Bullying Tied to Spike in Cosmetic Surgery

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Bullying is tied to a host of negative effects, including anxiety and academic problems, but a new study shows that it may be driving teens to undergo cosmetic surgery as well.

Researchers from Warwick Medical School in the United Kingdom assessed more than 2,700 adolescents between the ages of 11 and 16 and monitored the kids for bullying behavior. They used both self-reported information and anecdotal reports from peers to assess bullying involvement.

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Of the 2,782 students they tracked, the researchers found 752 students who expressed a desire to undergo some form of cosmetic surgery. When they took a closer look at the numbers, a clear trend line jumped out at them — among kids involved in bullying, interest in cosmetic surgery skyrocketed.

The researchers believe the new study holds public health ramifications beyond just the increasing number of teens who go under the knife.

“Cosmetic surgeons should screen candidates for psychological vulnerability and may want to include a short screening questionnaire for a history of peer victimization,” write the researchers in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

It Cuts Both Ways

The researchers found that not just bullying victims were more likely to express a desire for plastic surgery. They divided their bullying-associated kids into several groups, which included those who perform bullying and another group for those who were both bullying victims and bullying protagonists.

“Adolescents involved in bullying in any role were significantly more interested in cosmetic surgery than uninvolved adolescents,” report the study authors.

Yet the starkest group was the bullying victims.

“Being victimized by peers resulted in poor psychological functioning, which increased desire for cosmetic surgery,” state the researchers.

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In some cases, the researchers suggest that being on the receiving end of serial bullying can lead to the development of a condition known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a body-image disorder in which a person obsesses over perceived flaws with one’s body. About 1 percent of the population suffers from BDD, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

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On the whole, studies show that bullying can result in significant social and health challenges, ranging from sleep problems and depression to substance abuse and violence later in life. The new study adds an important wrinkle to the debate on bullying and its downstream effects.

“We might therefore expect that victims and bully-victims will have an increased desire for cosmetic surgery because of poorer psychological functioning (e.g., low self-esteem or body-esteem, or high depressive symptoms),” report the researchers.

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Teens were involved in more than 210,000 cosmetic procedures in 2013, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Rhinoplasty, or nose reshaping, accounted for about half of the major surgical procedures on teens that year.

While psychological distress may play a role in the desire for cosmetic surgery for teens who are bullying victims, the researchers note that those who do the bullying likely have a different reason to seek augmentation. “For bullies, their desire appears to be driven by a need for status and admiration,” report the study authors.

The study appears in the May, 2017 issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Richard Scott
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.