A new show is coming to our screens, and this time, it’s about people competing to get funding for plastic surgery. Yes, you read that right. Channel 4 is currently working on The Surjury, a new TV series which will be hosted by Love Island’s Caroline Flack, where a 12-strong jury will decide if people get to undergo the cosmetic surgery they’ve always dreamed of—for free.
Naturally, the announcement of the upcoming show has caused quite a stir. Controversial ‘trash’ TV, be that ITV’s Love Island or Channel 4’s Naked Attraction, have a special place in people’s hearts (mine included), so it makes sense that The Surjury caused such excitement. Yet, people are on the fence about this one, understandably. Of course, people should have autonomy over their own bodies, and have the freedom to do whatever they wish with it, but watching these shows requires a level of great caution, as contestants are usually very vulnerable people.
Love Island has been criticised for failing to provide proper after-care and resources for their contestants’ mental health, with two previous islanders committing suicide. The Jeremy Kyle Show has been cancelled after a man who appeared on the show took his own life, and contestants on Naked Attraction are constantly criticised by viewers. For The Surjury, both the producers and the viewers will have to be very careful not to exploit the contestants’ vulnerabilities and insecurities. And, so far, neither have been doing a particularly good job at that. A Channel 4 spokesperson told Screen Shot that the contestants “will be psychologically assessed and supported regarding their involvement in the programme,” which sounds like just another vague quote from a press release, forcing me to anticipate that the show will cause just as much damage as previous ones.
The Surjury will be dealing with an already sensitive and controversial topic: plastic surgery, and this is not the first time British television is under fire for promoting various cosmetic surgical procedures. Over a year ago, during the run of Love Island 2018, ITV was urged to cancel running diet and plastic surgery ads. During that time, the show managed to increase its share of 16 to 34-year-old viewers by a fifth, with the numbers only growing this year. A study conducted by feminist group Level Up found that 40 per cent of women aged between 13 and 34 felt more self-conscious about their own bodies while watching the show. 1 out of 10 girls said they wanted to get lip fillers, while 8 per cent considered a breast enlargement surgery. Eventually, these ads were banned.
Even now, Instagram is removing all of its plastic surgery-effect face filters. While these filters were incredibly popular among users, a number of concerns have been raised over the impact that these have on our physical and mental wellbeing—there’s even a new phenomenon called ‘Snapchat Dysmorphia’, where people request plastic surgery to look like they do when wearing face filters. If there is so much evidence indicating how harmful the glamorization of plastic surgery is, is it really fair to air a show about it?
“The Surjury seeks to explore why so many people feel the need to change their bodies, and whether surgery actually makes them happier,” says a Channel 4 spokesperson. “All contributors featured in the series have actively been seeking surgery on their own accord. This new series allows them to consult with surgical teams and then to discuss their reasons for wanting it with a panel of their peers. The show will neither glamorise nor condemn their choices: the aim is instead to interrogate the realities of cosmetic surgery.” Even if the show exploits the way Instagram made us ‘addicted’ to digital filters and plastic surgery, and though people working on the show make it clear it is not their intention to ‘glamorize’ or make fun of cosmetic surgery, there is absolutely no guarantee that the series won’t be harmful.
“The Surjury plays on the vulnerability of its contestants, those who are unhappy with their appearance to such an extent that they are willing to undergo potentially dangerous and life-altering surgery to rectify their perceived problems,” writes Emily Baker for i news, condemning the show and its morals. A cosmetic surgeon that was first cast for The Surjury later refused to take part in it once he received more details about it, as he thought it would be unethical. But this raises the following question—isn’t it wrong to immediately assume that people seek plastic surgery purely out of low self-esteem and insecurity?
In a way, by condemning the show, aren’t we only creating more stigma around plastic surgery, while we should be doing the opposite? We should be allowing people autonomy over their own bodies, especially when women don’t have much of that in the first place. If plastic surgery makes someone happy, then why can’t we just let them be? After all, contestants have agreed to take part in this ‘competition’, and only their choice should matter.
But, in this case, it is also the jury’s decision to make. They decide if you get the funding or not, thus having the autonomy over your surgery. And somebody sacrificing their own self-esteem, sanity, and health, as well as the stress of being judged by the entire nation purely for the sake of our own entertainment (and in their case, a few thousands of pounds for their surgery) is messed up. If done right, the show has a good chance to fight stigma around cosmetic surgery. If not, it has just as big a chance to ridicule people and crush their self-esteem.
The selfie-generation has become something we accept as much as we enjoy to joke about. Selfie-oriented beauty tutorials are the subject of love, hate and mockery. Shameless selfie is a hashtag. ‘Feeling myself’ a brush off reference to Beyonce rather than an acknowledgement of our self-obsession and desire for societal acceptance. Beauty tutorials on YouTube and Instagram have become a source of plastic surgery and botox inspiration, influence and—more importantly, education.
According to a 2017 survey by The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), 55 percent of plastic surgeons reported that their patients desired to look better in selfies. The trend was first identified by the surgeon society three years ago and has been on an average 13 percent increase per year since. BUT With online beauty influencers leading this change, what exactly is their influence providing those seeking advice, reliable information and support ahead of such robust, expensive and life-altering decisions?
AAFPRS President, William H. Truswell, said that “More and more of our patients are using social media as a forum to gain a sense of solidarity when undergoing a major, potentially life-changing procedure. Consumers are only a swipe away from finding love and a new look, and this movement is only going to get stronger.” The main issue is that surgery influencers and advocates often represent only a fragment of the whole process; the final result, the beginning of a happier life; the start of self-confidence never experienced before. Just a few weeks ago the Evening Standard reported that “Superdrug launched its own Botox and fillers service” as a result of what “experts have linked to the popularity of Love Island.” Supposedly watching 20-year-olds with lip fillers frolicking around a villa in Spain for 8 weeks is enough to convince an entire generation of beauty-thirsty millennials that aesthetic surgery is the answer. And don’t get me wrong, it could be for some. But what I’m more concerned about is the information available on what these procedures really mean.
The kind of information currently circulating through botox advocates and Instagram surgeons like Dr Six and his peers happens to be much more hollow and at times inaccurate than we’re led to believe. Just two weeks ago, a study was published by Rutgers University—the first of its kind—titled ‘Assessment of YouTube as an Informative Resource on Facial Plastic Surgery Procedures’. The study saw researchers analysing thousands of “facial plastic surgery procedures, patient experiences, and medical commentary” on YouTube and Instagram to evaluate the “video quality and creator qualification”. By analysing the top 240 videos that came up to an array of keywords such as ‘lip fillers’, ‘facial fillers’ and ‘eyelid surgery’, researchers concluded that these videos accumulate a combined 158 million views. All the videos were given a credibility and reliability score from between 1 (very low) to 5 (high) and the results, worryingly yet somewhat unsurprisingly, ranged between 2.75 at the top range and 1.55 for the low ranking videos.
It’s hard to believe that watching DIY plastic surgery advice, procedure and before-and-after videos will have such visible influence on an entire generation. But when there’s no limitation and, crucially, no regulation in the era of influencers we are living through—essentially “The Age of Influence” as the cover of Business of Fashion’s May issue read under Kim Kardashian’s perfectly symmetrical face—the question is, what are the limits to influence?