Covid-19 fuels a Zoom-boom in cosmetic surgery

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CALL HIM “Zoom in the Face of Envy”. Due to the rise of video conferencing during the pandemic, legions now spend hours looking at their own faces and, inevitably, comparing them to those of others. Poor lighting and the slanted angles of laptop cameras are rarely flattering. The “lock face” is also not caused by stress or lack of sun and exercise. For Kim, a 57-year-old actress in New York City, Zoom seemed to add ten pounds and a “crepy” look to her skin. After seeing “way too much” of this, she had a facelift last summer. She is delighted with the result. Likewise, Michèle Le Tournelle, a 62-year-old retiree near Nantes in France, said the “horrible” confinement turned into “a revelation”: it prompted her to undergo a slimming procedure and a facelift with which she was “very, very, very” satisfied.

Many cosmetic surgeons expected the pandemic to hammer business. Instead, the industry is profiting from a Zoom Boom. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery estimates that the pandemic has resulted in a 10% increase in cosmetic surgery nationwide. In France, despite the limits of elective interventions during the pandemic, cosmetic surgeries are up by nearly 20%, estimates the French Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. For Ashton Collins, boss of Save Face, a Cardiff-based company that directs people seeking minimally invasive cosmetic treatments to the 852 (and more) practitioners she has accredited across Britain, the business is “in through the roof ”. In Italy, Pier Andrea Cicogna of Studio Cicogna, a plastic surgery clinic in Treviso, says his income has increased by almost a third despite being closed for more than three months.

Every day can be Christmas

Besides the envy to face, other forces are at play. In the age of telecommuting, patients can quietly recover at home as bruises and swelling subside. This helps professionals, the biggest clients of expensive cosmetic surgery, be more likely to work from home than many others. In normal times, being away from work is a big obstacle (which is why the Christmas holidays are traditionally the peak season for cosmetic surgery). Recovery is aided by the widespread use of face masks, which carefully mask signs of nose, chin, cheek and jaw surgery, as well as facial skin “resurfacing” and lip plumping.

Unspent money on clothes, parties, and travel funded much of this. Gains in the stock market have also helped, says Alan Matarasso, whose New York clinic is “strangled” by requests for surgery. Oddly enough, Dr. Matarasso, former president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, believes that a more ethereal force is also at work: by highlighting “the fragility of life”, the pandemic is permeating people to a greater desire to get more out of whatever time they have left.

Covid-19 has highlighted our impotence, agrees Richie Chan, head of cosmetic surgery at an OT&P Healthcare clinic in Hong Kong, which has seen an approximate 15% increase in procedures; as a result, people have become more eager to exercise control over their bodies through elective surgery. Pierfrancesco Cirillo, head of the Italian Association of Aesthetic and Plastic Surgery in Rome, points to previous increases in the world of minimally invasive procedures following the September 11 attacks (around 6%) and the global financial crisis (10 %). The pandemic, he says, coincided with a record increase in cosmetic surgery of around 12% in Italy.

Surgeons marvel at another recent change: Before the pandemic, one in ten Studio Cicogna surgery patients was male. Now it’s one in five. Most of the operations involve liposuction of the eyelids, nose and “love handles”. For minimally invasive skin rejuvenation, the proportion of male clients has increased from about one in eight to almost half. In Britain, men now account for around 40% of skin rejuvenations, according to Save Face.

Zoom darkness

Highlighting her flaws when making calls for her PR job, Zoom had become demoralizing, a 47-year-old single mother in Milan recalls: “I felt uglier. Being stuck at home with no opportunity to get dressed didn’t help. “I really needed to do something to make myself feel better,” she says. Eyelid surgery has erased “ten years from my face,” she reports; the operation was “psychologically therapeutic”.

Such satisfaction is common, but it is not universal. Some psychologists fear that the rise in beauty care may encourage an obsessive-compulsive disorder sometimes called dysmorphia. Those affected are obsessed with an imagined or exaggerated bodily defect. This can be amplified by a moody mood and a lack of normal social interaction, not to mention time spent comparing yourself to others. As a result, according to Dr. Cirillo, cosmetic surgeons must redouble their efforts to reject those with a pathologically confused self-image.

A less acute but more common problem is that a growing proportion of those seeking surgery seek an unapproachable appearance. Dr Cirillo is concerned about the emergence of a “sort of supermarket” for cosmetic surgery in which unscrupulous surgeons accept patients with unhealthy or unrealistic aspirations. As they cash in, surgeons would be wise to avoid potential patients who show up with photos of an envied celebrity. Success is more likely with those who, with less ambition, present photos of their young selves.


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