The omnipresence of social media has certainly invaded our personal lives, but has it also invaded our self image? With the barrage of images on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and multiple other sites, it seems almost impossible that it would not have an impact on one’s self image. Whether or not this has influenced the demand for cosmetic facial surgery is a little less clear.

With social media, we can package ourselves in a filtered and edited way through the pictures and personal information that we present. It is documented that participants present themselves in the way that they see as most flattering when posting their own images. Unfortunately, this is not the case for those of us who might be ‘tagged’ in an image. There may or may not be malice intended towards those bystanders; however, a less than flattering image may be presented.

Most of us have had the experience of being excited to see a tagged image on a friend’s site and having been disappointed when it was not our ‘best side’. This may not ruin your day, but it certainly may make you more self critical and create a negative self comparison as mentioned by Craig Malkin, a Harvard psychologist. Every day, people craft a persona with the way they dress, speak, groom and posture. With social media, it is easier to portray ourselves at our happiest, presenting a challenge for others to be as content. In the context of social media we lose the ability to control how we are presented by others. Unflattering light, posture or situation may present us in a negative way.

The physics of light and lenses may also contribute to an unflattering image. Smart phones do not have the appropriate optics for close up photography and will exaggerate the size of any object that is closer to the lens. When taking our own image the nose will appear more prominent and the chin will appear weaker. This is both unflattering and an incorrect presentation of the way we appear. Nevertheless, that image is now ‘out there’ and it is quite difficult to discard. Unlike the printed images of the old days that could be tossed in the garbage, this image becomes irretrievable in cyberspace.

A survey conducted by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) identified a 31% increase in the requests for treatment, surgical or non-surgical, as a result of patients wanting to improve how they present themselves on social media. This is in sharp contrast to a decrease from 35% in 2011 to 7% in 2012, in the number of patients that trust social media for a resource regarding cosmetic facial procedures. This occurred at a time when there was a 57% increase in the research performed by patients prior to having cosmetic surgery, and a 33% increase in the dependence on referrals from satisfied patients or physicians when choosing a facial plastic surgeon.

In a survey I performed with my patients through social media (Facebook), we encountered two primary themes, both indicating an impact of social media on the demand for cosmetic surgery. The first was that social media had made patients aware of the procedures that are available to enhance their appearance. The second theme was that social media had created a low self-esteem, which influenced patients to seek corrective procedures to enhance their self image. The patients who had undergone these procedures did relate an improved self image and satisfaction with their posted images.

Facial plastic surgeons are focused on restoring and/or improving a patient’s self image through reconstructive or cosmetic procedures. Any recommendations for intervention are made after careful consideration of the patient’s motivation and expectation. Surgeons can address a physical deformity or a distraction to improve a patient’s self image, helping them gain confidence. This increased self-confidence can help in their personal and professional life.