June 3, 2023


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How Social Media and Beauty Trends Speed up Women’s Insecurities

How Social Media and Beauty Trends Speed up Women’s Insecurities

  • Instagram and TikTok are saturated with enviable before-and-after photos of beauty procedures.
  • While they’re masterfully done, they can implant insecurities in women (and men!) that weren’t there before.
  • Buccal fat removal is the latest craze, and I’m tired of learning about new ways I need to sculpt myself.

Every day, Instagram tells us there’s a new beauty standard to live up to. You can either pay thousands of dollars you don’t have to try to carve yourself into the look of the day or pay up to a therapist who can try to convince you that you don’t have to.

Either way, women are encouraged to spend big bucks so we don’t feel bad about ourselves.  

My Instagram Explore tab is a mosaic of before-and-after plastic surgery posts of celebrities and everyday people that clinicians are advertising in hopes to get thousands of other women and me into their waiting rooms. And it works — on a perilously personal micro level.  

The latest facial modification is a thing most of us probably didn’t even know existed before last week. It’s called buccal fat removal and involves the buccal fat pad, or the natural fat we have in our cheeks, in order to look more gaunt. There are now memes and Reddit threads dedicated to making fun of the trend, and also Instagram posts explaining how you can schedule an appointment for the procedure today. 

The conversation seemingly spun out after actress Lea Michele posted a selfie on Tuesday comparing herself to Lucia, the fictional character on HBO’s “White Lotus.” People not only disagreed but noticed her newly sunken cheekbones. From there, rumors swirled (very much not confirmed) that she may have gotten filler and fat removal around her jaw and cheek areas. 

Michele nor her team immediately returned Insider’s requests for comment.


While it’s always unclear what procedures celebrities have had done (because they don’t tell us), the sunken Handsome Squidward look seems to be quickly making its way across Hollywood — Chrissy Teigen admitted to the surgery in 2021 — and now regular women have yet another facial feature to feel dissatisfied with.  

Today, not only are young women asked to be both skinny and curvy (thank you, Kardashians), but there are new indenting and chiseling and vacuuming mechanisms available to get us closer to the new perfect face.

I don’t aim to litigate the rights and wrongs of plastic surgery. As with most things that sit in a complicated gray space, each person should make whatever decision feels best. It’s just that nowadays beauty standards are shoved into our consciousness at warp speed. The more social media posts there are about buccal fat removal, the more intrigue it stokes, and the more social media posts we’ll continue to be fed. I haven’t had the time to process the “fox eye” eyelift trend — especially as an East Asian woman, woof — that was abuzz earlier this year, and now I have to determine if my cheeks are the right amount of angle and sharpness.

A post shared by Botox and Fillers 💉 (@botoxnfillers)


There have been enough new cosmetic procedures this year alone to warrant a list of “biggest plastic surgery trends of 2022.” The days of Kylie Jenner’s lip injection craze and the Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL) now feel like they existed in a hazy before-time. 

I’d like to believe most people are not serious about jumping on the trend and scheduling a cheek fat removal appointment just because they saw a TikTok or Instagram post. But I worry for myself and even younger women about the super-abundance of these transformation posts and whether they might begin to distort our better judgment. If we see a post once or twice, we can regulate ourselves to ignore them; soothe our inner critic; push against oppressive voices. But when we see the same post or discussion over and over that’s been algorithmically placed into our home feeds, it’s easier to become inured to the notion that there’s something wrong with us, that we need to be nipped, tucked, and corrected to fit prevailing trends.

Three years ago, writer Jia Tolentino famously coined the term Instagram Face. It refers to the flattening of all pretty people features into a single, cyborgian look — a swirling of Hollywood archetypes, social media beauty ideals, and facial filters. Her 2019 New Yorker article warned us all to zoom out of our daily scrolling and notice how it’s shaping our sense of self. But in the years since, it seems our pursuit of Instagram Face has only deepened; our definition of beauty has narrowed and become more contradictory (big butt, skinny waist, chiseled cheeks, big boobs); and plastic surgery is a more titillating option than trying to untangle the totalitarian ideal women have been groomed to reach since girlhood. 

While we scramble to figure out the solutions to how to best exist as women in peace, social media companies profit off of our insecurities. And their algorithms will continue to push out the next set of beauty standards: A smaller forehead? Long, implanted baby hairs? Perhaps no forehead at all?