The Pandemic Won Many Over to the Cosmetic Surgery Knife | Opinion

Many of us spent the pandemic months obsessing over how our mug looked on Zoom and other video-chatting services. Poor lighting was a torment, and the lack of sunshine and exercise produced what's been dubbed "lockdown face."

At in-person meetings, we see only the people we're talking to. Video calls—be it via Zoom, Skype, Google Meet or some other platform—confront us with a square on the screen reserved for our own kisser. This is typically a close-up showing fine lines and droopy eyelids.

Many of us didn't like what we saw, and something had to be done. Often, that something was cosmetic surgery.

Mix the growing need to show one's face on screens with social isolation and the result is boom times for plastic surgeons. In this country, the pandemic has fueled an estimated 10 percent rise in cosmetic surgery, according to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. In France, the number of these procedures rose 20 percent.

Is this good or bad? Neither. More than vanity drives the desire to erase what we may consider troubling flaws. It's no secret that appearance affects one's prospects for finding a good job or suitable mate. The more troubling question is whether the culture and advertising are driving people to iron out imperfections that are very minor or would even seem charming in the eyes of others.

Of course, factors other than the Zoom phenomenon spawned the strong demand for cosmetic surgery. One was the drop in spending on restaurants and travel, leaving money on the table for other things.

A museum visitor admires a 1961 painting
A museum visitor admires a 1961 painting, titled "Before and After," by Andy Warhol at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, California. Robert Alexander/Getty Images

This may sound counterintuitive, but the shutdowns that greatly constricted physical contact with others actually boosted requests for facelifts and other cosmetic procedures. Workers stuck at home had the luxury of the social downtime needed to recover from major procedures such as facelifts. Meanwhile, weddings, reunions and other big events were delayed, which made scheduling surgery easier.

Face masks also played a major role. They conveniently hid a lot of the swelling and bruising that follows surgery. (How one would finesse this while having to appear on videoconferences, usually without a mask, remains to be seen. A lot of makeup, one supposes.) Let us also note, however, that face masks can cover a lot of sagging jawline.

An American Society of Plastic Surgeons survey found considerable interest in tummy tucks and liposuction among women who are considering cosmetic procedures over the next six months. It diplomatically attributed that demand to "weight fluctuation" during the stay-at-home orders. And with obesity exposing those who contracted the virus to a greater risk of death, requests for bariatric (weight-reducing) surgery also rose.

Some of the surge reflected pent-up demand. Hospitals had to preserve beds for the crush of coronavirus patients early on, forcing elective operations such as cosmetic surgery to be put off. As a result, certified members of the plastic surgeons' society say they stopped doing them for an average of about eight weeks in 2020.

Employees working remotely during the pandemic complained about the exploding numbers of required video meetings—or what they called "collaboration overload." While the return to the office is restoring in-person gatherings, there's growing worry that hybrid workplaces where some people do jobs from home while others come into the building will require even more Zoom-type check-ins.

And so, whether you're ready or not for your close-up, your close-up is ready to dominate how your company sees you. Power up the selfie light.

Cosmetic surgeons know that we're suffering from one too many close encounters with our video selves. That's why they are standing by to put our aesthetic insecurities to rest, forceps and scalpels primed for action.

Froma Harrop is an award-winning journalist, author and syndicated columnist.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.