In the age of the selfie, the discourse surrounding achieving a filter-like appearance has never been more relevant.
Aesthetic treatments have created a way for individuals to physically edit themselves — correcting perceived imperfections sometimes before they even appear — making the perfect Instagram shot that much more achievable.
“The younger generation is highly influenced by social media because it's so available now,” said Emary Mueller, a body positive activist and senior at the University of Kentucky. Mueller also has an Instagram account, @emarylifts, dedicated to midsize fitness and embracing healthy relationships with food.
Social media has given rise to “influencers” who use their established platforms to share content detailing their lives and appearances. In the midst of an incredibly connected generation set on meeting ever-changing beauty standards, the aesthetics industry has found a new foothold.
When celebrities like the Kardashians rose to a level of popularity some might refer to as “American Royalty,” the beauty standard for women evolved to include a thin waist and voluptuous curves. This is in direct opposition to the tall and slender ideal of the early 2000s, a look Mueller described as “heroin chic.”
To achieve these looks, some turned to drastic cosmetic procedures like Brazilian butt lifts, breast augmentations or even the removal of buccal fat from the face. However, some of the most popular treatments among the younger generation are less extreme.
“Being on Zoom from a pandemic really made people aware of how they look on camera,” said Chasity Hester, PA-C, of Be Medispa, a medical spa located in Lexington, Kentucky. Chasity treats patients alongside her husband, Dr. Paul L. Hester.
Chasity said that aesthetic treatments in this “Zoom generation” are “wildly popular,” and Be Medispa is well-suited to being in Lexington due to the college-aged demographic.
“Gen Z is educated. They’re on social media, they’re reading and they take more time to make their decision to come see us. We embrace that because we want to meet them where they are and continue that relationship,” she said.
Keesha Watts, CRNA and co-founder of Bon Bini Aesthetics, explained that given how much information younger generations have access to, there is less fear of cosmetic treatments.
“The best wrinkles are the ones that you never get. In our younger clientele, we’re addressing things like acne, melasma, pigmentation, pore size, texture and all of the things that make you look not as good as in your photos… Everyone wants to kind of have an airbrushed look,” Chasity said.
A well-known treatment is the injection of botulinum toxin, also called “Botox.” Botox offers a way to slow the aging process by blocking chemical signals from nerves that cause muscles to contract, according to Mayo Clinic.
Jenna Lawrence, RN, is a 22-year-old aesthetic nurse injector who has received Botox in addition to microblading and lip filler. Lawrence said she received Botox between her eyebrows to treat her migraines, highlighting the multifaceted nature of the procedure.
When Watts treats her younger patients, she sees many are just in need of a good skincare routine and topical products that help prevent signs of aging. She explained that many of her patients opt for treatments like preventative “baby-tox,” which is similar to the normal Botox procedure, just in smaller doses
“There’s not any aging volume loss or fat loss yet… but that all comes later. The steps that these younger patients take now will help, you know, 10 years from now. So that’s even healthy eating, sleeping and drinking water daily,” Watts said.
Dr. Hester explained that when he was growing up, “it seemed people talked about aging until they got a facelift.”
“People do not like to look like they've had work done. They want to look good for their age,” he said, which is why preventative measures are heavily emphasized by health professionals in this field.
Lip fillers are another popular treatment among younger generations.
Zoe Stinson, a University of Kentucky senior, explained that when she was growing up she saw women with bigger lips and always wanted to have them. Stinson now receives a syringe of filler every 12-18 months.
“It’s not something I regret; I’m happy with the way that they look,” she said.
However, Stinson said she wishes she would have waited until she was older to get her lips done due to the migration of the filler over time. She said she will eventually have to get the filler dissolved to prevent further issues.
Part of the buzz surrounding aesthetic treatments stems from the media’s focus on botched procedures. Dr. Hester said that anyone could point to a botched celebrity they had seen or heard about, but that “we [Be Medispa] use techniques to avoid that. Our first technique is that we educate ourselves and we go to medical school, and the techniques that we use on a daily basis are the ones that are going to be safest for the patient.”
As an activist for body positivity, Mueller feels people should do whatever makes them feel most comfortable in their bodies.
For some clients, this can include treatments that may play a key role in unlocking a physical part of them that may have been lacking at birth. Gender affirming procedures often include cosmetic treatments as a way to match a patient’s outward appearance with their gender identity and expression.
“We really have to decide with them what they want. They may want to look a little more square jawed and a little more masculine,” Dr. Hester said.
“A transgender female will really want to have a more feminine look and we use some feminizing techniques to really enhance their features,” Chasity said.
Cosmetic procedures have the power to shape how a patient not only sees themselves but also how the world perceives them. However, no matter the motivation to get them done, these treatments are often considered luxuries that require patients to have the money to pay for them and the time to properly recover.
The average cost of botulinum toxin injections is $466, according to the most recent statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). The ASPS also reported that according to 2018 pricing data, the average cost of hyaluronic acid, a popular dermal filler, is $682 per syringe. The average price for a breast augmentation, a more invasive cosmetic procedure, was reported at $4,516. These prices do not account for working time lost to recover, operating room facilities or other necessary expenses. Prices like these can be out of reach, especially for college-aged students.
“The younger generation is seeing all of these women get this procedure or that procedure. They’re going to want it because they know it makes them look the best,” Mueller said. “Without meaning to, it can hurt body image, because if you look at someone and they have lip filler, you may want it badly, but can’t afford it, and then you compare yourself.”
Mueller added that cosmetic procedures can also be damaging for younger people because a lot of people are not upfront about altering their appearance through fillers, implants and so on.
“There are a lot of people who do look negatively on aesthetic procedures if they know you’ve had something done, so most women avoid sharing what they’ve done,” Lawrence said.
Watts said that at Bon Bini, “we really strive to make better the stigma that’s associated. I think a lot of people view it with a negative connotation, that they’re not going to be authentic… or that we’re changing them. That’s definitely not what we do here.”
“Our clients are taking care of themselves. And I don't want people to feel guilty about taking care of themselves,” she said.