Bullies and Their Victims Are More Likely to Want Plastic Surgery

A new study shows that teens who are bullied are more likely to be highly interested in having plastic surgery. (Photo: Trunk Archive)
A new study shows that teens who are bullied are more likely to be highly interested in having plastic surgery. (Photo: Trunk Archive)

Bullying has been known to have negative psychological effects on victims, but a new study has uncovered another surprising impact of bullying: It’s linked to a desire to have plastic surgery.

According to research from the University of Warwick, both teenage bullies and their victims are much more likely to want plastic surgery than other people their age. For the study, researchers screened nearly 2,800 teens in middle school in the U.K. for their involvement in bullying. About 800 of the adolescents, which included bullies, victims, those who were both, and those who weren’t affected by bullying, were then analyzed for emotional problems, their levels of self-esteem and body image, and their desire to have plastic surgery.

Here’s what the results, which were published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, showed: More than 11 percent of bullying victims and nearly 9 percent of those who bullied and were bullied had an “extreme desire” to have plastic surgery. Those who bullied also weren’t immune to plastic surgery desires — 3.4 percent of that group showed the same intense interest in going under the knife.

However, there was low interest in plastic surgery among teens who were unaffected by bullying: Less than 1 percent of that group had an extreme desire for plastic surgery.

Girls were also more likely to want plastic surgery than boys — 7.3 percent of girls in the sample group had an extreme desire for plastic surgery versus just 2 percent of boys.

The reasons for wanting plastic surgery varied, though. Lead study author Dieter Wolke, a professor of developmental psychology and individual differences in the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick in the U.K., tells Yahoo Beauty that for both victims of bullying and those who bully and are victims, the desire for cosmetic surgery comes from low self- and body esteem and emotional problems.

“Being bullied lowers their emotional functioning and self-esteem, and the desire for cosmetic surgery is born out of desperation that this make everything good again,” he shares with Yahoo Beauty. Bullies, on the other hand, bully for dominance and popularity, as well as to make them look good. “They have been described as narcissistic, and why not also cosmetic surgery?” he adds.

As a result of his findings, Wolke recommends that plastic surgeons proceed with caution when working with teens. “Our main message to plastic surgeons is: If young people present with a desire to have a cosmetic procedure, screen for bullying and mental health,” he says. “There may be other solutions that help without risk and address the root problem.”

Norman Rowe, MD, a New York-based board-certified plastic surgeon, tells Yahoo Beauty that he generally only operates on patients once they “reach emotional maturity” and can understand the consequences of their decision to seek plastic surgery. “This is generally 21 years of age,” he says. “However, there are certain cases in which I will lower that age if the patient has a need for surgery that is best treated at a younger age.”

Those cases typically include treating patients with juvenile breast hypertrophy, a condition in which a person has oversized breasts for her frame that may cause discomfort, or a rhinoplasty. “Sometimes it is best to treat some pathologies at an earlier age to achieve optimal results,” he says.

If a parent has a child who expresses an extreme interest in plastic surgery, Rowe says it’s important to try to determine what’s behind that desire. “Is it real, perceived, or even a result of bullying?” he says. “If the parent is unsure, then perhaps a discussion with a board-certified plastic surgeon may be in order to clarify the issue.”

Wolke recommends that parents openly discuss both bullying and plastic surgery with their children. “Parents should be open to discuss with their adolescents, in particular, about bullying and to understand when their child expresses a desire to change with cosmetic surgery,” he says. “Bullies pick on anyone, and that includes often competitors — others who are attractive and competition. … It is mostly about power. And making someone who stands in the way feel without confidence and bad about their body enhances bullies’ power.”

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