Commenting on the publication today of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics report ‘Cosmetic procedures: ethical issues’, the founder and Chief Executive of Changing Faces, Dr James Partridge OBE, said:
I strongly welcome this report on the ethical issues surrounding cosmetic procedures – and I applaud the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, a highly respected British institution, for tackling this neglected subject. As a member of the Working Party, I saw how rigorous were the methods employed in the inquiry and how challenging it was to reach a consensus on the sometimes shocking evidence presented.
Changing Faces has for long advocated a much stronger position should be taken on the regulation of the cosmetic industry – for two reasons:
- to ensure that its marketing hyperbole does not distort how people, especially young people, view their faces and bodies; and
- to ensure that if people do decide to seek cosmetic interventions, they can do so in the knowledge that they will be treated by highly-qualified practitioners in properly regulated premises with products and operations that have been tested and are deemed safe.
Sadly, the evidence we have had from our clients since the mid-2000s, suggests that neither of these conditions have been satisfied – hence we lobbied both the Cayton Review (2005) and the Keogh Review (2012) for urgent action. Despite both Reviews coming forward with strong proposals to address the problems identified – which many other parties also highlighted including plastic surgeons – very little action was actually forthcoming. Hence the importance of the Nuffield Council’s report.
Changing Faces therefore endorses key findings of this new report : people of all ages and young people, in particular, and even young children, are feeling pressure, through advertising and social media, about how they should look. This can create anxiety about their appearance, and drive them towards cosmetic procedures that are risky, and often untested, and are promoted by an industry that is largely unregulated.
These findings chime very closely with those of Changing Faces’ own report published in late May: Disfigurement in the UK. This found that people with disfigurements were very often affected by the self-same pressures that are affecting everyone else. They too are ‘bombarded by a visual diet of unrealistic appearance ideals’. Bullying, low expectations and exclusion because of the way they look are their everyday reality.
- Four-fifths of people with a disfigurement who responded to our survey have experienced comments or unpleasantness from a stranger because of the way they look
- Half of all school children who have a disfigurement experience discrimination because of it
- Four in ten people with a disfigurement say their appearance affected how well they did at school, and half said it impacted on their aspiration to stay in education post-16
- Four-fifths have avoided applying for a job because they thought their appearance would hinder them at interview, or because new colleagues would make them uncomfortable
- More than half think their condition hindered their career in some way, and 17% had left a job – or felt forced to leave – because of reactions to their appearance
- Almost half have felt vulnerable on public transport
- Almost everyone has seen a meme or other social media post mocking disfigurement; none have ever had a complaint to a social media website upheld
- Nine out of ten people who use dating websites have had uninvited, unpleasant remarks about their appearance from other users.
What needs to happen?
Changing Faces supports the recommendations of the Nuffield Council’s report in their entirety and especially that:
- Social media companies should collaborate to carry out independent research to better understand how social media contributes to appearance anxiety, and to act on the findings – and we believe that social media abuse must to tackled as a matter of urgency worldwide.
- There should be a ban on providing invasive cosmetic procedures to people under 18, unless a team of health professionals, including specialists, GPs and psychologists, are involved
- The Dept of Health should ensure that people have access to high quality information to assists them in their decision-making including on whether procedures provide the long-term physical and psychological benefits that people often hope for
- The Government should fully implement recommendations made by the Keogh report in 2013 so the public can be assured that those providing cosmetic procedures, the places where they are carried out, and the products used are all properly regulated.