Why Cosmetic Surgery Is On The Decline

Josh Sims

2.5 min read

Fewer and fewer people are getting cosmetic surgery. Why is this, what are the alternatives and what does it mean for the industry? MOJEHMEN investigates. 

Looking at all the streamlined noses, chiseled chins, pert eyelids and those suddenly disappeared moobs, it would be a bold statement to say that demand for cosmetic surgery is falling. Such has become the wide acceptance of altering by science what biology has given, that one would expect the numbers to only go up.

And yet data from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (globally one of the most esteemed professional bodies in this field) has recently reported that the number of cosmetic surgeries conducted last year fell by 40 per cent, and by almost 50 per cent for men – a number which (cultures varying, of course) might be extrapolated to other markets internationally. Indeed, the number of procedures for men and women combined dipped below 31,000 – that’s 5 per cent lower than they were a decade ago. Nor does this seem to be a blip – figures released in 2015, for instance, also show a drop off, albeit less spectacular.

So what is afoot here (post metatarsal sculpting, of course)? Social media, ironically, has been posited as one of the drivers. The rise of the selfie – often, thanks to its inherent vanity, described as one of the forces behind interest in cosmetic surgery – has its counter in the increased exposure to the many botch jobs and scarily remodelled faces, those of average Joes as much as celebrities. 

The likes of teeth whitening, tanning, contouring and Botox have all offered quick-fix improvements without needing the knife.

Progress – of a sort – in what’s possible non-invasively also looks to have played a part. The likes of teeth whitening, tanning, contouring and Botox have all offered quick-fix improvements (again, depending on your perspective) without needing the knife – and demand for these continues to rise, in part in line with them increasingly being seen as little more than extensions to good grooming.

Likewise, more scientifically sophisticated and goal-oriented exercise systems have also allowed individuals to achieve the sense of attractiveness and self-confidence so often sought by those considering cosmetic surgery without the need to spill any blood.

Even more macro drivers, the likes of economics, education and aesthetics may be coming into play as well. One argument has it that, after a pre-crash boom, in more austere times, our problematic self-image is simply subsumed to the realities of cost – the size of that wonky nose problem somehow diminishes when paying for rhinoplasty isn’t an option. In line with social media, the internet has made us more aware of the complexities and possible pitfalls of surgery. 

And, of course, while all those paranoias about our bodies are in large part shaped by the culture in which we live – which is why increased exposure to ‘perfect’ bodies has led to a concomitant dissatisfaction with our own – attitudes to what constitutes a physical ideal may also have shifted: fashion, among other forces, is pushing towards a much more natural, even individualistic notion of good looking. A male equivalent may be harder to define, but it is the difference between catwalk model and glamour model – out with excesses, in with subtleties and even quirks; in with looking refreshed, out with looking like somebody none of your friends recognise.

Indeed, attitudes can shape not just the aesthetic of, but the very acceptability of cosmetic surgery. One argument has it that while cosmetic surgery’s prevalence has made it more socially acceptable – like tattoos – this has also prompted a kind of backlash – a snobbery, if you like – that has come to regard it as low rent and so undesirable in the way certain holiday destinations, hobbies, brand affiliations or any other class-defining lifestyle choice comes to be viewed.

Even plastic surgeons have welcomed this cooling off, suggesting that it means would-be patients are being more cautious and thinking longer and harder before committing to what is, after all, major surgery with serious psychological, as well as physiological, throw-back.

Besides, these surgeons are, of course, quite confident in their feeling that, over the longer term, cosmetic surgery is going nowhere. For this industry these are, when all is said and done, still far from being lean times. Talking of which, the procedure seeing the greatest increase in demand among men now? The abdominoplasty, or tummy tuck.

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