Nowadays, not only is technology providing greater access to the services and information that we desire including cosmetic treatments, but it is also changing our standard of beauty. According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery roughly two thirds (64%) of AAFPRS members report their practice experiencing an increase in requests for cosmetic surgery and injectables from patients under the age of 30. Among those in their 20's, Botox, fillers and lip augmentation are becoming more popular. These procedures are considered a "gateway" to more extensive procedures such as breast augmentation, liposuction, and Brazilian butt lifts. Surgeons cite the desire to emulate the looks of celebrities and the ever-present nature of social media as major influencers behind these requests.
"The teen and young adult years are a highly impressionable time and the more consumers are inundated with celebrity images via social media, the more they want to replicate the enhanced, re-touched images that are passed off as reality," said Dr. Edwin Williams III, president of the AAFPRS. "We are seeing a younger demographic than ever before seeking consultations and treatments with facial plastic surgeons all over the country." At least one company is looking to cash in on this massive interest in cosmetic procedures.
Which brings us to the truly gross and troubling new mobile app, Zwivel.
Zwivel is an iOS app that targets millennials interested in plastic surgery by offering digital consultations with plastic surgeons. The company markets itself as "home-shopping for cosmetic surgery." The app (and online service) lets you get expert opinions from doctors, secure multiple price quotes, and book appointments, all without ever leaving your couch.
This feels gross to me. I am fine with plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures for fully-informed, mature adults. However, it seems like Zwivel is targeting a young audience as potential candidates for surgery. Plastic surgery shouldn't be inspired by whatever new procedure Kylie Jenner is currently entertaining. It is a serious decision that can involve life-threatening risks.
In order to understand the app better, I logged onto Zwivel. Registration takes a couple minutes, and for convenience users can sign in with their Facebook accounts. You then select whether you are male or female. I choose female, and was assigned a cute white-lady avatar. I tried to adjust my avatar to be more representative of how I actually look, but there are no options for different body types or ethnicities. Just this vacant, skinny white lady.
Honestly, it reminded me of a video game.
You can select any area of your avatar's body — the app offers a front and back view — and select either concerns or procedures from a pop-up window. Dislike your flanks? There's a fix for that. Butt too big? Check. Butt too small? Check. Butt too saggy? Check.
Even as someone who has done extensive research on cosmetic procedures (before undergoing a few in my late twenties), I had no idea there could be so many things wrong with my — or anyone else's — body. The list of "concern" options for the abdomen include:
- Excess fat
- Lax/Bulging abdomen
- "Muffin Top"
- Uneven contour
- Stretch marks
Don't like your breasts? You can check a box if your nipples or too big, too small, or irregular. If you are interested in facial procedures, you click the avatar's face and a menu of concerns, and a menu of available procedures pops up.
Add your "items" — meaning your new nose, lips or breasts — to the shopping cart and Zwivel will link you with an appropriate surgeon. With Zwivel, going under the knife is as easy as any other online shopping spree.
I'm not the only one alarmed by the laissez-faire attitude that now seems prevalent around aesthetic treatments. Dr. Edwin Williams III also warned against overly aggressive cosmetic procedures, "Younger patients should be advised to be careful not to go overboard too soon with injections. In fact, some procedures like overly plumped lips and a frozen forehead can actually age you beyond your years."
That being said, Zwivel is only a conduit in which some young consumers are reaching cosmetic surgeons. The real issue is the doctor's performing these procedures. Ethically, surgeons are supposed to consider the physical and emotional maturity and the desired outcome for their patient. Additional consultations and long discussions should take place before aesthetic surgery takes place. In some cases expert psychological assessment should occur before moving forward.
I truly think it's important to have the emotional range and life experience to make such lasting physical changes. Each person is different and it is the doctor's job to assess the psychological readiness of patients. However, that places surgeons in a position in which they may be actively working against their own financial interests, which many are not willing to do (anyone remember Heidi Montag's story?).
When I was twenty-eight, I had a couple cosmetic procedures performed including liposuction. For the people who are going to say, "Why didn't you just work out." Yeah, I did that too. In fact, after the surgery I went on to train and compete at the National level in bodybuilding/fitness competitions. In my 30's, I got Botox (it was for jaw clenching but a needle is a needle, right?).
Leading into my surgery I was meticulous about researching physicians, asking questions, interviewing their staff and understanding all I could about my procedures. My diligence paid off. I found an amazing doctor — shout out to Dr. Gerald Minniti! — who I felt comfortable with. He has an excellent staff, including a brilliant anesthesiologist who I later found out attends my church, and I healed quickly with minimal pain. Years later, I am still happy with my decision.
However, I feel like convenience isn't the end goal in some life decisions – plastic surgery being one of them. My feeling is that taking the time to do in person consultations with a variety of doctors is an extremely important part of the process. Meeting with a physician face-to-face on multiple occasions gives you insight into other important factors including their bedside manner and the quality of their staff. And the time spent traveling from office to office, and in between appointments gives you the downtime to think and process all of the information you've been given. Perhaps, even more important it gives you an opportunity to decide if you've had a change of heart.
Zwivel prides itself on its convenience to consumers. Do you think convenience leads to hasty decision-making? Or is Zwivel a brilliant new tool for millennial women and men seeking improvements in their physical appearance? You be the judge.