In a cover story with Vogue released last month, Bella Hadid became the latest celebrity to speak candidly about her plastic surgery by admitting to having a nose job when she was just 14 years old. “I wish I had kept the nose of my ancestors,” she told Vogue in the piece. “I think I would have grown into it.” The piece inspired mixed reactions to the revelation that one of the most prominent models in the industry had felt the need to change her appearance, especially at such a young age. Some commended her for telling the truth about her surgery; others shared her past interviews where she denied having any cosmetic procedures; many blamed her mother, former model Yolanda Hadid, for encouraging it at a young age; and a dubious few expressed disbelief she had not had other work done. Despite the discourse and disagreements, one question that went mostly unaddressed was whether or not Bella even owed us an explanation at all. Do we think that all celebrities should be expected to disclose their surgeries and treatments?
The discussion around augmentation disclosure is not new. In fact, last year in the United Kingdom, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that influencers need to state when they use a beauty filter to promote skin care or cosmetics. Experts admit there is a direct link between social media filters and lower self-esteem, lower self-confidence, and higher cases of body dysmorphia, so it’s hard not to think about what that means when these beautifying filters come to life via the help of cosmetic enhancements. However, considering that getting any kind of surgery means undergoing a medical procedure that’s far more personal than using a temporary face app, the same rules can’t apply.
Of course, Bella is not the only celebrity to deny, then admit to cosmetic surgery. As a teenager, Kylie Jenner repeatedly denied lip filler rumors (saying their fuller look was due to merely being “overlined” with makeup) before admitting to having them enhanced and talking about the insecurity she felt prompting the change. But a new wave of open disclosure is coming. Chrissy Teigen revealed in September 2021 that she underwent a buccal fat removal procedure (removing fat from her lower face), and Marc Jacobs posted his facelift recovery in July 2021. Jacobs even spoke about the procedure in real time, pushing the narrative around transparent surgeries and social media documentation. Now, many noncelebrities on TikTok are opting to share their personal journeys with plastic surgery on the app.
Considering that getting any kind of surgery means undergoing a medical procedure that’s far more personal than using a temporary face app, the same rules can’t apply.
Dr. Melissa Doft, double board-certified plastic surgeon and founder of Doft Plastic Surgery, says surgery is, in itself, always a personal decision. “Just because you are a celebrity does not mean that you need to disclose everything. Celebrities and noncelebrities alike deserve to have their decisions about undergoing plastic surgery kept private,” she tells NYLON. “But, what I do think is unfair is when a celebrity criticizes plastic surgery when they have had something done. It implies that obtainable results are unobtainable.” That’s right. Even celebrities don’t always look like themselves — you could look like them too with the help of the right surgeons. This makes any and all open conversations about surgery an important way to destigmatize cosmetic procedures while increasing the awareness of the time, effort, and money it can take for celebrities to maintain their appearance.
Bella’s young age during her surgery was another controversial part of her disclosure. Doft says most surgeons would prefer to hold off on facial procedures until a woman is 16 years old or a man is 18 years old due to facial bone growth. However, it’s not always the case; in 2020, there were 229,000 cosmetic procedures performed on adolescents, including 88,000 surgeries, per the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons’ Plastic Surgery Statistics Report. With this in mind, we can only hope that Bella expressing her complicated feelings openly might be a step forward in encouraging teenagers to wait until the recommended age to make their own decisions.
Celebrities stay quiet about getting work done because they’re insecure, but then their results further fuel young people’s insecurities.
There’s no doubt that there’s extra pressure on celebrities to uphold beauty standards, with tabloids having a history of fat-shaming celebrities and catching them at bad angles. Then, factor in the gendered beauty standards that women are subject to, which forces women (famous or not) to carry the onus of speaking about procedures, and nothing seems fair about enforcing the emotional labor of disclosing plastic surgery. The flip side is when celebrities do not disclose, they can play a crucial part in the vicious cycle of insecurity. Celebrities stay quiet about getting work done because they’re insecure, but then their results further fuel young people’s insecurities. This can have serious implications. The Wall Street Journal’s explosive 2021 report on Facebook’s internal research stated that, bombarded by curated filters and enhanced bodies, 6% of teens with suicidal thoughts cited Instagram as a cause.
Dr. Norman Rowe, a board-certified plastic surgeon with a practice in New York City’s Upper East Side, says about 10 to 15% of the rhinoplasties she performs are on teens. “This number has remained consistent, if not increasing, over the past few years,” she told NYLON. She says many patients show surgeons a photo of a filter or a famous person as their desired end result. Despite insecurities being fueled by social media, Rowe doesn’t believe in having to disclose any plastic surgery to others ethically but personally doesn’t think celebrities should deny it if it’s obvious. “Anytime someone admits to having a procedure, it helps reduce stigma and increase the visibility of those who have had it,” she says. Ultimately, the more we talk about how we all deal with our insecurities, the less power those same hang-ups will have over us.
Admittedly, there’s little chance of any of us getting completely out of the beauty standard cycle that celebrities perpetuate and are also affected by. There’s also no chance of plastic surgery going away anytime soon, nor necessarily should it. So while these factors are here to stay, we should welcome any and all open discourse from our favorite celebrities and influencers without expecting it (or shaming people for it). After all, despite what it may feel like on social media, celebrities are not our friends, our insecurities often line their pockets, and comparing ourselves to people with more access than we have only further perpetuates a standard that doesn’t actually exist.