Many Americans are rather obsessed with the idea of preserving their youth and beauty. With 1.1 million laser hair removal procedures performed throughout the U.S. during 2016, it’s clear we’re focused on maintaining our appearance. And in many cases, we’re willing to go to great lengths for the sake of our looks. But according to a new study, our penchant for plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures may not merely be rooted in our own vanity. It could actually be tied to widespread age discrimination — in other words, our systemic fear of aging.
Plastic surgery is becoming more widely accepted, with more people willing to go under the knife (or needle). The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reports that U.S. residents spent more than $15 billion dollars on combined surgical and nonsurgical aesthetic procedures in 2016, representing an 11% increase from just a year prior. What’s more, Forbes reports that Botox injections have increased by a staggering 800% since 2000. But although many patients report they undergo these elective procedures to feel better about themselves when they look in the mirror, there may actually be other factors at play.
A new study published in a recent issue of the Aesthetic Surgery Journal revealed that a significant number of cosmetic surgery patients chose to have these procedures done due to age discrimination. The small, one-year study (which involved mostly women with a median age of 49.4 years) found that more than 30% of participants had experienced age-based discrimination. Those patients also reported lower self-confidence, poorer self-rated health, and increased worries about future age discrimination incidents. Roughly 36% of participants who experienced age discrimination reported that these incidents took place in social situations wherein they felt excluded by friends, family members, and co-workers who had teased, mocked, or made negative assumptions about them due to age. Approximately 20% of participants had experienced age discrimination in the workplace, including being fired or passed over for a promotion or job opportunity due to their age. Although 72% of businesses say that improving the customer experience is their top priority, even those that go on hiring frenzies to improve their customer service or other departments may not be inclined to bring on an older employee — despite the fact that age discrimination is illegal. And interestingly, other studies have found that men report experiencing workplace age discrimination more frequently than women do.
Study author Rebecca L. Pearl, Ph.D., explained in an emailed response to DermatologyTimes.com: “Our survey found that over 30% of participants reported that they had been treated with less courtesy or respect than others, received poor service in a restaurant or store, or had other discriminatory experiences because of their age… Our study also found a negative relationship between perceived age discrimination and self-rated health. In addition, patients who reported experiencing age discrimination or reported expectations of age discrimination in the future had lower self-esteem than patients who did not experience or anticipate age discrimination.”
As a result, researchers say, many people are taking more drastic measures. An apple a day might keep the doctor away, which is a superstition many Americans believe, as is evidenced by the 10.7 pounds of fresh apples the average person consumed in 2015. But upping your fresh fruit consumption isn’t going to eliminate wrinkles or your desire to visit a plastic surgeon. Two-thirds of those study participants, all of whom were patients at a University of Pennsylvania plastic surgery clinic, were to receive anti-aging treatments like Botox and fillers. With predictions noting that the plastic surgery market is poised to experience significant growth in 2020, many people are wondering whether this will soon become the new norm.
But ironically, these procedures may not end up being the answer. The aforementioned study cites prior research that indicates older adults who try to conceal their age through surgeries or other means are often perceived negatively by younger individuals. In other words, people who undergo anti-aging treatments may actually have the opposite effect than the one they’re after and could even lead to increased age discrimination due to the violation of aging norms.
Choosing to undergo plastic surgery or any type of cosmetic procedure is a completely personal decision between a patient and their doctor. But if you’re scheduling injections or a more invasive procedure just to appeal to others or qualm your own fears about growing older, it may well be that the work that needs to be done is more internal than external.