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Inside the secret world of Instagram’s ‘dolls’

The growing underground communities on the social media platform sees those seeking cosmetic surgery swapping invaluable advice, #Wishpics, and explicit surgery recovery photos before they go under the knife

If you’ve never had or intended to have cosmetic surgery, chances are you wouldn’t have come across a ‘plastic surgery doll’ account on Instagram. Away from public Instagram feeds, communities of people who are undertaking cosmetic procedures are turning to the platform to research and document their goals and results. The private accounts are called ‘Sx pages’ and there’s usually a rigorous process keeping out anyone who’s not going under the knife. 

Rebecca*, a 35-year-old based in London, first turned to the world of ‘plastic surgery dolls’ on Instagram after deciding to get liposuction on her entire body. Wanting to research further than the clinic’s website would allow, she created her first private ‘Sx page’ to find the clinic with the best results. “Making my account gave me that final push. It made everything I imagined into a reality,” she explains. “I was able to connect with many like-minded women who have had issues with their bodies their whole lives, but we all have a goal to achieve that ‘goal’ body and feel better about ourselves.”

Like most other ‘dolls’, Rebecca named her account referencing the provider that she’s working with. For example, ‘ChangDoll’ would be a woman who had surgery performed by Dr Chang. This helps other dolls and prospective dolls to find other women using or intending to use the same surgeons. She then goes on to list the date of her surgery in her bio, as many do, followed by “no men allowed” because the accounts feature nudity and progress photos, it’s common for men to be denied access.

The accounts are an underground, anonymous, and unverified look into real plastic surgery results. They act as a how-to guide for prospective clients, serving as a mood board for ‘goal’ body images, detailing prices and experiences, and showcasing the reality of recovery. “Recovery is not glamorous and you don’t come out with your dream body,” says Rebecca. “It’s important to be as authentic as possible on these pages and share your very real results because had I not connected with other dolls, I don’t know if I’d have been as prepared as I was.”

Other UK-based dolls helped Rebecca through her entire surgery process – she had a rhinoplasty at the same time as liposuction, which she says she now regrets because of the recovery process. After reading the reviews on ‘Sx’ pages, she changed clinics then worked out her ‘supplies’ list for the day through her own community. She explains how dolls continued to check in on her throughout the surgery process, and that many meet up outside of Instagram. “On my down days this page helps me as it’s a very up and down journey,” she says. “I can post a story about how I’m feeling low or struggling to lose weight and other dolls will lift you up and offer advice.” 

Amy*, also based in London, became a ‘doll’ for the sole purpose of warning others about a particular surgeon that she had a negative experience with. “When I came out of surgery, I was devastated. It didn’t even look close to my desired result,” she explains. “I knew leaving a review or calling my surgeon wouldn’t matter and wanted to warn others.” Amy now wishes she had known about the ‘Sx pages’ before her surgery and now uses them to research results for all her upcoming procedures.

“I was able to connect with many like-minded women who have had issues with their bodies their whole lives, but we all have a goal to achieve that ‘goal’ body and feel better about ourselves” – Rebecca*

While similarities can be drawn to the long-established ‘pro-ana’ social media accounts and hashtags where those with eating disorders support each other in fasting and weight loss, Instagram dolls seem to be more safety-orientated. One doll posts: “Life isn’t perfect, but my butt is. Dreams can come true”. Another says: “Here’s what I look like with clothes on (still not comfortable posting nudes). Can you please help me choose a doctor that will make me snatched?”. While most ‘goal body’ or ‘wish pictures’ posted are unattainable without multiple surgeries, there seems to be a balance of sharing body image issues and setting realistic standards for results. 

Jasmine*, a 27-year-old based in California, notes there has been a shift in the community after a recent article by The New York Times brought the underground community to light. While privacy has always been one of the biggest concerns for dolls, she explains that many accounts are taking more rigorous measures to keep out unwanted followers. “Many dolls left Instagram altogether after it (the article) came out,” she says. “Others are asking for proof of surgery before accepting follower requests.” This proof, says Jasmine, is most often in the form of papers from the clinic. Despite recently being banned from Instagram, plastic surgeons have now begun to use the hashtag #surgerydolls as a way of also posting detailed images of different procedures. 

With this shift, Jasmine fears that new dolls won’t find the community as helpful or as easy to navigate. Something, she says, was an important part of her own recent plastic surgery journey. “I don’t think I would have been brave enough to go through with any of the surgeries that I have without having access to other doll’s accounts,” she shares. “I have a long way to go to reach a body I’m happy with, but know that the dolls around me will help me to get there.” 

On the surface, plastic surgery doll communities may seem like a dangerous shift away from the body positivity or body neutrality movements as well as a violation of Instagram’s censorship rules (that only really come into play if their followers report an image, which in this case is unlikely). But until the dolls feel like there is a more honest discussion about what to expect undergoing cosmetic surgery from service providers, or other parts of the Internet, the need to connect with each other through the anonymous and unverified world of ‘Sx pages’ and private Instagram accounts will remain.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.