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Marlborough School Student Newspaper
The Student News Site of Marlborough School

The UltraViolet

The Student News Site of Marlborough School

The UltraViolet

Under the knife

Dinah ’25

Body modification in history

Plastic surgery is not just another new trend. Although the “plastic” in plastic surgery is typically believed to refer to the plastic and other materials that are commonly used in procedures, the term was originally coined in Greece from the word “plastikos,” meaning to mold or shape something. The first recorded plastic surgery was in 800 B.C. in Ancient India for reconstruction work and skin grafts. Much later, in 1931, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons was founded. Over time, plastic surgery has evolved and influenced the formation of many beauty standards that exist in past and present societies.

Throughout different eras and locations, body image ideals have significantly varied. For example, during the Renaissance, women were idolized for having full hips, a round stomach and larger breasts, while during the Victorian era, many women wanted a smaller waist and an hourglass figure. To achieve this look, women used corsets to modify their bodies. With the rise of the movie industry and Hollywood starlets such as  Marilyn Monroe gaining traction in the 1930s-1950s, women began to romanticize the body types that were portrayed on screens. In the present day, many prominent beauty standards promote a flat stomach and large breasts. In search of acquiring the “ideal” body and meeting aesthetic norms, some have been motivated to get plastic surgery.

While only 15,000 procedures were completed in 1949 for Americans, plastic surgery has since increased in popularity to its current rate of around 9 million total cosmetic surgeries in 2022, 2 million of which were surgical. The popularity of various plastic surgeries fluctuates between age groups; however, when zooming in on 13- to 19-year-olds, the most common types of invasive plastic surgery are operations on the breast and face. In 2022, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons recorded that teenagers had 12,833 procedures on the breast and 7,037 on the face, with the most popular surgery being rhinoplasty, a procedure performed on the nose, at 4,832 procedures.

To examine the motives of patients who choose to have procedures done, the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Global Open conducted a study that focused on psychological predispositions such as mental health before receiving plastic surgery. The study found that societal  beauty standards have a strong influence on the decision to get cosmetic surgeries. It also found that being exposed to others who have undergone cosmetic procedures can increase someone’s probability of wanting a procedure done for themselves. Additionally, the study asserts that the desire for plastic surgery is more likely to be a caused by specific dissatisfaction with physical appearance, rather than general low esteem.

“The year’s study supports the larger trend of the public’s growing desire to look and feel better in their own skin,” American Society of Plastic Surgeons President Gregory Greco said in a press release.

Notably, different states in the U.S. also have varying rates of cosmetic procedures. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons records many more plastic surgeries in areas such as California, Texas and Florida, and fewer surgeries performed in Maine, Rhode Island and Ohio. Although there are no clear reasons why people in different states may not want the same types of plastic surgery, such as a breast augmentation versus liposuction, many doctors believe that weather, culture and technology have a considerable sway on the outcome. Heather Furnas, a plastic surgeon in California, states that the hot climates of California, Texas and Florida can result in people wearing more revealing clothes and being outside more in general, thus causing greater demand to appeal to body and beauty standards.

“You see people exposed more in warmer areas like Southern California and Florida,” Heather Furnas said in an interview with USA Today. “There is going to be a lot of pressure to look great when you are that exposed.”

Plastic surgery in the media

A large contributor to the increased popularity of cosmetic procedures is social media, which has allowed for the rise of influencers such as Alix Earle and the Kardashian family. In some cases, people on social media apps directly promote plastic surgery through the popularization of “before and after” plastic surgery videos, or through the accounts of different plastic surgeons promoting their practices. More frequently, plastic surgery is indirectly promoted through the algorithm’s spotlighting of unattainably beautiful women, the proliferation of highly edited images of influencers and the self-criticism triggered by this curated “highlight reel.”

An article by Kayla Peterson for the American Association of Plastic Surgeons addressed the increasing role of social media in promoting beauty standards and popularizing plastic surgery.

“While social media has provided patients with access to a wealth of information about plastic surgery procedures, it has also contributed to unrealistic expectations,” Peterson said. “Edited and filtered images often flood social media platforms, presenting idealized versions of beauty that may not be attainable for everyone.”

This kind of curated content is promoted by influencers, a profession that has grown exonentially in size and popularity in recent years. Whether they have had plastic surgery or not, and whether they are open about these procedures, they present a curated and glorified image to their many online followers.

Earle is one such example. She is an influencer who is open about her use of cosmetic procedures, notably her breast augmentation. Earle gained popularity on TikTok at the start of 2023. A senior at University of Miami at the time, she amassed a large following quickly. She became famous for her “get ready with me” content, in which she would record herself getting ready for different social events while recalling stories about her life. She largely spoke of certain parties she attended or products that she used, but a topic that she often proudly discussed was her breast augmentation procedure.

“Growing up, I saw a lot of perfection on social media and would compare myself to it, a lot,” Earle said. “If I’ve gotten [plastic surgery] done, I’m fine with sharing it.”

While Earle is an example of a celebrity who is more open about discussing her cosmetic procedures on social media, other celebrities tend to be more secretive. A significant example of this pheomenon is the Kardashian-Jenner family, whose use of plastic surgery has heavily influenced recent trends in societal beauty standards.

The Kardashian-Jenner family is widely known through their reality television show “The Kardashians.” Kris Jenner,  the matriarch of the family, has five daughters: Kourtney Kardashian, Kim Kardashian, Khloé Kardashian, Kendall Jenner and Kylie Jenner. Their media empire extends beyond television, through their social media presence, relationships with other celebrities and their numerous business endeavors, including makeup and fashion lines.

“Since the women splashed onto the reality television scene in the early aughts, fans and skeptics have picked them apart, obsessing over how they achieve their looks and whether they’ve gone under the knife to do so,” journalist Emily St. Martin said in an article for the Los Angeles Times.

While they do not often readily admit it, members of the Kardashian family have allegedly participated in a variety of different body alteration processes. Members of the family have been accused of getting rhinoplasty, butt implants, botox and lip fillers, and using Ozempic to achieve their signature “look.”

The Kardashian family is often associated with the shift from considering taller, more slender women as the beauty standard to the association of curvier, “hourglass” women as the epitome of beauty. The Kardashian women have been analyzed for using plastic surgery to achieve this “look” and have been accused of normalizing the use of body alteration to fit a beauty standard.

Some perceive the beauty standard that has been perpetuated by influencers like the Kardashians and Earle to be unattainable for the average individual. The spotlighting of women who generally adhere to this standard in the media has contributed to many women turning to a variety of body alteration processes. From the rising popularity of weight-loss drugs (such as Ozempic) to the preventative use of botox, to the rising popularity of breast and butt implants, cosmetic procedures have become increasingly common as  people pursue the ever-evolving standard of having an ideal physical appearance.

“Twenty years ago, plastic surgery was a fairly dramatic intervention: Expensive, invasive, permanent and, often, risky,” an article by The New Yorker said. “Thanks to injectables, cosmetic procedures are no longer just for people who want huge changes, or who are deep in battle with the aging process — they’re for millennials, or even, in rarefied cases, members of Gen Z.”

Ozempic and social response

Because of the prevalence of plastic surgery as well as the fact that Los Angeles is the center of the entertainment industry, plastic surgery and the discourse surrounding it are no strangers to the Marlborough community. There are nuanced beauty standards reflected in the media, and the student body is well aware of popular culture’s obsession with appearance.

Overall, students have highly varied opinions on plastic surgery. In a survey sent out to the Marlborough student body, 56% of participants said that their views of plastic surgery are neutral, 29% said that their views are negative and 14% said that their views are positive.

Some noted that severe examples of plastic surgery can create impossible beauty standards and cultivate body dysmorphia, especially among young girls. Others believe that plastic surgery can increase a person’s confidence, or that it is a valuable tool for those who have medical needs or have been the victims of traumatic accidents.

“One could consider plastic surgery for the future not because one wants to conform to expectations of physical appearance, but because they have physical discomfort that impedes their ability to do some of the things they would want to do,” an anonymous student said.

Notably, 71% of students surveyed feel the media has affected views on plastic surgery. Many also feel as though the popularity of plastic surgery has increased.

“I think the media has made me more aware of the prevalence of plastic surgery, the accompanying dangers and the effect it has, particularly on young girls,” a student who chose to remain anonymous said.

A member of the medical community, Dr. Arpita Devani is a board-certified doctor as well as a Marlborough parent. She works in aesthetics and is able to observe the media’s effects on beauty standards and body alteration trends firsthand.

“Views and opinions on plastic surgery, as well as the popularity of the practice, are very much affected by social media,” Devani said. “I think that people will try to emulate the people that they see and respect on social media, something which plastic surgery can enable.”

According to students, the representation of plastic surgery in the media seems to be skewed. Students at Marlborough reference the most severe side of plastic surgery, with people changing their appearances to a significant extent through Brazilian Butt Lifts (BBLs), breast implants and facelifts.

One significant recent trend in body modification is the use of Ozempic. This prescription medication was originally intended for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes but has been found to promote immediate weight loss of around 12% of body mass, making it an appealing option to many people who are looking for other alternatives to surgical procedures. Many are attracted to the promise of rapid weight loss and fail to educate themselves about the fact that the medication has severe side effects such as gastrointestinal issues. The medication also causes many patients to remain on Ozempic indefinitely to keep their weight off. In addition, this rapid weight loss has led to a phenomenon called “Ozempic face,” where patients lose body mass so rapidly that their skin sags and looks older, particularly on the face. Patients who experience “Ozempic face” often seek additional treatments and procedures to remedy the issue, perpetuating a cycle of body alteration. However, for those who need the medical benefits of Ozempic, the medication drastically improves the blood sugar for Type 2 diabetes and reduces cardiovascular risks.

Ultimately, Marlborough students recognize both the downsides and benefits of plastic surgery, especially when used in moderation. Additionally, students also acknowledge the interconnectedness of plastic surgery and beauty standards, especially in the culture of Los Angeles. However, some students also appreciate that there is a wide variety of beauty standards and believe that they are becoming less restrictive.

“I think that there is more than one beauty standard … it changes across cultures,” a student said. “There is a small but progressing shift towards embracing natural features and appreciating the unique features across cultures and faces.”

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About the Contributors
Isabel '25
Isabel '25, Opinion Editor
Paloma '26
Paloma '26, Politics and Media Staff
Dinah ’25
Dinah ’25, Photo Editor
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