Price of Beauty

‘The Price of Beauty:' Americans' mental health impacted by pursuit of beauty

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Americans’ obsession with their appearance is growing, and experts worry about the toll its taking on the country's mental health.

“We are putting more time, effort, energy, resources into how we look, regardless of age, really than ever before. It's kind of unparalleled,” said Dr. Colleen Cira, a psychologist and the founder of the Cira Center for Behavioral Health in Oak Park.

Cira sees the phenomenon play out, as she works with clients.

“When we don't feel good, we feel sad, we feel scared, we feel angry, whatever. It's easier than ever to reach for something as a distraction, right? And the beauty industry offers us so many things to reach for, whether that's a selfie with a filter or a new eyeshadow or lipstick,” Cira said.

It’s even easier, when that’s the type of content that is filling our social media feeds.

Many parents worry about the impact of social media on teens, with one Pew Center spring 2022 survey of parents with children ages 13 to 17, finding 28% of parents are “extremely or very worried that their teen’s use of social media could lead to problems with anxiety or depression.”

But what about the impact on adults? Cira said she doesn’t know of any research specifically targeting adults, but in her practice, she sees this focus on perfection and appearance playing out in adult women.

“We used to forget about middle-aged women. They would just be kind of invisible,” Cira said. “Now we’re thankfully in a place where women, we don't forget about middle-aged women or women over 40, but it's almost swung in the other direction where they don't escape these pressures either.”

“Social media is oftentimes just a reflection of how we're acting in day-to-day life,” said Katie Horwitch, a mindset coach and author of “Want Your Self: Shift Your Self-Talk and Unearth the Strength in Who You Were All Along.

“Negative self-talk does not care how old you are,” Horwitch said, adding that casual negativity can creep in and then control us. “Slapping on a filter, over-editing a photo, posting only the good stuff, that all comes from our self-talk, what are we saying to ourselves to think, ‘I need to do this, I have to do this.'"

With the prevalence of “before” and “after” photos filling social media feeds, NBC Chicago looked into some of the trendy procedures and asked Dr. Amir Dorafshar, a board-certified plastic surgeon, in Chicago for his take on some of the top trends. Lauren Petty reports.

To get away from that behavior, Horwitch has a recommendation.

“We've got to go beyond the words we're saying, beyond the talk part of self-talk, and get down to the ‘self’ part, interrogating, 'Where did these beliefs come from?'," she said.

NBC Chicago’s Lauren Petty asked Cira how someone begins that process, and she said it starts with awareness.

“I think we begin by noticing how often we want to pick up the phone or whatever it is. If it's plastic surgery, how often are we exploring surgeons in the area? If it's social media, how often are we scrolling? Whatever it is, that is the thing that we do to avoid what we're feeling. So just sitting with the feeling can be a really powerful first step,” said Cira.

For all of us to accept our appearance, Cira said, “We have to start with the awareness of how much time and energy we're spending on trying to control the way that we look, which is really just a way to control the way people perceive us,” Cira said.

“I just want to continue to feel the way I feel right now. I feel powerful. I feel beautiful,” said Ximena Surez Vavra, who lives in Naperville.

In our new series “The Price of Beauty,” NBC Chicago is examining the health and wellness industry, and how you can become a more well-informed patient and consumer, and Allison Rosati has a preview of what’s to come.

Vavra has decided to age the way she wants. She said she’s had liposuction, breast implants and Botox injections. She also got a lip blush tattoo, after seeing it on social media.

“I saw this girl doing it and I was like “’Oh, I would like to do that and I did it,” Vavra said.

Vavra calls the procedures empowering, but also says social media does have some influence.

“Yes, it has a little bit, but I think it’s more the way I want to feel inside that made me make those decisions,” Vavra said.

As she contemplates future plastic surgeries, Vavra said she’s doing it for herself, no one else.

“I do like the way I looked before the surgeries but I just wanted to look better,” Vavra said.

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