Study: Reality TV Influences Choice to Undergo Plastic Surgery

There’s no denying that teenagers are an impressionable group. Appearance often plays a large role in the social hierarchy of high school, and therefore teens are vulnerable to the influences of the media on their body image. A recent study by a Rutgers-Camden psychologist has now found that teens who watch reality TV are more likely to undergo elective cosmetic surgery.

Charlotte Markey, an associate professor of psychology at Rutgers-Camden, and her husband Patrick Markey of Villanova University conducted the study, which was recently published in the academic journal Body Image. The duo surveyed nearly 200 subjects with an average age of 20-years-old. The immediate responses of both men and women were monitored after they watched both an extreme makeover show and a home improvement program.

The researchers found that women were more likely to want plastic surgery than men and the subjects who viewed the makeover show were more likely to consider plastic surgery than those who didn’t watch the program. The written responses from subjects including comments describing the show as “inspirational” and “I saw an unhappy girl get her dreams.”

For young bodies and minds, the influence of reality TV on body image can stay with them after high school graduation.

Says Charlotte Markey:
“When we think of cosmetic surgery, we don’t think of it as a lifetime issue. There is lots of pressure to look a certain way and I don’t blame them for succumbing; we’re all guilty of feeling vulnerable. But what young men and women think of their bodies now will culminate over time and contribute to their overall health. What troubles me is that there’s no conclusive data that cosmetic surgery even makes people happier, what has been documented is that it makes repeat customers…if plastic surgery makes you feel better about yourself, then why do you keep getting it done? This mindset is very similar to that of an anorexic wanting to lose just five more pounds.”

Reality shows like ABC’s Extreme Makeover, MTV’s I Want a Famous Face, E!’s Dr. 90210 and Oxygen’s Addicted to Beauty all glorify plastic surgery to a young demographic of viewers. This so-called ‘reality’ entertainment is also not an accurate portrayal of real life.

Markey acknowledges that there is a cultural context to never be satisfied with our physical appearance. These messages are prevalent in almost every aspect of our lives and are the reason why Americans have an unhealthy level of insecurity. Children are exposed to unachievable beauty ideals at such a young age that it can permanently cripple their ability to foster self-esteem.  By teaching individuals to be critical of these messages, we may be able to minimize the prevalence of socially ignited mental conditions such as bulimia or body dysmorphic disorder.

To Your Health & Beauty,

Vipul R. Dev, M.D.


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