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Body-positive Gen Z undergoes record cosmetic surgeries

The body confidence mantras aren't working for Gen Z. Credit: Getty

June 29, 2024 - 4:00pm

Something strange is going on with Gen Z. The generation that preaches body confidence, “love yourself” mantras and not conforming to any systems of oppression is also, ironically, electing to have cosmetic surgery in record numbers.

New data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ Annual Report has revealed that more people in the US are getting cosmetic surgery than ever before, with 75% of facial plastic surgeons reporting a spike in demand from clients under 30. As well as growing demand for minimally invasive procedures or “tweakments” from Gen Z women and girls (men only accounted for 6% of cosmetic procedures overall in 2023), there was also a 9% increase year-on-year in labiaplasties and an 8% increase in boob jobs.

These figures are likely a result of the growing consumption of porn, which is also having an impact on male expectations of female bodies. One study found that men aged 18-24 were three times more likely to find only small labia attractive than other age groups, and almost half said they preferred pubic hair completely shaved.

In many respects, this increase isn’t surprising. Aesthetic procedures are no longer simply a status symbol for the wealthy in Hollywood; they are now affordable, more accessible and more acceptable, merely another form of “self-care”. The mainstreaming of plastic surgery has also come from greater transparency about who has had what done. Previously, fans and journalists would pore over paparazzi shots in magazines and newspapers for telltale signs of a surgeon’s scalpel. But now most Gen Z influencers shout about their alterations from the digital rooftops. A study found that only 24% of Boomers have seen any cosmetic surgeries addressed on their social media in the last year, compared to 66% of Gen Z users. For example, Jazmyn Smith, an influencer with over 240,000 TikTok followers, vlogged her experience of getting a boob job, accumulating millions of views, while another influencer regularly celebrates her implants’ “boobaversary”.

However, what is surprising is how at odds this is with other Gen Z values. The rules are: be both confident in and ashamed of your body, love yourself and hate yourself, accept yourself the way you are but here are all the ways you should change. There is no room for body neutrality. Long gone are the days when young women could make peace with their imperfections. Instead, Gen Z women and girls watch as a pageant of young, chirpy content creators sell them a stream of “positive” messages according to which getting work done is “empowering”, “your choice” and a way to feel “confident again”. We all know the duplicitous language. Yet in every video these influencers appear more tucked, more augmented, more symmetrical, more filtered — therefore peddling the very insecurities they appear to dismiss. Once you act on one insecurity, the slippery slope beckons.

It’s a lose-lose situation. Members of Gen Z are told to feel empowered to do what they want with their looks, but at the same time it’s not empowering to feel the need to conform to conventional beauty standards. The beauty industry peddles the illusion of control, while simultaneously finding new ways to make women feel self-conscious about their appearance. It is this hypocrisy which has led to a situation in which we have a generation that seemingly wants inclusivity, self-acceptance, diversity and authenticity, but whose members also want to constantly alter themselves in the name of bodily autonomy. They may justify to themselves that the work they are having done is “subtle”, but there is nothing subtle about what is going on here.


Kristina Murkett is a freelance writer and English teacher.

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Mike Downing
Mike Downing
22 days ago

This is no different to Women’s magazines that continually feed women positivity messages while selling them cosmetics.

Mind you, Men’s Health is fast catching up under the guise of ‘taking care of yourself ‘.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
22 days ago

If I ever got plastic surgery, I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror anymore.

Rob N
Rob N
22 days ago

Why? Would you be a lot shorter?

Geoff W
Geoff W
22 days ago
Reply to  Rob N

Perhaps he means that his eyelids would be closed?

Laurian Boer
Laurian Boer
21 days ago

Why? Would you become left wing :)?

Danny D
Danny D
22 days ago

So these people don’t believe in the delusions they try to force on others? Colour me surprised. Maybe now Dove can stop making those repulsive advertising campaigns.

William Brand
William Brand
22 days ago

Soon real women will be competing with AI driven sex robots. The robot is both perfect in bed and body and even does a better job as a maid and cook. Population will decline as men abandon women. At lease the robot can take care of its owner in his old age.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
22 days ago
Reply to  William Brand

By the exact same token real men will also soon be replaced by AI driven sex robots. It’s weird that you’d think that’d only happen one way.

John Riordan
John Riordan
22 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

There is a small asymmetry in it though. Most pregnancies happen because the woman decides so, not the man. This trend would reduce the availability of fertile men, assuming it actually happens at all.

Personally I think it’s a silly notion that either sex would be willing to replace human intimacy with a household appliance, no matter how convincing it is as a human replica. And as far as sex goes, it would be an exciting novelty at first, but would eventually just become an advanced aid to masturbation: all that would be different is that instead of fitting into a drawer in the bedroom, it’ll need a cupboard.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
20 days ago
Reply to  John Riordan

I do agree with you on sex robots probably not replacing human intimacy. I was mostly just pointing out the assumption it’d be an entirely one-way street is a bit myopic. That said, we are see far more people, especially young women, eschewing human intimacy altogether – rates of single-hood and sexlessness are the highest in modern history. And it’s not just that people can’t find partners, research generally suggests declining interest as well.
What I can see sex robots maybe doing is satisfying the generally intimacy-apathetic segment of the population just enough that they don’t bother putting themselves through dating other humans.
It’s a bit like cooking – most people would say a home cooked from scratch meal is better than alternatives, but when push comes to shove cooking is quite a lot of effort and most people often make do with take-out, or meal-prepping or junk food.
On the fertility point though, I doubt a shortage of fertile men would actually depress fertility rates all that much. For a start, dating site demographics and survey data generally show men are proportionately keener for dating, and even marriage, than women are. So it’d take quite a few more missing potential fathers (relative to missing potential mothers) to have an effect.
Secondly, sperm donation is a thing. While it’s relatively fringe at the moment, if there was a massive upswing in market demand from women who wanted to or had to be mothers through that route, it could be catered to. Certainly much more easily than surrogacy. One obliging man could theoretically father thousands of children.

Miss Fit
Miss Fit
21 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Some men, like this one, makes it pretty clear that they view women as objects. Not sure women would replace men by AI sex robots though… women generally prefer real human connection. However, I can see ‘real women’ turning to each other more and more, and to sperm banks.

Arthur G
Arthur G
22 days ago
Reply to  William Brand

It’s insane that we even think that such a thing should be allowed. Should be made illegal, along with most other forms of AI.

ChilblainEdwardOlmos
ChilblainEdwardOlmos
22 days ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Making it illegal. Hmmm,. Prohibition always works. Brilliant!

Santiago Excilio
Santiago Excilio
22 days ago

I think this is indicative of widespread, collective mental illness.

The long term effects of this are going to be horrendous, because no-one yet knows the potential long run health implications of injecting poison into ones body, injecting fillers, inserting silicone, injecting subdermal inks and so forth. However, on the last one a recent study suggests that having a tattoo increases the risk of getting lymph cancer by 20% odd. Why on earth would one do that? Plus they look awful.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
22 days ago

I read years ago about a violent Japanese gang whose members tattooed every inch of their bodies. It turns out that os their livers

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
22 days ago

Let me continue with my comment that posted its self. So these gang members had failing livers, and they came to the United States to buy new ones. It turns out that covering your body with tattoos lessens the skin’s ability to filter toxins. The skin is the front line of keeping nasty stuff out of our bodies. The liver takes over, but it can’t handle all of the toxins. Thus, it fails. Maybe tattoo parlors should post warnings.

John Riordan
John Riordan
22 days ago

I think we do know the long term effects by now, it has been going on for almost a full human lifetime at this stage. There appear to be minimal healthrisks with most forms of cosmetic surgery as long as it is competently carried out.

The issue appears to be that small procedures like botox are often carried out by people with insufficient training and experience, so that’s obviously going to come with horror stories.

George West
George West
21 days ago
Reply to  John Riordan

The negative long-term effects, ironically, are cosmetic. Surgically altered facial areas do not age. As unaltered facial tissue recedes and sags, surgically altered tissue does not. Unless a person’s whole facial area is altered, they end up with a bizarre pastiche of firm and age-affected, sagging tissue.

John Riordan
John Riordan
22 days ago

This is the same generation that’s furious because they can’t afford houses? How big it this trend? Perhaps it’s still only something wealthy people do?

Lindsay S
Lindsay S
21 days ago
Reply to  John Riordan

That’s because their priorities are confused and adulting is hard and can’t they just be given houses?!?

David Morley
David Morley
22 days ago

These figures are likely a result of the growing consumption of porn, which is also having an impact on male expectations of female bodies.

Of course, because any problematic behaviour by women must be the fault of men in one way or another. A really “Unherd” headline would be “women responsible for their own actions”.

This is just more woke victimhood.

Eleanor O'Keeffe
Eleanor O'Keeffe
18 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

Nothing in the sentence you quote implies that women don’t bear responsibility for their own actions.

Do you get similarly exercised if an ad campaign is described as the reason for an uptick in sales? If the timing of the school year is described as a reason for parents taking their children on holiday during certain months?

Utter
Utter
22 days ago

To fair, there is more than one type of gen z – I think what we are seeing is splitting into, eg, a pious, and decadent groupings, with ironic overlappping (decadents are pious about their choicess, rights, and pious are decadent about theirs.. Greta ).

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
22 days ago

They have all that money handed down in their families, as Picketty said about all the capital staying within inherited family structures.

Matt Sylvestre
Matt Sylvestre
21 days ago

It’s all very simple, both the procedures and the ideology are equally hollow fashion. The fact they are incongruous means nothing to the status mongers…

Also, despite the 6% stat this all affects men to. Just think of who gets these women, who keeps them, and who gets thrown over…

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
21 days ago
Reply to  Matt Sylvestre

The men drive this just as much as the women, I’d think. I doubt women get botox just for themselves, even given the truth of Van Morrison’s lyric “And all the girls walk by, dressed up for each other.”

David Morley
David Morley
21 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Are you suggesting men are coercing women into having Botox?

Van Morrison clearly closer to the mark.

David Morley
David Morley
21 days ago

The rules are: be both confident in and ashamed of your body, love yourself and hate yourself, accept yourself the way you are but here are all the ways you should change.

Only from the point of view of older generations. For young women the motto is accept everything, make no judgement, have no values. Whatever you do as a woman is right. And this is what feminism is for them. Anybody who criticises any of this is a misogynist.