Protect children from online cosmetic surgery apps, say campaigners
Children as young as nine are the target of cosmetic surgery apps and makeover games that are likely to make them feel dissatisfied with their own faces and bodies, a new report warns.
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is calling for social media sites to investigate the apps and take them down, warning that they have a pernicious effect on the young, who may be tempted to go under the knife. “We’ve been shocked by some of the evidence we’ve seen, including makeover apps and cosmetic surgery ‘games’ that target girls as young as nine,” said Jeanette Edwards, professor of social anthropology at the University of Manchester, who chaired the council’s inquiry.
“There is a daily bombardment from advertising and through social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat that relentlessly promote unrealistic and often discriminatory messages on how people, especially girls and women, ‘should’ look,” said Edwards.
Apps and online games are available that encourage girls to play at plastic surgery. Some, such as Plastic Surgery Princess and Plastic Surgery Simulator, allow them to alter the image of their own face and body. Others, such as Dream Cosmetic Surgery are games featuring an “ugly” princess or “fat” woman who can be made beautiful if she goes under the knife.
A pressure group called Endangered Bodies has more than 20,000 signatures for a petition calling on Apple, Google and Amazon to remove the apps. The Nuffield Council said it was in full support.
The report says the apps are part of a wider culture that promotes idealised bodies and certain looks. Young girls take selfies and can edit their image on a site such as Snapchat in pursuit of as many “likes” as possible from their friends. There are makeover shows on television. “Advertising and marketing reinforce the view that striving to be beautiful and attractive will bring happiness and success,” said Edwards.
Instagram and TV celebrities such as Kylie Jenner, part of the Kardashian family, have a powerful influence. Jenner, now 19, makes no secret of having changed her appearance substantially through cosmetic surgery. “Celebrities, and the homogenous look of some celebrities, play a large part in determining what young people ‘should’ look like,” says the report.
The report calls for a ban on offering “walk-in” cosmetic procedures, such as Botox injections and fillers, to anyone under the age of 18. While some clinics say they would not treat anyone under that age, there are no regulations to prevent it, the report says. “There are legal age limits for having tattoos or using sunbeds. Invasive cosmetic procedures should be regulated in a similar way,” said Edwards.
The authors are concerned about a general lack of regulation and say they consider it unethical that cosmetic products such as dermal fillers that have not been through safety and efficacy checks can be easily obtained – and that there is nothing to stop unqualified people from providing them to the public.
Mark Henley, a plastic surgeon and member of the council’s inquiry group, said: “We need to overturn the belief that fillers are risk-free. I’ve seen serious and long-term injuries from fillers in my clinic. Even fillers injected properly can cause lumps [granulomas] that have to be surgically removed. They have even been known to cause blindness and loss of facial soft tissues in rare cases.”
The report recommends that the Department of Health should make all dermal fillers prescription-only. That will limit which fillers can be used and ensure that those who prescribe them take professional responsibility for their injection.
The experts say that progress on protecting people who consider cosmetic surgery has been made since the Keogh report of 2013, but that the regulation that was introduced has been only voluntary. The Nuffield Council calls on the government to fully implement the Keogh recommendations to make regulation of those providing cosmetic surgery procedures, the places they are carried out and the products themselves compulsory.