Following the Jameela Jamil Airbrushing Debate, A London Plastic Surgeon’s View on Narcissism, ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’ + the Perils of Contemporary Beauty

Jameela Jamil in The Good Place

It could be argued that #MeToo’s crowning achievement has been to escalate and expedite certain, shall we say, uncomfortable but increasingly exigent conversations. Many men, certainly, are now significantly more enlightened about what women find to be acceptable behavior – especially in regards to sexual boundaries.

It has also reminded us that our contemporary media culture still often makes women feel bad about their bodies. And last month, British actress Jameela Jamil (The Good Place), who went through a long public struggle with her own body image issues, came right out and said that she believed airbrushing should be illegal. There was, obviously, no constitutional validity to her argument – people are allowed to present themselves however they wish. But it went directly to the heart of something that we can simply no longer ignore, especially as social media continues to expediently amplify the insecurities of young women and girls.

That very subject was actually specifically – and quite profoundly – addressed in the incisive, literally heartbreaking 2013 episode of South Park titled The Hobbit. In it, 10-year-old self-professed feminist Wendy Testaburger fights, and sadly loses the battle with Photoshop. It’s one of the most powerful works of feminist television…ever.

Curiously, despite #MeToo and the raising of the collective consciousness, plastic surgery solutions are more popular than ever. From confidently feminist icons like Angelina Jolie, Courtney Love and Nicole Kidman, to supermodels Gisele Bündchen and Tyra Banks, to younger female stars like Cardi B and Anna Faris, so many have been, or have been rumored to have gone under the knife.

In hopes of gaining a bit of the perspective of someone who confronts these issues on a daily basis, we contacted German surgeon Dr. Gregor Bran – who set up his GB Aesthetics practice in London in 2017 – for a frank discussion on beauty in the social media age.

 

Jameela Jamil in The Good Place

 

What do you think about Jameela Jamil’s claim that airbrushing is “a crime against women”? And how do you feel about airbrushing in popular media in general?

I think she has a point. And I can only congratulate someone who is part of the industry on speaking up against current trends. Just recently I stumbled upon a new term in our field of work: “Snapchat Dysmorphia” – which is just a trendy medical term for what Jameela tries to make people understand.

How has social media affected our ideas of beauty?

Beauty is, was and always will be a social currency, that some are blessed more with than others. Social media (SM) now penetrates with greater force than any medium has ever done before. I think the hallmark is the selfie; it has really shaped the perception of ourselves within the last decade. And it still dominates. With the selfie, the awareness of facial imperfections has also increased, suddenly we become aware of asymmetries we were used to for decades.
A second characteristic of the new aesthetics in the era of SM: the need for perfection. Apart from filters and photoshop, there are various editing apps, that improve the visuals – no picture as we see it on SM really exists. I believe it can lead to serious problems.

 

Cardi B

 

Would you say that there’s a greater level of insecurity about our looks?

Insecurity is the opposite of confidence, both are the results of our mind playing games on us. The level of exposure through SM and the need to participate, can aggravate these demons of insecurity. The consequence is more editing apps and more visits to the doctor. I stopped being surprised, when patients pull out their phones nowadays, zooming in to one specific selfie, in which they see a detail in their face that is bothering them, yet it is too subtle to be seen when they sit in front of me. I hear patients describing these details with extremes, which I believe is not a fad, but proof of a greater level of insecurity about our looks.

 

Gisele Bündchen, left, in The Devil Wears Prada

 

And narcissism?

I don’t think that the number of real narcissists is rising. Narcissism is a serious mental disorder. I once worked in a hospital where a colleague was a fully blown narcissist – it was a nightmare. But SM feeds narcissistic tendencies. People care less for what you have to say, more how big your following is. SM nourishes extremes, also because of the minimal time span a new post has in order to catch someone’s attention.

How has the demographic for plastic surgery changed in recent years?

There is a significant rise of below 30-year-olds asking for treatments in plastic surgery practices worldwide; the demand correlates with the amount of social media used in these countries. We used to do a lot of rejuvenative procedures on patients past their mid-forties; now we do a lot of refinement procedures, taking care of unwanted imperfections. This includes peels, blood facials, laser treatments for better skin texture, injectable fillers for plumper lips and more refined cheekbones or jawlines, Botox to contour the face and to prevent any signs of aging before they start to appear. Refinement surgeries are also on the rise: nose jobs, lip lifts, brow lifts, removal of cheek fat pads.
This increased demand for treatments not only proves how social media and smart phones are just the new reality, it also indicates how self-aware of our appearance we became. With standards on social media climbing, so are the expectations in my field of work. This affects specialists, that need to improve their game to remain relevant too.

 

Anna Faris in Mom

 

Has social media fostered a culture of dissatisfaction about our appearance?

Those who cannot achieve what they are looking for will therefore be dissatisfied. Ongoing obsession can result in a chase for perfection, the ivory tower that Photoshop, makeup and editing apps suggest to be a realistic goal. There is more pressure on most of us, and those who do not succeed can establish a very toxic mindset. I see a lot of trolls online, mostly patients that are unhappy with their result. They use fake names to spit pages of hate against their doctors, colleagues or even happy patients of these doctors. Apart from the bullying aspect, when it comes to criticizing the appearance of happy patients that share their experience online, these toxic people don’t understand that they cut their wounds deeper every time they write another hate mail against somebody.
It is a real concern to help these people. Very often their negative mindset has taken over, and revision surgery is no longer an option to change their general unhappiness.

Angelina Jolie

 

How has your experience changed as a doctor?

I believe every diligent surgeon tries constantly to improve his or her work. The rise of SM and the selfie made us more aware of this, as results are shared in dimensions no generation of specialists has ever done before. I also learned to stay relaxed when I see a patient who mentions he or she is a YouTuber or an influencer.

Where do you see us going in terms of our collective idea of beauty?

Beauty will always reinvent itself, for a simple reason: it is part of what we need to survive as a species. We all have an eternal appreciation of beauty – there is data proving that newborns rest their eyes longer on attractive adults. And since it is such an inner need in us, there is a huge multi-billion industry that uses this inner hunger to create more demand. SM has raised this demand to a new level.

What are you trying to communicate with your Greater Beauty podcast?

I relocated to London a year ago. The idea of my podcast is very practical and selfish: when I was training residents in Germany, I explained to them that a good doctor needs to read their patients, which includes posture, body language and the way they communicate. In Germany I needed not more than four seconds to understand who was sitting in front of me. This changes drastically, once you lose the feel for the language. My podcast forces me to build a strong listening muscle – it is my gym, if you wish.
I gave a lot of talks about perception of beauty in the US, Europe and Russia. No matter where you are, and who you talk to, once you start talking about beauty, you have an audience. I believe it comes back to the romantic connotation of beauty being a symbol of love. Thinking about beauty feels like thinking about love. Both share the same phenomenon…they are very difficult to explain, but once you see and feel it you know, “this is it.”

 

Dr. Gregor Bran is a double board certified facial plastic surgeon, MD and PhD, who moved from Germany to set up GB Aesthetics in London in 2017. His practice uses cutting edge technology and the most advanced methods for surgical and non-surgical facial aesthetics, with a speciality in Rhinoplasty using ultrasonic technology.

Another specialty is facial treatments similar to the vampire facelift (PRP), but based on Dr. Peter Wehling treatment for Kobe Bryant’s knee. It halts chronic inflammatory reaction in the facial tissue, which constitutes 30% of aging.

His Greater Beauty podcast focusses on people’s pursuit of beauty: supermodels, influencers, or socialites… Dr. Bran’s interviews will reveal their personal views, and uncover lessons we can learn from one another on the subject. After recording for one year, the Greater Beauty podcast will be officially launched this spring.

 

Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies

 

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