Pretty Little Lies: Exploring The Mental Health Crisis Created by Photo Filters + Online Influencers

Pretty Little Lies: Exploring The Mental Health Crisis Created by Photo Filters + Online Influencers


Story by Dawn Klavon, Concept + Photography by Jonathan Thorpe, Makeup by Jenna Fitzgerald


Social media platforms display the beautiful people — the Kim Kardashians, JLos and Harry Styles of the world. Attributes like their flawless good looks, strong physiques and up-close perfection are not lost on social media users.

“You go on social media and you see all of these beautiful people who edit those photos and who have plastic surgery or who have enhancements to their bodies,” says 20-year-old Katie Foreman, a college junior. “They make it look like it’s natural to look that way and that other people should look that way.”

"The Kardashian Effect is in full swing... People are having everything you can think of done to alter their appearance, work towards perfection and enhance their self-confidence.” - Alycia Burant | Healthy Minds Therapy

And it’s true. Some people see what appears to be perfection on Instagram, TikTok or Facebook and think they need to up their game. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery reported that in 2020, 72% of cosmetic surgeons saw patients come in for consultations because they “wanted to look better in selfies.” In 2021, another study by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons claimed that 48.5% reported being influenced by social media to consider undergoing cosmetic procedures.

“The Kardashian Effect is in full swing, and people get simple enhancements done, have minor procedures performed, all the way up to major surgery to achieve various perceptions of ‘perfect,’” says Alexandria therapist Alycia Burant from Healthy Minds Therapy. “People are having everything you can think of done to alter their appearance, work towards 'perfection' and enhance their self-confidence.”

Is This Really a ‘Thing?’

You’d be surprised at how many people are getting cosmetic enhancements. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), there are 13 million minimally-invasive cosmetic procedures performed in the US annually.

Burant listed popular procedures and enhancements like Botox, fillers, wig/hair extensions, acrylic nails, laser treatments, chemical peels, waxing/laser hair removal treatments, plastic surgery (nose job, facelift, pinned ears, breast augmentation, tummy tuck, butt lift), liposuction, spray tan, eyebrow laminating/waxing, false eyelashes/eyelash extensions, permanent makeup, body-shaping corsets, waist trainers, microneedle, cryo fat melting treatments and colonics.

“The list is endless and the options are enticing. If someone wants it, it is available,” Burant says. “Those are all physical things people do to ‘appear perfect.’”

Big Business

It’s stunning. There are about eight billion people in the world and, as of 2023, 4.9 billion social media users, according to Demand Sage. On social media, beauty is big business. In fact, on TikTok, under the hashtag #beauty, there are over 173.7 billion views. Kardashian wannabes, plastic surgery addicts and countless people are ever-increasingly impacted by the power of perfection on social media and the possibilities the plastic surgery industry presents.

“Whenever I see pictures on social media, it makes me feel bad about myself... Constantly comparing yourself to others really ruins your self-esteem.” - Isabelle Churchill, 20 year old college student

“You just look at these perfect images and you want to look like that,” says Isabelle Churchill, a 20-year-old college student. “Whenever I see pictures on social media, it makes me feel bad about myself and I’ll be like, ‘I need to work out, or I shouldn’t eat this right now.’ Constantly comparing yourself to others really ruins your self-esteem.” Churchill noted that one of her best friends had a nose job and got lip fillers on her 18th birthday. “I thought she was so beautiful beforehand,” she says.



"Natural or naturally enhanced beauty are still relevant. You don’t have to have the enhanced ‘look,’ but you do need to ensure that your provider is hearing what you are saying and able to provide results consistent with what you are looking for. It’s important to remember that selfies are not what you actually look like in the real world because of the technology within the cameras. Striving to achieve a perfect selfie is a dangerous way to book services/enhancements. We live in a multidimensional world that isn’t a 1-D pixelated view."

- Ashley Carmen, FNP-C | Aiyana Atelier


Enhancement Risks

The risks are real. As with almost any physical enhancement, patients need to understand the drawbacks. Burant addresses the idea of enhancements from the possible mental health implications and risks of going under the knife.

“Risks include buyer's remorse or dissatisfaction from a botched enhancement or procedure with long-term regret and dissatisfaction, which could lead to depression, isolation and anxiety among many other possible mental health challenges,” Burant says. “Patients who choose to go under the knife may face criticism and judgment from others, resulting in the exact opposite of what they were hoping to achieve.”

Often physical alteration of one’s body is in an effort to both increase self-esteem and acceptance from others. If a patient experiences rejection from others because of such procedures, Burant warns, the patient runs the risk of experiencing and developing increased shame, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, again, increasing the likelihood of depression, isolation or anxiety.

In addition, an unhealthy obsession can develop from going under the knife. Typically, one procedure is never enough, Burant notes. If a patient experiences extreme satisfaction and improved self-esteem from a procedure, this further perpetuates and encourages the person to seek and pursue further treatments. An unhealthy obsession with altering physical appearance can develop.

“As a mental health professional, I believe the change must start from within,” says Burant. “It doesn’t matter how many alterations, procedures or enhancements someone gets. If they are not at peace within themselves, no number of procedures will heal their emotional turmoil.”

"... the change must start from within... If they are not at peace within themselves, no number of procedures will heal their emotional turmoil.”

Celebrities Endorsing Procedures

Celebrities are a mixed bag when it comes to revealing their physical enhancements. Some keep it quiet, but others publicly endorse their plastic surgery. On July 21, 2021, designer Marc Jacobs touted his facelift on Instagram and received more than 54,000 likes. He included the hashtags #f*ckgravity and #livelovelift. Former supermodel Linda Evangelista admitted to Botox injections in a Harper's Bazaar article in 2016. Women's Health shared that actress Kaley Cuoco revealed having a breast augmentation was "the best thing I ever did." She also said, "As much as you want to love your inner self, I’m sorry, you also want to look good. I don’t think you should do it for a man or anyone else, but if it makes you feel confident, that’s amazing."

Filters: Fun or Dangerous?

Suffice to say, the pressure to stay fabulous in Hollywood drives many an A-List actor or actress to go under the knife for the sake of their career. Others often employ advanced filter usage or Photoshopping skills to appear thinner, younger or generally more attractive in social media posts.

Photo by Lucia Smith. Behind the scenes at the May VIP Cover Shoot. Model: Paula Black, Makeup Artist: Jenna Fitzgerald


“Filters can provide a variety of experiences and outcomes for people. For some, they provide innocent, fun and lighthearted laughs,” says Burant. “For others, they are used to alter their appearance and provide an instant self-confidence boost. And still, for some, they are used to alter their appearance in such drastic ways in efforts to mask their identity. The only 'dangerous' thing about using filters is the barrier it puts between the person and the world. It does not afford the person the opportunity to show their authentic self to others.”

Experts say there is a correlation between filters and self-image. According to Dr. Jeeyun “Sophia” Baik, a communications professor at the University of San Diego, a 2021 study by Parents Together reported that teens who often use beauty filters are more interested in cosmetic surgery and changing their skin color compared to those who use filters less frequently.

“People tend to take multiple selfies until they are satisfied and spend a long time to tweak and edit the selfies before uploading them on social media,” Baik says. “To edit the images, they use various apps and filters.”

Photo by Lucia Smith. Behind the scenes at the May VIP Cover Shoot. Model: Paula Black, Photographer: Jonathan Thorpe


College junior Churchill says she wouldn’t consider plastic surgery, but admits to using filters and that, when she wants to post a selfie, she must take “at least 100” photos before she finds the right one.

“Then you have to ask all your friends’ opinions on which one they like so you can pick the perfect picture,” she says, adding that once the photo is posted, she needs to gain at least 600 "likes" to feel satisfied.

“What we see on social media is often highly curated and therefore a skewed version of others’ lives. We need to actively remind ourselves of the very fact.” - Dr. Jeeyun “Sophia” Baik

So What’s the Problem?

Young people find themselves struggling with mental health in general after the pandemic. Add to that the multitude of pressures to look good, appear happy and fit in, and the train runs off the tracks.

According to a 2015 article in the National Library of Medicine, girls who regularly shared selfies on social media, relative to those who did not, reported significantly higher overvaluation of shape and weight, body dissatisfaction, dietary restraint and internalization of the thin ideal. Such intense scrutiny could potentially lead some to consider going under the knife or needle to feel better about their appearance.

“Not every cosmetic surgery is always bad, but the main issue at stake is that social media users can be prompted to consider the options of cosmetic surgery out of an unduly heightened sense of inadequacy,” Baik says. “If such decisions around cosmetic surgery are made during vulnerable and sensitive times in particular, the surgery itself may not necessarily fulfill the person’s self-esteem.”

What’s the Solution?

Having any procedure done for self-enhancement is a personal decision, but experts agree there are certain considerations to keep in mind.

“It is best to try and sort through any underlying issues before attempting to alter your appearance for what may be a temporary or fleeting fix,” says Burant. “Always seek consultation with your doctor before moving forward with any permanent alteration.”

Photo by Lucia Smith. Behind the scenes at the May VIP Cover Shoot. Model: Paula Black

A few helpful strategies: try starting with small enhancements like hair extensions, false eyelashes or sunless tanning. These options may offer a boost of confidence without negative long-term implications. When considering a major enhancement, it is always best to seek multiple opinions. Meet with at least three professionals to ensure you feel comfortable and confident with the procedure. Turn to your support system for processing and feedback, which may also be helpful in the event things do not go well and you need support after the alterations. Building your support network and increasing your comfort with vulnerability will lead to improvement with increased self-esteem and long-term success.

Previous Article Next Article