It is a commonly accepted premise among older generations: millennials are just different, with vanity being one of their greatest flaws. Many millennials, including myself, cannot help but conduct an honest accounting of their peers, inevitably reaching the same conclusion.
But, because I don’t like to make baseless generalizations, the emergence of studies and statistics that support this view of millennials, particularly millennial men, are something I consider noteworthy. However, measuring generation-wide characteristics such as vanity is not easy.
Fortunately, one recently-published study has done just that, quantifying millennial insecurity and appearance-based self-worth through the prevalence of cosmetic surgeries. Millennial men, the numbers show, have views regarding appearance-altering surgery that are decidedly 21st century. I don’t mean that as a testament to a forward-thinking collective mentality that so many millennials claim to embody. Instead, this inclination toward altering one’s appearance reflects the unintended consequences of seemingly every interaction and experience being recorded, broadcast, and critiqued, an unavoidable reality of life post-iPhone.
However, it has always been up to humans to self-regulate, particularly during an era in which elective procedures have become increasingly commonplace.
A modest boob job is totally justifiable, understandable even. Injecting rubber cement into your glutes in the pursuit of Kardashian-like results is not.
For countless women, a nose job or slight cosmetic procedure pre-college is nothing to scoff at. Changing the fundamentals of your facial structure to the point where you are unrecognizable, a la Kylie Jenner, typifies millennial excess.
And, like it or not, men are not meant to be as obsessed with their looks as women are. One could argue that it is a symptom of spreading feminist viewpoints into the male arena, but this generation of men are no longer content to play the cards they have been dealt, relying upon brainpower, hard work and ultimately financial and personal success to help them find a mate.
Instead, such accomplishment-oriented conceptions of the potential for one’s personal success have given way to self-worth based primarily on appearance. To illustrate this point, consider that cosmetic surgeries are not cheap. Young men, nevertheless, are shelling out this money- presumably jeopardizing their financial stability to varying degrees- in the futile pursuit of quelling their insecurities.
I will let you reach your own conclusions as to what this means for the fate of the generation. The fate of masculinity and gender-based differences, even.
Millennial men have taken such a widespread liking to altering their natural features that they are said to be “bolstering the plastic surgery industry,” according to Bloomberg. Perhaps more illuminating is the admission that a millennial man would be inclined to have such surgery done, should they be so compelled by some insult, slight, or mere comment on their imperfections.
31 percent of all men said they were “extremely likely to consider” some form of appearance-altering surgery. An astounding 92 percent of that population qualify as millennials, between the ages of 18 and 34.
The fact that only 8 percent of men polled who said they would be likely to consider some form of plastic surgery were outside this demographic highlights the dichotomy and unprecedented vanity that exists within the millennial generation.
Unsurprisingly, the motives for such inclinations toward cosmetic surgery are primarily emotion-based, more specifically the idea that altering one’s appearance would necessarily lead to increased feelings of self-worth and happiness. While this is not necessarily untrue, this disproportionate percentage of millennials sharing such sentiment shows just how naïve this group can be when it comes to determining what will make them truly happy.
Millennials, for whatever reason, see appearance as a deciding factor in how happy one will be. Sure, appearance plays a role in life happiness, but this is the first generation to embrace the fatalistic notion that one’s natural appearance is a direct determinant of their career peak. 42 percent cited career competitiveness as the primary factor in their inclination toward surgery, even though these respondents were only 25 to 34 years old.
Perhaps spending that money on a set of books pertaining to your field or even putting it toward more education would be more likely to heighten one’s career arc. Just a thought.
Perhaps most perplexing, and least explainable, are the procedures which are most common among this demographic. I’ll warn you that I have no explanation for why these surgeries are most common or what the implications of such procedures are, I just think they are worth noting.
The three most common procedures are nose jobs (rhinoplasty), pinning back of the ears (otoplasty), and reduction of the male breasts (gynecomastia). That’s a lot of “-plasty” for such young men, at least one of which could be helped by regular trips to Planet Fitness.
Multiple doctors have noted the link between social media and self-consciousness, including Dr. Fred G. Fedok, head of the cosmetic surgery academy that conducted the survey:
"People are more aware of their looks from different angles," he said, adding that the trend is primarily “a male movement, with more interest by men in aesthetic procedures.”
Unsurprisingly, Fedok expects the trend only to accelerate, and with the normalization of attitudes toward such surgeries, including by Fedok himself, it’s clear to see why. Independent thought and attitudes are already at an all-time low, and with doctors like Fedok set to gain financially from widespread acceptance of such surgeries, the incentive for increasing self-consciousness is obvious.
Fedok equates these surgeries to an activity that is decidedly not at all like going under the knife. In fact, the false equivalency shows just how willing doctors like Fred Fedok are to manipulate the insecurities of a generation of impressionable, immature men:
“(Surgery) is sort of like exercise,” Fedok told Bloomberg.
Except it’s not. Not at all. I’d argue they are quite dissimilar in a number of ways.
Improving oneself through exercise requires prolonged, consistent self-discipline that is inherently valuable in the sense of accomplishment and self-restraint that it requires.
Splurging on cosmetic surgery which everybody you previously know will recognize as a vanity-inspired, financially-irresponsible shortcut is not the route to happiness. In many a sense, exercise and its related outcomes can be a route to self-satisfaction and related successes.
So, despite the inclinations of so many self-conscious millennials and the doctors that feed off of their insecurities, this rise in male cosmetic surgeries among the young generation is not a positive trend.
Lay off the selfies, log off social media, get to the gym and read a book afterwards. It will do a lot more good than pinning back your ears for a few thousand dollars.