We’ve all heard this adage before: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Although we perceive elements like symmetrical faces, bright eyes, and even skin tone as beautiful, there is more to beauty than our outward appearance—indeed, inner beauty positively affects our perception, causing us to see beauty based on how we feel about someone. Here’s a quick example: we are more likely to perceive our partners as being more beautiful and charming than the average person. This concept is called positive illusion, and it can have undeniable positive effects on your love life, leading to greater faithfulness and a sense of relaxation in your relationship.
Additionally, the adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder applies to how we look at ourselves; most tragically in a mental disorder called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), sufferers are “[preoccupied] with one or more perceived defects or flaws in physical appearance that are not observable or appear slight to others.” This causes “significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” People with BDD are likely to be lonely, avoid other people, and see themselves as unlovable. They are so convinced that they are hideous that they spend their time in seclusion—a sad reality for people with so much to offer the world.
Some sufferers of BDD resort to extreme measures like plastic surgery to perfect their perceived flaws. Despite how unethical it is, many plastic surgeons perform unneeded operations on patients with BDD—from nose jobs to butt implants to liposuction—and people with poor body image can become addicted to plastic surgery. Take Rodrigo, otherwise known as the Human Ken Doll; he’s had over 125 surgeries to make him look perfectly sculpted like, well, a Ken doll. And there are hair-raising stories about people suffering life-threatening adverse reactions from illegal filler injections. (VICE’s mini-doc about illegal butt injections, “Buttloads of Pain,” is a notable example of this. Warning: watch at your own risk.)
Here’s another example: the ultra-shady company Bright Ocular performs a surgical procedure where they implant a fake iris to change a person’s eye colour. People dissatisfied with their “boring” eye colour resort to these implants to look more “striking” or “beautiful.” The problem is, these procedures are not FDA-approved and often lead to horrifying effects such as blindness, chronic glaucoma (swelling of the eyes), and can cause patients’ eyes to become irreparably damaged. First-person accounts are disturbing. One patient warns “anyone out there who wants to do the procedure” that she suffers from painful glaucoma, and is “having a hard time keeping [her] eyes open.” When she tried to contact Bright Ocular for help, they were rude and dismissive, recommending lubricant eye drops—a treatment that they knew would not work. “All that company cares about is getting your money,” the patient says in her candid video.
We all have some sensitivities about our appearance, wondering, Is my nose too big? Is my skin tone uneven? Is my body the wrong size or shape? Popular media and influencers affect how people of all genders look at themselves, for better or for worse—though often for worse. The glamorous images we see on social media are more often than not the end product of a lot of makeup, meticulously arranged lighting conditions, and at times a lot of face tuning and photoshopping. Plastic surgery and other cosmetic procedures, then, are the culmination of the desire to have the doctored images of celebrities become our reality.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ 2019 report, Americans spent $16.7 billion on plastic surgery and other cosmetic procedures that year alone, with rates of procedures climbing across all ethnicities by 2-4%. Although 13-19-year-olds underwent the lowest number of procedures at just 1% of the total, that was still 223,000 total cosmetic procedures on teenagers in 2019, which is nothing to downplay.
Dissatisfaction with our bodies starts at a young age. The good news is that this dissatisfaction can be unlearned. The alternative to plastic surgery is and will always be body positivity and acceptance. Kendra Cherry writes for verywellmind that “body positivity refers to the assertion that all people deserve to have a positive body image, regardless of how society and popular culture view ideal shape, size, and appearance.” Cherry continues, “It also recognizes that judgments are often made based on race, gender, sexuality, and disability.” Poor body image is linked to eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem while accepting our bodies as they are is linked with better physical and mental health outcomes.
It’s important to keep in mind that the content we consume shapes and perpetuates our thoughts and beliefs about body image. Social media giants like TikTok and Instagram are notorious for trends that encourage negative body image, including the “back profile challenge” on TikTok, where girls record their reaction to a video of themselves taken from behind. Some of these reactions are visibly upset when the body they see isn’t “good enough.” It’s a known fact that TikTok’s algorithm favours creators that are conventionally attractive, with thin bodies, clear skin, and symmetrical features. It’s also worth noting that the “For You” page on the app differs from the “Following” page. If you stick to the TikTok creators you follow, rather than explore recommended videos, you have a better chance of curating your experience. Surrounding yourself with more body-positive content is a way out of feeling dissatisfied and critical of your physique.
And this is the takeaway: choosing to consume media that promotes a healthy body image is similar to eating a healthful diet. Choosing to say “no” to content that makes you feel bad about your body has a profound, positive internal effect. The hardest part, however, is unlearning the dictates of diet culture and popular media. Looking for virtual spaces that encourage a healthy body image is worth the effort, and a fantastic way to support your journey toward self-love and acceptance. At a time when we’re online more than ever before, it’s well worth the change.