Instagram is Not Reality

January 24, 2020

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This article from Fox News inspired this blog. It is a compelling and timely message. A Sports Illustrated model had the courage to post the following on Instagram:

“Everyone compares themselves in one way or another but so often it isn’t a fair fight. Instagram isn’t real life.” (Kate Wasley/Instagram)

One of the wisest and most accomplished plastic surgeons I trained with at the University of Minnesota made the following statement:

In plastic surgery, perception is reality.”

After ten years of training and over ten years in practice, that statement is now truer than ever. Take two abdominoplasty patients with almost identical results. One is thrilled, transformed and literally embarks on a new and inspired life. The other is dissatisfied, downcast with a poisoned mindset. One is in heaven, the other in hell. For any honest and competent plastic surgeon who has been in this business long enough, we have all experienced this. What causes this phenomenon? I believe one of the root causes of disappointment following well-executed plastic surgery is self-hatred. Many people simply hate themselves. They literally want to be someone else. How does this hatred express itself in everyday life? It manifests in the endless and unhealthy comparison of oneself to others.

Unfortunately, social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram are rocket fuel for self-hatred. We are bombarded with flashy images of people, their bodies, and their exciting and exotic lives. Recent studies have actually shown that social media can exacerbate depression in vulnerable people. It’s easy to see why. The sad part is that it’s all essentially a lie. People post snippets of their lives on these platforms, but that is not their life. It does not represent the truth of their life in its totality with all the highs and the lows and the in-between.

One of the most egregious forms of this lie involves digital manipulation of images. I have been a hobbyist photographer since the mid-80s, and I have a keen eye for images that have been doctored. I see it constantly on SM, whether it is an account linked to a plastic or cosmetic surgery practice (and unfortunately even their websites) or to a patient’s own surgical journey. The worst offenders can be found in the shady world of Brazilian Buttlifting (aka BBL) where I constantly see women with torsos the size of my 4 years olds attached to an ass the size of two watermelons. It is absurd and frankly unaesthetic and unnatural. Despite that, many people are tormented by this cartoonish and grotesque fiction and aspire to it!

How do we as plastic surgeons fight the good fight and help people avoid unnecessary misery (and sometimes unnecessary surgery)? By speaking the truth. By operating in complete transparency. I try to be as blunt as possible at all times. If I someone brings me wish pictures that are not realistic, I tell them that. Plastic surgery is not magic. It is not a creative miracle. I cannot make one person look like another. I do not walk on water. My name is not Jesus Christ. I am a man and a surgeon who does his very best within those limitations. I can make people’s lives better who have real, anatomical issues with their bodies whether it be due to extreme pregnancies, weight gain and loss or simple hereditary idiosyncrasies along with REALISTIC expectations.

The key to happiness after plastic surgery (and in life) revolves around self-love. If you hate yourself, you will never be satisfied. Life has an unrecognized spiritual dimension. Being in the Bible belt here in Charlotte, North Carolina, most people are familiar with part II of the great commandment:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” -Mattew 22:39

You cannot fulfill that commandment if you hate yourself.