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Photography Helmut Newton for Vogue US

Unpacking plastic surgery trends around the world


TextOlivia Cassano

Are we all just getting the same work done?

Body positivity might be on the rise, but as it turns out, plastic surgery is as well. Surgically enhanced beauty has become the status quo all over the world, and the global cosmetic surgery market is expected to reach $43.9 billion by 2025. We’re quickly moving towards a globalisation of beauty standards, but who is getting what done where? We broke it down for you.

20% of all cosmetic surgery is done in the United States, but considering that the birthplace of Hollywood has a population of more than 325 million people, that figure makes sense. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), nearly 1.8 million cosmetic surgical procedures were performed in 2017 alone, with boob jobs, lipo and rhinoplasty being the most popular. And contrary to popular belief, the facelift is still alive and well. “It has long been understood that beauty ideals vary geographically and culturally, just as they vary from generation to generation,” says Dr. Charles Galanis, a double board certified plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills. “Different cultures have idealised different body types [and] tendencies to prioritise different body features, whether it’s jaw-shaping surgery in Southeast Asia, body-contouring in South America, or breast augmentation in North America.”

The ASPS also reports that there’s been a 200% increase in non-invasive treatments like Botox and dermal fillers since 2000, and millennials are the biggest fans. Unlike past generations, they were the first to come of age when plastic and cosmetic enhancements started to become normalised, if not flat-out mainstream, and social media has played a huge role in homogenising non-surgical facial procedures - not just in the US, but globally. In the era of selfies and Snapchat, subtle and low commitment treatments like injectables, lasers and peels are in especially high demand. According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, in 2018 72% of US surgeons saw an increase in injectables in patients under 30. “The modern patient wants a treatment that costs less, has less recovery and the best result,” Dr. Galanis tells Dazed Beauty. “For younger women however, with the explosion of social media, filters and other methods of photo alteration, there is a growing concern over an obsession with unrealistic beauty ideals. This is something that plastic surgeons need to be aware of in evaluating and treating this demographic.”

Injectables and fillers are also insanely popular here in the UK, no doubt thanks to the popularity of reality TV shows like Love Island. “Non-invasive procedures continue to rise in the UK far more than any other sector,” says Dr. Jonquille Chantrey, cosmetic surgeon and international aesthetic lecturer, adding that the popularity of fillers is symptomatic of today’s quick-fix culture. “People want comparable surgical results but without the risks and downtime. Botox remains extremely popular, but I’m seeing a huge increase in non-invasive body contouring and fat removal through machines such as CoolSculpting.” And of course, the infamous BBL has also become big in the UK, especially since the rise of social media, which Dr. Chantrey notes is a common denominator in her patient’s decision to get procedures. However, she specifies that social media is often a catalyst, rather than a cause. Other big influences include intrinsic factors like negative self-talk, constant comparison and low self-esteem which often make “people want to improve,” says Dr. Chantrey.

"Due to the tropical climate, endless beaches and the culture of Samba and Carnival, Brazilians always put an effort to have a good-looking body" - Dr Dirk Kremer

Even more popular than in the US, Brazil has the second highest number of cosmetic procedures in the world, with breast and butt augmentation being the most popular procedures, largely due to cultural beauty ideals. “Many Brazilians believe their culture is driven by looks,” says plastic surgeon Dr. Dirk Kremer. “Due to the tropical climate, endless beaches and the culture of Samba and Carnival, Brazilians always put an effort to have a good-looking body.” Surgeons there are as famous as the celebrities they operate on, and finding one is as easy as finding a hairdresser. In public hospitals, procedures are cheap (if not free), they can be deducted as a tax write-off, and every year the Brazilian government subsidizes nearly half a million elective surgeries (*pause for thought*). For Brazilians, this is known as the “right to beauty”.

Brazil’s obsession with surgical beauty isn’t unique, and it’s happening even on the other side of the world, in South Korea. The East Asian nation has one of the highest rates of plastic surgery in the world - nearly 1 million procedures a year - and also the highest number of plastic surgeons per capita. The New Yorker dubbed South Korea “the world’s plastic surgery capital” and Business Insider reports that in the affluent Gangnam neighbourhood (home the famed Apgujeong plastic surgery district) there are at least 500 places to get a procedure. The country also boasts a thriving cosmetic surgery tourism industry, worth almost £400 million annually. Incheon airport in Seoul even considered including a plastic surgery clinic inside a terminal so travelers - who mostly come from Japan and mainland China - wouldn't have to go into the city for procedures (the idea was eventually scrapped.)

While in the West the average age for surgery is between 35 and 55, it’s reported that about one in three South Korean women aged 19 to 29 have had something done. Face-altering tweaks are generally the most common, with double eyelid surgery being a long-coveted procedure, and fillers becoming increasingly popular. “Koreans can have volume deficient foreheads and temples, so they like fillers to the foreheads and temples,” says Dr. Chantrey. “They also like to completely reshape their jawline so rather than looking wide and thick through the jaw they look much slimmer, and a slightly more pointed chin, so this gives the illusion of narrowness to the face.” The appeal of this aesthetic is largely due to the influence of K-pop culture. In 2017 the girl band Six Bomb released the single “Becoming Prettier,” praising all the plastic surgery each member had undergone. It’s not uncommon for K-pop stars to have work done, and the phenomenon has created a completely new identikit look that nods to eurocentric features: wide eyes, a slim jawline, high cheekbones, and a button nose, the latter becoming increasingly requested in pan-Arab countries as well.

"We’re living in an age where all over the world everyone is getting the same work done, often watering down their ethnic features"

According to Dr. Kremer says Iran has been nicknamed the “nose job capital of the world” and women undergo rhinoplasty at a rate seven time higher than in the US. But the procedure is also incredibly popular in Lebanon, dubbed the ‘Mecca’ of plastic surgery, where 1.5 million procedures are carried out every year. “The shape of the nose has long been seen as 'problematic' by some in this region,” Dr. Kremer explains. “Lebanese [women] are not all 'blessed' with small and straight noses that fit the idea of western beauty standards, which have been peddled for so long across the Middle East.”

He adds that Lebanese media has had a huge impact on the surge of nose jobs. “When MBC [The Middle East Broadcasting Center] launched a few decades ago, it introduced a new wave of young, pretty broadcasters and newsreaders who were different from the old school. Men were mesmerised and smitten and women wanted to look like them as they were somehow more familiar and accessible than film stars.” Elsewhere, Egypt is becoming a leader in dental and body cosmetics due to the fact that procedures are cheaper there than anywhere else in the region, and similarly to Brazil cosmetic surgery is offered for a very low price in more and more public hospitals.

Although the US, Brazil, Japan, Italy and Mexico remain responsible for almost half of all cosmetic surgeries worldwide, it’s clear that going under the knife (or needle) is quickly becoming the thing to do everywhere. “Beauty standards are becoming global,” Dr. Kremer tells Dazed Beauty, adding that Instagram culture and smartphone filters are definitely a culprit. “It seems indeed that women all over the world follow the same trends: fuller lips, fuller cheeks, arched eyebrows, chiselled jawline, perky breasts etc. This is a pity because these facial and body trends don't suit everybody, [and] shouldn't become the must-have.”

The internet, social media and celebrity culture have allowed eurocentric features - what Dr. Kremer refers to as the ‘Kylie Jenner look’ - to become the most coveted aesthetic. While that might not be a new phenomenon, the fact that procedures today are more accessible, cheaper, and often require less downtime means more and more women are turning to plastic and cosmetic surgery. We’re living in an age where all over the world everyone is getting the same work done, often watering down their ethnic features and upholding a homogenisation of what is considered “beautiful” - and it shows no sign of stopping. The more the demand increases, the more likely that the “Kylie Jenner look” will become the status quo. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you.

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