Cosmetic Surgery Goes Primetime

Surgical Rounds®, August 2014,

Appearance-altering realities in television and social media are not just a recreational pastime for Americans. They influence attitudes toward cosmetic surgery.

When Americans turn on their TVs, there’s more than a 50/50 chance they’ll tune into some type of reality program. Home and garden, cooking, antiques, and vapid celebrity lives seem to consume the wavelengths. And, since Extreme Makeover captured a significant market share, so do new shows about cosmetic surgery. When Americans aren’t watching TV, they are often obsessed with social media.

Researchers from Brooklyn College in New York report that appearance-altering realities in television and social media are not just a recreational pastime for Americans. They influence attitudes toward cosmetic surgery.

In a study published in the August 2014 issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and the Transplantation Bulletin, the researchers survey asked 126 college students about their Facebook, Twitter, and reality television habits. In particular, they determined how participants perceived cosmetic surgery programs in terms of realism.

Participants who perceived realism in reality TV shows were most likely to find cosmetic surgery acceptable socially — meaning, if others approved, then they would pursue cosmetic surgery. They also perceived intrapersonal benefits and were more likely to consider it for themselves.

Participants who followed any reality television character program on Twitter (which has more traffic than Facebook) were significantly more likely to find cosmetic surgery socially acceptable. Facebook behavior was not associated with specific attitudes toward cosmetic surgery.

The researchers note that all study participants were from one college, so the results may not apply across the nation or all demographics. They did not identify which cosmetic reality shows participants preferred, so they could not find specific shows’ magnitude of influence.

Reality TV characters have significant influence on viewers, and the authors note that cosmetic plastic surgeons who advertise their services on cosmetic surgery reality television programs or on Twitter feeds that discuss cosmetic surgery reality TV may benefit.

“These reality television programs portray cosmetic surgery in a positive manner, and viewers with increased perceived realism will be a potential receptive audience toward such advertising,” the authors concluded.