Adolescent bullying may be a key driver of interest in cosmetic surgery. This study examined the extent of such interest and whether any effect was sex-specific, and examined psychological functioning as a potential mechanism through which bullying involvement may lead to a wish for cosmetic surgery.
A two-stage design was used. In the first stage, 2782 adolescents (aged 11 to 16 years) were screened for bullying involvement using self-reports and peer nominations. In the second stage, 752 adolescents who were bullies, victims, bully-victims, or uninvolved in bullying reported their desire for cosmetic surgery. Psychological functioning was constructed as a composite of self-esteem and emotional problems (assessed at stage 1) and body-esteem scores (assessed at stage 2).
Adolescents involved in bullying in any role were significantly more interested in cosmetic surgery than uninvolved adolescents. Desire for cosmetic surgery was greatest in adolescents who were bullied (victims and bully-victims) and girls. Desire for cosmetic surgery was highest in girls, but sex did not interact with bullying role. Being victimized by peers resulted in poor psychological functioning, which increased desire for cosmetic surgery. In contrast, desire for cosmetic surgery in bullies was not related to psychological functioning, which was in the normal range.
Bullying victimization is related to poor psychological functioning, and both are related to a greater desire for cosmetic surgery in adolescents. Cosmetic surgeons should screen candidates for psychological vulnerability and may want to include a short screening questionnaire for a history of peer victimization.