Would you have plastic surgery to get better selfies?

24 July 2016 - 02:00
By Lin Sampson
Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei takes a selfie during his arrest.
Image: Supplied Dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei takes a selfie during his arrest.

Lin Sampson on how the craze to take photos of ourselves has spawned a lucrative vanity industry

Her face was unforgettable. Her nose was too big and so were her eyes which looked like plates of oysters behind her glasses. It was like examining a face under a microscope.

"The first time she took a selfie she was struck dumb," says her sister. She sat there and looked at it and said, "Is that really me? I look like Kim Jong-un."

We live in a what's-your-status entirely visual world (the BBC is even talking about visual radio) filled with overwhelming pressure to look camera-ready at all times.

The interior life has been vanquished by the exterior.


If you don't look good in a high-profile blag, you won't want to be on Facebook, Instagram or even go for a job interview and if you are oh-el-dee you might as well wear a onesie, get a tiger and go to Las Vegas.

The visually dispossessed are thought to do grievous bodily harm to themselves and even others. The selfie craze, apart from robbing you of all self-esteem, has resulted in a disturbingly high number of digi-necker deaths - people stepping into a volcano as they snap up their nose hairs or photograph their bums, a surprisingly popular target. So far this year there have been more than 20 selfie deaths.

For these bodybookers no act is sacred, nothing too sordid: nail fungus, wild sex, accidental death, car crash, manifold masturbation. An anaesthetist tells me that the smart phone is an obligatory item in the theatre these days to take a selfie before you succumb to propofol. Possibly the worst taste selfie was the one a girl took while a man in the background tried to throw himself off a bridge.

An increasing number of young people are going for cosmetic surgery so that their profile pictures stay on fleek. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, chin augmentations increased 71% in the last year. Doctors confirm that more and more patients are asking for the Facebook facelift - plastic surgery for the iPhone generation.

Dr Des Fernandes, who is one of the most experienced reconstructive surgeons in South Africa, says: "There is no doubt that selfies have made people much more aware of their 'imperfections' and as a result more younger people are coming in for either [Botox] or fillers and even minimally invasive, so-called scarless surgery."

Since 1994 Fernandes has been seeking methods to improve the face and neck without leaving scars. As a result he was perfectly positioned to help the selfie generation.

"The average age of my facelift [patients] is now much younger than it was 25 years ago," he says.

block_quotes_start Do people with perfect social media pictures travel with a photographer? Are they paid a monthly salary? Do they have working hours and get sick leave? block_quotes_end

Young people are coy when it comes to talking about their skin adventures. Jenny is not yet 25 but has had rhinoplasty (nose job), has had her chin docked and her eyelids skimmed. She slicks up some pictures on her iPhone. "It's the neck that makes me look like an old cobra." One thing leads to another.

Smartphone cameras are not just for selfies, they're also for taking "stealthies", or secret snaps of people around you, mostly in the "OMG, look how hot this guy/girl is" genre; but often it's, "Yep, this is what she looks like in a bikini. Share." A friend regularly turns up with a hovering smartphone. I appeared on Facebook looking like a melted hushpuppy.

I'm waiting for the neural selfie that can take a snap of the mind. Until then inner beauty won't get you free drinks or kite your sexual market value. It won't help having a lively hinterland, a first in greats from Oxbridge; a novel up your sleeve.

I don't know if you've noticed but young writers also need to be photogenic. Even poet Simon Armitage has a new slapped up hairdo.


The problem is the selfie ambusher who carefully, like a bride frightened of competition from her bridesmaids, jumps on you when you've got face mask on and your hair looks like those strings on peeled bananas, shouting, "Let's take a selfie."

One of my favourite columnists, Babalwa Shota, wrote on Facebook: "Do people with perfect social media pictures travel with a photographer? Are they paid a monthly salary? Do they have working hours and get sick leave? And what's the going rate? I really want to know because my selfie hand is starting to cramp up."

Currently there is a show at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery called Facing Yourself which features self-portraits from Rembrandt to selfies by Ai Weiwei. If anyone is concerned about the narcissism of the selfie age, here are five centuries of artists who have been doing it. It turns out the selfie is nothing new.

And it's not only the animate.

This is the shot we've all been waiting for: the first time that our robot on Mars would rotate its camera and snap an image of its Short Circuit-like head.