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Social media and cosmetic procedures: how are the pressures of body image affecting us?

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Social media is inextricably ingrained in the day-to-day lives of many. Online, we have the power to curate a life that is virtually perfect. With endless images of filtered smiles and smoothed skin, the online world is bursting with edited beauty.

There are undoubtedly a great number of positives of social media. Perhaps its greatest strength is that it can build and maintain countless relationships across the world, and its ability to shape and alter online lives also has the potential to boost self-esteems.

However, although social media can have positive effects, it can also greatly damage the relationships we have with ourselves. Online platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are contributing to major body image issues in society, creating traps in which we compete and compare ourselves to others. "Likes" can be seen as ratings on images, placing pressure on people to have idealised appearances on social media.

The online illusions of perfection can be convincing, and there is an ever-growing expectation that we should hide, and even change, our human imperfections.

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A report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, published last week (22 June), showed a link between social media and the rise in popularity of cosmetic procedures in the UK, reflecting developing trends in how people are physically and virtually changing their appearances.

There are concerns raised over how 'body dissatisfaction', worsened by social media, is affecting young people. Professor Jeanette Edwards from the University of Manchester chaired the Council's inquiry, and she is calling for 'walk-in' cosmetic procedures to be banned for people under the age of 18.

The Council recognised that, in addition to the growth of social media, there were other factors associated with the rise in body image issues such as celebrity culture and an abundance of airbrushed images, as well as cosmetic surgery apps aimed at children as young as nine.

In a similar way to social media, but with much more intrusive effects, a risk to consider with cosmetic procedures is that they may physically alter appearances, but they may not necessarily remove insecurities. Social media's culture of change and perfection may be contributing to increased levels of body dissatifaction, but these resulting insecurities will not necessarily be resolved by physical acts of change.

Social media has the potential to positively impact our lives and bring us together, but there needs to be a change in the way that we are trying to alter ourselves and our appearances. It is greatly worrying to see the online culture of self-editing filter into offline behaviour with body image issues on the rise.

Perhaps with more awareness of the wider social issue of body dissatisfaction, and with stricter regulations put in place for cosmetic procedures such as a minimum age, we can begin to work towards a society in which people feel less need to virtually and physically change themselves.

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