- Gabbie Hanna / YouTube
- It has become fairly common for YouTubers to document their cosmetic procedures for their subscribers.
- Tana Mongeau, Jeffree Star, and Trisha Paytas are just some of the creators who have filmed their experiences to give a backstage look at what goes on in the nurse’s chair.
- While getting cosmetic procedures isn’t necessarily the result of low self-esteem, YouTubers are in a position to be more at risk of struggling with body dysmorphia.
- For starters, they are always turning the camera on themselves, and are subject to criticism and trolling from millions of people. Thousands of the comments posted are about their appearance.
- “If there’s something you can do to protect your mental state that will make you happier, I’m all for it,” YouTuber Gabbie Hanna told Insider. “Because, unfortunately, the world’s not gonna change as quickly as we would like. We can’t stop everybody from commenting.”
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In the middle of Shane’s Dawson’s video “The Ugly Side of the Beauty World,” his partner’s sister Morgan Adams pulled out her Invisalign retainer.
“I have to get my teeth straight,” she said, half-jokingly. “I feel like people will like me more if I have straighter teeth. It’s a theory.”
Dawson looked at her in shock, epitomizing what a lot of viewers were probably thinking, but Adams wasn’t phased. She knew it was just part of living in Los Angeles and hanging around with beauty influencers.
“You don’t even need to talk to them, just being around them, they’re all like ‘oh, what have you gotten done?'” she said. “Then you think about it. And I’m like, ‘Oh, I should probably get fake teeth, probably lip injections, maybe a nose job, and also maybe botox.’
“But I’ve never thought like that before in my life. It’s like a cult – they suck you in.”
YouTubers are some of the most visible people in the world
Taking their cameras to the surgeon’s office has become a norm for many YouTubers. Tana Mongeau, Jeffree Star, and Trisha Paytas are just some who have given their subscribers a backstage look at what happens when they get their botox and lip filler.
Many get the procedures for free in return for the publicity in their video. Adams had been seriously considering an offer by a well-known nurse because she’d been comparing herself to the unrealistic perfection of several beauty influencers she went on a brand trip with.
But while transparency about cosmetic procedures can be seen as a good thing for the mental health of the youngsters comparing themselves to their favorite online stars, it also begs the question of why YouTubers seem so likely to want to alter their looks in the first place.
Being in front of the camera all the time builds confidence in many ways. But focusing that level of attention so intensely on one’s appearance can be one of the main causes behind body image struggles.
Many of the platform’s biggest creators, including Dawson, Emma Chamberlain, and Gabbie Hanna, have spoken about their body dysmorphia and eating disorders, and been praised for it. But the collective insecurity doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.
- Jeffree Star / YouTube
Hanna, a YouTuber with 6.3 million subscribers, went back and forth about whether she should get the fat from under her chin sucked out in a video posted on December 5 called “My Liposuction Experience.”
The nurse at her regular office told her she was a “perfect candidate” when she visited at the end of 2019, which she said made it sound like she’d “won a prize.”
“It was something that I had never really thought about or considered trying to fix,” Hanna told Insider. “And then after she said it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
She has filmed several procedures for her channel, such as lip filler, a non-surgical nose job, and botox, but ended up backing out of this one at the last minute. She realized she didn’t want to take the risk of the anaesthesia when she was falling victim to the critical internal voices that have been attacking her self-esteem since she was a child.
Hate comments amplify our worst thoughts
Hanna has wrestled with deep, underlying issues about her weight since she was about nine years old, which trolling over the years has only amplified.
“It’s pretty rare as an adult, that somebody would say to your face, ‘You’re fat,'” she told Insider. “But then when I started on the internet, every single comment was, ‘this fatass, fatass, fatass.’ And then commenting on my double-chin or my fat cheeks or something.
Trolls pick apart your physical appearance so much, she said, that “it’s impossible to not take notice.”
After a journey towards eating healthily and working out, Hanna lost weight, and the hate comments subsided. The only way she’s been able to ignore the comments, she said, is that she just doesn’t get them anymore.
This is probably why the confidence she had slowly been building up for a long time started slipping away when she injured her knee.
“I couldn’t work out and I just felt really out of control,” she said. “I noticed myself gaining weight and losing muscle mass, and I was trying to just impulsively gain control of my body again, especially my weight and my image.”
- Gabbie Hanna / YouTube
We remember five bad comments and forget thousands of supportive ones
Kati Morton, a YouTuber and licensed therapist, told Insider being a visible online person “makes you way, way, more aware” of things about yourself that you probably don’t need to be.
“People can just critique at their leisure,” she said. “I think people do it because they don’t feel good about themselves either. But that doesn’t make it easier for the human on the other end.”
Our brains also love to dwell on negatives – remembering the exact wording of five bad comments and forgetting the 20,000 good ones, for example – because they have evolved to seek out threats. This gives one person’s hateful criticism much more power than someone showing support.
“The negative comments actually really get to you when you feel that there’s a little bit of truth to it,” Morton said. “And so, if someone is saying it to you again, you’re like, ‘Oh crap, that must really be true.'”
- Alyssa Kulani / YouTube
Photo editing can quickly become real-life adjustments
Morton has met YouTubers who have been persuaded into having various procedures, which she thinks has been exemplified by the use of editing apps. Constantly looking at perfected photos of yourself makes people feel bad when they don’t see that curated image in the mirror.
“Essentially what you’re doing is spending all your time focusing on the things that you would like to edit,” she said. “Which is a horrible way to look at your body versus what we should be doing which is being grateful for all that it does for us.”
YouTubers, with the resources and desire to look a certain way, might feel a greater temptation to make some of those edits real.
“Some creators that I know, they’re 21, and they’ve already had five different procedures,” Morton said. “It’s really sad because it’s like instead of learning to love ourselves, we’re just trying to turn ourselves into what we think would be lovable.”
20-year-old Alyssa Kulani, for example, has 700,000 subscribers on YouTube, and she got a breast augmentation after wanting bigger boobs from a very young age. She also regularly gets lip injections, which she said is “100% because of social media.”
“A year and a half ago, I was listing all these surgeries that I wanted to save up for,” Kulani told Insider. “I was like, I’m going to get veneers, I want to get my butt done, I want to do this to myself, and I had a list of things so I could glow up basically.”
She obsessed over images of other women on Instagram, screenshotting their photos and thinking to herself, “I want my face to look like this” and “I want my hair to look like hers,” without considering the fact their perfection was almost definitely a result of editing.
“It’s hard for us to believe that things aren’t perfect,” Morton said. “We’d be more likely to think like, ‘Oh I need to up my game, I need to do this, I need to exercise more, I need to buy better clothing, I need to make more money.'”
- Tana Mongeau / YouTube
It’s a warped version of body positivity
Author Virginia Sole-Smith told Insider she thinks the boom in influencers getting cosmetic procedures is a distortion of the body positivity movement that has shaped the last decade. She explored how the message can be muddied on YouTube in a piece for Elemental.
“It’s like the messages have gotten so distilled, that we can now say loving your body means doing whatever you want to it, including altering it, to make it totally meet up to this really strict beauty ideal that we have,” she told Insider.
“It’s like I’m defending my right to get a nose job or a boob job or all of these different procedures because this is how I’m being body positive. I’m making myself as beautiful as possible because I love myself that much.”
She said the trade-off for the freedom and control that comes with being a YouTuber is living up to this ideal of perfection, which can be warped by the constant comparisons, as well as something called “self-objectification.”
The concept essentially means imagining a camera crew following you around all the time, and obsessing over what you look like to other people. YouTubers don’t have to pretend because they’re actually sitting in front of a real camera every day for hours at a time.
“It’s not just this mental camera lens that we’re all kind of walking around with, they’re literally turning the camera lens on themselves,” Sole-Smith said. “Women with high levels of self-objectification are at a higher risk for eating disorders, they’re at higher risk for body dysmorphia, there’s all these very real consequences.”
The entire vlogging and influencer industry has become normalized to this constant self-objectification, with YouTubers and subscribers alike all commenting and comparing each other, she said. Creators are reinforced to keep aspiring to some ideal they may never reach, with some even profiting off the pain it causes them and their fans.
“It’s this whole crazy cycle, passing it around,” she said. “I think we’re really just starting to understand what the impact of that’s going to be.”
‘We can’t stop everybody from commenting’
Morton said chasing the beauty ideal with cosmetic procedures is missing the point that everyone is different and individuality is supposed to be loved and appreciated.
“At the end of the day, that’s what stays with us, that’s what’s important,” she said. “I feel like a lot of the younger generation is skipping that step and they’re going right into trying to alter how they look, and I just don’t think that’s healthy.”
Kulani often wonders to herself whether she’s setting a good example to her fans when she’s had procedures herself. But she thinks there’s a difference between wanting something because your favorite star has had it done, and wanting to make an adjustment because it would really help your self esteem.
“I definitely think comparison is definitely the biggest thing right now,” she said. “I’m sure a ton of girls don’t ever see what’s wrong with looking at other girls and wanting to compare yourself and wanting to change things to look like somebody else. “
- Corinna Kopf / YouTube
Hanna agreed that she doesn’t see anything wrong with cosmetic surgery as long as you’re sure it’s going to be good for your mental health, and not harm you further.
“If there’s something you can do to protect your mental state that will make you happier, I’m all for it,” she said.
“Because, unfortunately, the world’s not gonna change as quickly as we would like. We can’t stop everybody from commenting.”
With the camera turned on them nearly all the time, and the flood of criticism never-ending, some influencers feel the pressure to find something to fix to make them feel good. Some are encouraged to have more procedures, while others are invited to make changes they never thought they wanted.
But Botox and filler don’t change the conversation about self-love and confidence, because tweaking your outside appearance to feel good inside isn’t a long term solution. They just stick a band-aid over the pain before you’re willing to face it.
So if influencers were encouraged to think more about how they’re mentally coping with the pressure and being kinder to themselves, maybe they’d find there are fewer things they want to change on the outside, and focus their efforts inwards instead.