Adolescents, Celebrity Worship, and Cosmetic Surgery

By Maura Duffy

A new study shows that media portrayals of celebrities influence how adolescents feel about their looks and influence their decisions to undergo cosmetic surgery.  Dr. John Maltby and Dr. Liz Day studied 137 young adults between the ages of 18 and 23, using questionnaires to measure their attitudes toward celebrities whose body image they admired. The researchers followed up with the adolescents eight months later, and found that the women and men who showed intense “celebrity worship” were more likely to undergo elective invasive cosmetic procedures, even after controlling for other known predictors of cosmetic surgery, such as low self-esteem, greater preoccupation with body image, and previous cosmetic surgery. The study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2011, and did not include reconstructive surgeries such as correcting birth defects, or non-invasive procedures such as teeth whitening.  The most common procedures for these UK adolescents were breast augmentation, breast lift, liposuction, nose reshaping, laser skin resurfacing, Botox injections, and soft tissue fillers, which are also the most popular cosmetic procedures among adolescents in many Western countries.   Although Botox injections and soft tissue fillers are not considered “surgery,” they are invasive procedures.

In a commentary by Dr. Anisha Abraham and NRC President Dr. Diana Zuckerman in the same journal, the two point out that the young adults in the study are not just mimicking the clothing and hairstyles of their favorite celebrities, but rather undergoing invasive procedures to feel better about how they look. This study has significant implications for the health and well-being of teenagers, as increasingly unrealistic expectations of what it means to be beautiful are perpetuated by TV shows, web sites, and advertisements featuring cosmetic surgery. The authors urge doctors to develop and use an effective screening process for adolescents who wish to undergo cosmetic procedures, which includes evaluating celebrity worship. Since self-concept improves and celebrity worship tends to decrease as adolescents mature, health professionals would do well to recommend that teenagers wait before undergoing cosmetic surgery. Guidelines for consent procedures that promote better screening and counseling for these young people could improve their decision process to get procedures that are invasive, expensive, and can result in serious medical complications. The authors conclude that the study indicates how crucial it is to encourage young people  to be more self-confident and accepting of their bodies, rather than comparing themselves to “perfect” celebrities.

Maltby and Day’s original article “Celebrity Worship and Incidence of Elective Cosmetic Surgery: Evidence of a Link Among Young Adults” can be found here.

NRC President Diana Zuckerman’s editorial “Adolescents, Celebrity Worship, and Cosmetic Surgery” can be found here. Both appeared in the November 2011 publication of the Journal of Adolescent Health.