The Instagram “likes” came flooding in, then the flurry of follows from strangers. It was intoxicating. “I just seen you and I thought you were cute so I had to follow you,” Zach Mendoza says a new follower wrote him in a direct message. After his recent rhinoplasty and lip implants, “my self-esteem is through the roof. Before I would feel like OK, I’m just an average-looking person. Now, not to be conceited, but I feel like I’m above average now.”
Mendoza, 22, represents a growing segment of the cosmetic and plastic surgery market: Millennials coming of age in a world where starlets openly discuss the “work” they’ve had done and their moms and aunts have likely had a nip here or a tuck there. In a study released in January by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 64 percent of facial plastic surgeons reported an increase in cosmetic surgery or injectable treatments in patients younger than 30 – the perfect cap for Millennials, generally defined as those born between 1980 and 2000.
“We’re seeing younger people,” says Lewis Albert Andres, M.D., a Scottsdale plastic surgeon and chair of plastic surgery for Shea Medical Center, who says the majority of his patients are in their 30s or younger. “At least one of the trends here is to do smaller things and earlier, so you do more maintenance [over the course of a lifetime] as opposed to one more drastic kind of surgery later on in life.”
That was the impetus for Jadie Peck, 28, a laser and aesthetics professional who is now cosmetic concierge at Advanced Aesthetic Associates in Scottsdale. “I actually started doing Botox on myself when I was 21 or 22,” Peck says. “My mom had the deeper lines in her forehead and I felt like I was starting to get those indentations. Instead of allowing them to progress and get to a point where they were staying there visibly, I started doing Botox. That keeps that constant wrinkle from forming in the actual skin and breaking down that skin in the area. It is something you have to keep up and maintain.” Peck has since had rhinoplasty, breast augmentation, navel revision and a phalanx of facial fillers.
Doctors say it’s not merely a preemptive attack on aging that inspires younger and younger people to seek cosmetic and plastic surgery. “Social media has a lot to do with it because people are taking lots more pictures of themselves than they used to,” says Pablo Prichard, M.D., senior partner at Advanced Aesthetic Associates and chief of plastic surgery at HonorHealth John C. Lincoln Medical Center. “We have a culture of instant gratification, so if we see a problem, we want it solved immediately. One of the most common things we see here are someone might not like the way their nose looks, their cheeks, their lips, their jawlines.” Prichard says the nose is a particular source of Millennial anxiety. “They’re taking selfies of themselves from so many angles and, not only that, other people are taking pictures of them. When you take a picture of yourself and you’re doing a selfie, girls are always looking for the right angles so they look perfect, versus when somebody else posts a picture of you and it’s candid – now you’re seeing all of your flaws, and you want those corrected immediately.”
It may sound reductive or stereotypical, but even Millennial plastic surgery patients admit that the media – social and otherwise – was a factor in their procedures. “It has everything to do with social media,” Mendoza says. “You want to look the best on Instagram. You want to look the best on your Snapchat.” The preponderance of plastic surgery-focused TV shows like Dr. 90210 and Botched, as well as plastic surgery apps like Zwivel (which allows users to complete surgery consultations in the app) and simulators like Photo Plastic and Plastic Surgery Simulator Lite, have also made modifications seem more attainable than ever before. “They want that change in the physical form as well as the digital form,” Prichard says.
And they let their friends – real-life and digital – in on the process. “When I was getting my procedure done, I posted pictures on Instagram, and the day of my procedure I let people know I was getting it done,” says Mayra Reyes, 26, who got breast augmentation when she was 23. “I was open about it. I have some friends that are open about it, too.”
While biological maturity is a concern for younger patients, surgeons say their youth aids them in their recovery process. Plus, establishing a relationship earlier benefits both doctors and their patients, who may return for more “maintenance” and procedures as they age. After falling in love with his new “small, cute nose and big, juicy lips,” Mendoza promised Prichard, his surgeon: “When I get 40 or 50 I’m going to be coming back to you to get a facelift.”
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