While the word “plastike,” which means the art of sculpting, was first coined in late-1700s Greece, the phrase “plastic surgery” only became relevant in recent decades. Today, the medical procedure undermines the trust between consumers and celebrities.
Celebrities have not always had a choice when it comes to plastic surgery. Starting in the 1930s, actors were advised or even contracted to undergo various cosmetic procedures if they wanted to succeed in the industry. Because the majority of these procedures were performed before the celebrities’ rise to fame, audiences often failed to remember the actors’ original features. Such practices are still in use today, where surgeries are strategically scheduled to avoid jarring the audience.
The relationship between plastic surgery and celebrity culture is not a new one, but the procedure’s dangerously influential illusions have grown rapidly in the current social media age.
In 2021, an estimated 1.4 million surgical and non-surgical procedures occurred, with individual surgeons performing on average 600, or 40%, more procedures than in 2020, according to a survey from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
It would be wildly ignorant to claim that all 1.4 million procedures were a horrible mistake. Any amount of plastic surgery can be empowering for individuals, regardless of what inspired their decision. But the level of influence and disillusion that likely caused the increase in the number of procedures should not be ignored. According to a Saudi Arabian study published in the National Library of Medicine, “Viewing cosmetic surgery–related material on social media, spending longer hours on social media platforms, and having negative self-views when viewing social media are associated with an increased likelihood of considering undergoing cosmetic procedures in the future.”
While social media intensified plastic surgery’s influence on audiences, it has also provided a platform to talk about it. The Instagram account CelebFace, which has 1.3 million followers, claims to welcome the public to reality. The page shares unedited close-up shots of celebrities to provide a more realistic view of human skin and its natural beauty, serving as a harsh contrast to airbrushing and blemish-targeting culture. The account also shares several in-depth photo carousels of celebrities’ transformations through the years with a specific emphasis on their likely procedures.
The bulk of CelebFace’s content highlights the amount of image retouching done to celebrity photos by employing side-by-side photos of celebrities from multiple sources. The account will share the photo the celebrity posted, one from an event photographer, and often any additional footage from the same event. Comparing multiple recorded sources of a celebrity provides a more accurate interpretation of their appearance, which allows audiences to see the pervasiveness of photographic manipulation.
The fact that this is done on social media means that CelebFace’s work doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Though there is a clear bias in how its content is presented, CelebFace does not make explicit claims and is constantly asking viewers, “What do you think?” In this manner, social media allows the audience to make its own determinations, ultimately granting viewers agency in an odd relationship that previously only empowered celebrities.
While one could easily argue that CelebFace shames the celebrities it features, the account aims to maintain a level of accountability. Every photo that does not come from the celebrity themself is unedited and strictly included to promote transparency. Many of the raw close-up shots are gorgeous and could be advertisements for any one of the thousands of celebrity cosmetic brands. Even without retouching, these images generate a positive response from audiences, who praise the celebrity for their skincare and makeup.
While they have their own flaws, accounts like CelebFace contribute to a larger movement that calls for celebrities to be transparent about their plastic surgeries and photo retouching.
What’s eerily terrifying about some of the editing caught by accounts like CelebFace is the alarming trend of celebrities retouching their children.
The amount of plastic surgery administered to celebrities is unknown, and that mystery has created fictitious baselines for what it means to grow older versus to exist in time. Paul Rudd, Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Aniston are praised for “never aging,” but how much can that compliment be truly quantified? What are audiences supposed to do with that information? Marvel at the celebrities’ beauty while they themselves live in shame for aging? Are audiences supposed to look down on the other celebrities whose looks reflect their age?
An unfortunate number of people have gossiped about Britney Spears’ appearance in her lifetime, but recent comments are alarming. Many suspect that, if Spears had any surgical or nonsurgical work done early in her career, she no longer continues with the procedures. Audiences speak about her appearance harshly, and it seems misogyny and the doctored baseline of aging continue to plague their understanding.
Who are audiences to tell celebrities how they need to look? Yes, celebrities are in a position of power and wealth with influence over their audience. But does that mean the audience can speak poorly in response? Or are any harsh words excused by a total lack of understanding of the truth of celebrities’ appearances?
The deeply complex relationship between appearance and reality has augmented misogyny and expectations of beauty on all fronts. Transparency is entirely lacking, but luckily, things are changing — albeit at a rate somehow even slower than Rudd and Aniston are aging.
Earlier this year, model Bella Hadid admitted that she had a nose job at 14 years old. With her declaration, she dismissed all rumors of any other procedures by suggesting that the rhinoplasty was her only one. Her approach is a dangerously influential tactic that far too many celebrities employ. Kim Kardashian revealed that she’s only had “a little botox,” and that she stopped after a bad reaction.
The process behind admitting to a single procedure but denying anything else is a type of manipulation that is by no means new. By comforting the audience with a small truth, celebrities make viewers believe they are being truly transparent and vulnerable while rejecting any other accusations in the process. It’s a true bait and switch. While the strategy is commendable for some celebrities who are being honest about a procedure, Hadid and Kardashian in particular are suspected to have undergone immense amounts of plastic surgery. Such suggestions make their declarations of a sole, single and convenient truth all the more disappointing.