use in cosmetic practice settings. The Foundation has invited Nichola Rumsey, a leading UK researcher in the field of Appearance Psychology to Australia to assist with the development of new clinical aids (‘Assessment Aid’ and a ‘Decision Making Aid’) which will help cosmetic surgeons better identify, manage and support patients with poor body image and self-esteem. Using these aids will improve clinical practice by helping clinicians to identify patients not suitable for cosmetic procedures
- Enhancements to the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery educational curriculum so ensure that trainee Specialist Plastic Surgeons are examined on the psychological factors that influence patients and continuing professional development courses for clinicians that explore the links between mental health, body image and cosmetic procedures.
Quotes attributable to Professor Emerita Nichola Rumsey OBE, PhD,
“We are deeply concerned about the growing number of young Australians turning to cosmetic surgery as a quick fix solution to body image issues.”
“Young Australians with an appearance in ‘normal range’ are seeking procedures that are not medically necessary, exposing them to unnecessary surgical and psychological risks. Examples include labia trimming and injectables such as lip fillers and Botox.”
“Providing cosmetic surgery to young people already impacted by psychological distress may lead to longer term issues.”
“With the Australasian Foundation for Plastic Surgery she is developing new clinical aids to assist surgeons to better support patients with poor body image and self-esteem.”
“Using these aids will help clinicians to identify patients not suitable for cosmetic procedures due to psychological risk or unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved through surgery.”
“Trainee Specialist Plastic Surgeons will also receive training on the psychological factors that influence patients to pursue cosmetic surgery and professional development courses will be offered to clinicians to help them better understand the links between mental health, body image and cosmetic procedures.”