A new report rightly suggests that non-surgical cosmetic procedures need tighter regulation, but stumbles by blaming selfies and social media for their popularity
Another day, another moral panic over what the youth of today are getting up to. This time it’s over the fact that our appearance-obsessed selfie culture is apparently driving them to cosmetic procedures, such as getting botox injections, dermal and lip fillers and skin lightening – after all, doesn’t every girl want to look like Kim Kardashian?
The claims come from a report on ethical concerns around cosmetic procedures by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, a UK think tank.
The report makes it clear that regulations around these procedures need a face lift. Although plastic surgeons in the UK are regulated by the doctors’ watchdog the General Medical Council, non-surgical cosmetic procedures can be provided by anyone, anywhere. Training courses and qualifications in the field do exist, but they aren’t obligatory. As a result, plumping lip fillers, for instance, are often provided in beauty salons or even by those working out of their homes.
And yet there is a whiff of people looking down their non-enhanced noses. At a press conference yesterday, the authors of the report cited instances of people in their mid-teens seeking such procedures and claimed some practitioners were willing to provide them. But they had no figures on how often this happened.
The authors laid the blame on social media sites like Instagram and Snapchat, where appearance is all. They also cited TV programmes like The Only Way is Essex, in which the protagonists talk openly about their cosmetic procedures, and apps that let you simulate plastic surgery on your phone, some of which are aimed at children.
But there is no evidence that such media are behind it. It’s hard not to suspect that this response is part of the knee-jerk, broad-brush reaction to any problems affecting children and teenagers, which is to blame everything on social media, smartphones and the internet.
In fact, there seem to be few societal ills that haven’t been laid at the door of the internet at one time or another. It has been charged with leading to violence, bullying, sleep deprivation, eating disorders, porn addiction and impotence. According to one recent claim, giving your child a smart phone is basically like giving them a gram of cocaine.
The Nuffield report does have some good recommendations, including that cosmetic procedures should be offered only by people who are properly qualified, and any products used, like dermal and lip fillers, should have regulatory approval. Fillers are a particular problem – more than two-thirds of plastic surgeons have seen people seeking help to correct bad results from this procedure, such as lumps and scars.
A ban on providing any cosmetic procedure to under-18s without a doctor’s referral would also seem sensible, even if there are only a small number of cases – we already ban under-18s from tanning salons and getting tattoos.
But these problems are not the fault of social media sites – they are failures of government regulation of a £3.6-billion-a-year industry. It is contradictory to castigate app stores for hosting cosmetic procedure apps aimed at children when it isn’t yet illegal to actually carry out these procedures on those children. So let’s solve the real problem by going after the people offering these treatments, rather than blaming the culture of the teens that they prey on.