If you casually scroll through any of your social media, specifically Facebook or Instagram, then there’s a high probability that you will see some form of push to promote a cosmetic product and or service. This influence can be as subtle as a major cosmetic brand urging you to purchase their new lipstick, or as aggressive as a cosmetic facility offering lower prices than their competitors for the same surgical enhancements. It’s evidence that plastic surgery, once reserved for the rich and famous, is now more mainstream, safer and accessible, according to New York plastic surgeon Dr. Alan Matarasso (Rossman, S, 2017). However, no matter what the promotion is, the agenda and backstory remains the same; looks matter…and they matter even more so when social media has a handle on influencing your definition of beauty.
To explore this premise, I conducted a rhetorical textural analysis on how our psychological need to belong and be a part of the “in crowd”, is often manifested and sometimes exploited through social media platforms. The average millennial takes over 25,000 selfies in his or her lifetime, which is astronomical and one of the major reasons for self esteem issues in teens (Paul, K. 2018). Social media has helped to create a culture that defines what the current beauty standards are, and or should be. Anthropologist
Marshall Sahlins (1976) defines culture as meaningful orders of people and things. Whenever people create groups or communities, a culture inevitably develops. We learn about a culture not only by what its members say, but also by what they do regularly and the things they choose to display in connection with their work (Eisenberg, Trethewey, LeGreco, & Goodall, 2017, p.125).
According to Edgard Schein (1991), culture is defined by six formal properties: (1) shared basic assumptions that are (2) invented, discovered, or developed by a given group as it (3) learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration in ways that (4) have worked well enough to be considered valid and therefore (5) can be taught to new members of the group as the (6) correct way to perceive, thin, and feel in relation to those problems (p. 131).
The Sociocultural tradition focuses on patterns of interaction between people rather than on individual characteristics or mental models. Interaction is the process and site in which meanings, roles, rules, and cultural values are worked out. Although individuals do process information cognitively, this tradition is much less interested in the individual level of communication. Instead, researchers in this tradition want to understand ways in which people together create the realities of their social groups, organizations, and cultures. The categories used by individuals to process information are socially created in communications, according to the sociocultural tradition (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p. 55).
Therefore, the general argument is that persuasion relies on social connections and cultural assumptions that set the standards for what is considered correct or trustworthy, and that social media, particularly social network sites, have unique rhetorical effects on persuasive acts. While it is possible to argue that networks, social or otherwise, have always influenced communications (Darnton, 1995), because of the ease with which social media articulate social networks (Boyd & Ellison, 2007), communication via social media is more susceptible to network effects and these effects create unique persuasive possibilities (Noor Al-Deen & Hendricks, 2011, p. 28-29).
To better understand the correlation between social media influence and how it impacts our desire to belong, I recently reviewed a surge in a particular cosmetic procedure called the “Brazilian Butt Lift”, also known as “BBL”, through a series of Instagram posts. This procedure involves the removal of excess fat from the hips, abdomen, lower back, or thighs with liposuction, and a portion of that fat is then strategically injected into the buttocks (American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, 2019). While in more antiquated historical periods, a larger derriere or more curvaceous figure would be shunned or regarded as outside the cultural norm, in today’s society it is praised and places women who have the ideal body measurements of 36-24-36 as the industry standard of beauty. This is significant, because as social media becomes more of a dominant presence in our everyday lives, it reshapes not only how we see ourselves but others also. Therefore, as presented here in my research studies, it becomes obvious that with every Instagram post on cosmetic surgery or the hash tag #bbl, the normalcy of obtaining cosmetic surgery to meet ones physical desires starts to seem more like a trip to the dentist than a major life altering procedure.
For additional information, on theoretical framework and methodology, click hereWe Like Big Butts and We Cannot Lie
American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. (2019).What is a Brazilian Butt Lift? Retrieved
Eisenberg, E., Trethewey, A., LeGreco, M., Goodall, H. L., (2017). Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint; (8th Ed) .Boston MA; Bedford/St. Martins.
LittleJohn, S.W. and Foss, K.A. (2011) Theories of Human Communication, Long
Grove, IL, Waveland Press
Noor Al-Deen, H.S. and Hendricks, J.A., (2012) Social Media: Usage and Impact,
Lanham, M.D., Lexington Books
Paul, K. (2018). More than 200,000 teens had Plastic Surgery last year, and Social
Media had a lot to do with it. Retrieved from
Rossman, S. (2017). Americans are Spending more than ever on Plastic Surgery.