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Distorted Beauty on Social Media: What Are Unrealistic Aesthetic Trends doing to Young People?

In an era dominated by Instagram filters and TikTok's trends, the visual landscape of social media has undergone a radical and scary transformation.

Gen Z and Generation Alpha are digital natives navigating this realm. Born into a world of smart phones, HD cameras and social media platforms, these young people are bombarded with a deluge of perfection and potential to augment. Before-and-after photos and videos showcasing the outcomes of non-surgical aesthetic procedures done not to reverse, refresh and restore, but to reshape and fashion features into anatomical anomalies.

Is this ubiquitous exposure to unrealistic and often distorted representations of beauty benign or is it insidious in it's shaping of what is deemed "normal"?

A Digital Hall of Mirrors

Today's young people find themselves amid a digital hall of mirrors, reflecting not reality, but a digital illusion meticulously crafted through filters, foundation and contouring and injectable enhancements.

Platforms like Instagram and TikTok have become virtual showrooms for aesthetic clinicians and the procedures they provide. Young minds scrolling through timelines flooded with videos of miraculously transformed lips, noses, jaws, cheeks and bodies. All available at the click of a Book Now button.

Yet, beneath the surface lies an unsettling reality – these outcomes are not always natural, attainable, safe or sustainable. And perhaps worse, the unrelenting exposure to these images risks the cultivation of unrealistic, abnormal beauty standards that breed insecurities and amplify facial and body dissatisfaction.

Altering the Perceptions of Normalcy

What was once the preserve of edited, well-llit photos in glossy magazines is now accessible with a mere swipe and tap. The consequences, however, are far from benign. The barrage of warped before-and-after visuals distorts perceptions of what normal is quietly influencing younger visual consumers. Impresionable young people, and their neuroplastic brains, increasingly internalise these manipulated ideals as the "new normal" and in the harsh HD light of their phone camera, their faces fall short. The line between reality and digital fiction blurred, leading to a widespread inability to distinguish authentic beauty from augmented façades.

The result? A proprotion of a generation growing up fixated on perceived imperfections, interested in unusual facial and body proportions and ratios, and a perpetuation of the cycle of self-doubt and self-critique.

Beyond Skin-Deep Consequences

The impact of this digital phenomenon extends beyond the surface. The distorted self-perception fueled by the unusual, curated content infiltrates mental well-being.

A study from Saudi Arabia reported a Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) prevalence of 4.2% among social media users, more than double the incidence in the general population. BDD was associated with a longer time using Instagram and Snapchat with adolescents and young adults, particularly young women, seeming more susceptible.

This has resulted in a surge in anxiety, depression, and body dysmorphia among young users, as they chase the unattainable. Their self-worth intrinsically tied to a distorted digital mirage. The normal stages of self-discovery and self-acceptance are stifled, replaced by a relentless pursuit of the unfeasible, sowing the seeds for a potential lifetime of dissatisfaction.

Ill-gotten Gains

Sadly, there is no shortage of aesthetic practitioners who will indulge the whims of those who's visual diet of flattened, crisp bordered Russian lips, jawlines sharpened to alien proportions, strangely pointy chins and ski-jump nose tips has led to them seeking the same. Primarily, because that's the aesthetic the themselves aspire to.

And thus the cycle is perpetuated. More before and after images to scroll through. More reels surfacing the unnatural to the impressionable. More treatments to recreate the alienised aesthetic booked. It's a great business model.

In a world where authenticity is often overshadowed by hyperreality, the consumption of unnatural and warped treatment outcomes from non-surgical aesthetic enhancements is emerging as a potent threat to the physical and mental health of our young people.

Gen Z and Generation Alpha deserve a digital environment that empowers rather than distorts their true sense of self.

As we navigate the future, it's important to confront unsettling aesthetic trends, where people's physical and mental wellbeing is at risk, head-on. We should aim to foster a more balanced, realistic perception of beauty - outside of pixelated perfection. One that embraces the uniqueness inherent in each of us, and only uses aesthetic treatments to enhance and restore, rather than distort and deform.

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