Plastic surgery. Few body-centric ideas trigger as many emotional reactions and opinions. Reconstructive and corrective procedures have been a part of medical history since the ancient times. Introduction of advanced elective treatments in recent decades turned cosmic surgery into a nearly $20-billion industry in the USA alone. Rising disposable income, increasing impact of mass media, and the prominence of celebrity and influencer culture contribute to steady market growth.
Last month, a single social media post ignited fierce discourse within the fashion, beauty, and cosmetic surgery industries. Supermodel Linda Evangelista shared with her million Instagram followers a dramatic story of “disfigurement” suffered as a result of cryolipolysis or CoolSculpting. She filed a landmark $50-million lawsuit against ZELTIQ Aesthetics, the company behind the treatment. The ongoing public coverage questions the role of plastic surgery in our media-savvy lives.
The United States consistently ranks first worldwide in numbers of non-invasive procedures and overall spending on elective cosmetic treatments. To better understand the complex socio-economic dynamics within this market and the potential impact of Evangelista’s revelations on both consumers and service providers, it was time to turn to industry insiders. I reached out to Jerry Chidester M.D., an expert Utah-based plastic and hand surgeon with an inspiring, educational social media portfolio where he’s better known as Doctor Chiddy. From navigating headlines to engaging audiences with informative captions to sharing Big Plans, we discussed what makes a cosmetic clinic business successful today.
Let’s jump into it. How could something like that happen to someone like Linda Evangelista?
First, it is truly unfortunate for Linda Evangelista that she experienced a reportedly rare condition known as Paradoxical Adipose Hyperplasia (PAH) from CoolSculpting. Patients, celebrity or not, seek out non-invasive or minimally invasive procedures to reduce downtime and risk. However, every procedure has risks, even potentially adverse effects that can leave a patient worse off than when they started. It is extremely important to be fully informed about any chosen procedure, including rare complications. This should be openly addressed both at the initial consultation and the pre-treatment appointment. I believe women like Linda Evangelista have led the fashion and beauty industry, playing a significant role in what the population perceives as evolving standards of beauty. Unfortunate as it were, now is also a chance to advance our understanding once again.
How would you evaluate the overall impact of celebrity culture and social media on the field of cosmetic surgery?
Social media influencers play a large role in what the public sees as desirable, more so than any magazine or television show before. On the other hand, for people that are curious about cosmetic procedures, social media allows them to educate themselves at their own pace. As they become more comfortable, curiosity turns into informed action. My DMs are full of questions about risks, benefits, and recovery for various procedures and surgeries. Obviously, I do not offer medical advice through messaging. However, I am regularly available on Instagram Live for general inquiries.
Speaking of that, what role does social media play in the work of medical professionals these days?
I tell people that social media re-built my practice. I used the lockdown time last year to invest in my presence on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. It magnified my voice to educate the public and to fight misinformation. My strategy was simple: be consistent, be honest, be informative, and be myself. It seems to be working! Social media has turned my clinic into a national business. Almost 40% of patients are coming now from the other 49 states and Puerto Rico. Being “insta-popular” as a physician is rewarding, but also taxing. Rewarding in that people perceive me as a voice of reason when it comes to plastic surgery. My advice matters. Taxing, because it is rather time consuming. In the end, I enjoy the responsibility and the positive change it has made for many. I now dedicate part of my time to helping other surgeons strategically implement social media in their practice. In fact, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (#ASPS) has just invited me to speak on this exact topic.
You mentioned lockdown. How has the pandemic impacted the field of plastic surgery? The other day someone joked with me that they had to get their “Zoom Face” on… Is remote working and video conferencing influencing decision-making about cosmetic procedures?
In my professional experience, the impact of the pandemic has been two-fold. First, during the shutdowns in the spring of 2020, we saw an influx of patients for initial virtual consultations. When in-person elective medical services resumed that May, the demand had exponentially increased. We found that both new and returning patients felt they now had the time to recover at home due to remote working and mask mandates to discreetly cover up any bruising or swelling in public. Second, aside from increased social media use, being on Zoom and other video technologies has forced people to stare at themselves on screens for several hours a day. This correlates to the increasing demand for face-related treatments and procedures like Botox, lip filler, chemical peels, and lasers. People are prioritizing their looks for the realities of a digital workforce.
Are there circumstances under which you’d advise a potential patient against a procedure?
Any patient who is not physically or mentally fit for a procedure is not a candidate. This is Medical Ethics 101. From a surgeon’s perspective, in the Era of Filters, it is extremely important to display honest surgical results without “photoshopping” to improve their appearance. Otherwise, the public are comparing apples and oranges in terms of realistic expectations. Transparency trumps business savviness and technical knowhow in building trust with patients. For example, I always stress the importance of understanding that results are not instantaneous. The popular “Before and After” pics do not demonstrate the swelling, the bruising, the discomfort, the complications, and revisions in between. I try to share patients’ journeys (with permission) to highlight these often-overlooked aspects of plastic surgery.
What motivated or continues to motivate you to work in this high-stakes field?
When I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in plastic surgery, I was motivated by the fact that it would always keep me on my toes. It is a field that is constantly innovating and evolving. I am now driven by a desire to integrate a holistic approach to healing that addresses not only the physical nature of plastic surgery, but the emotional, mental, and spiritual components as well. I find it fitting that Salt Lake City has consistently ranked in the top 10 for highest number of plastic surgeons per capita in the United States. Utah’s tourism slogan is “Life Elevated” which I think resonates with life-changing work we do for our patients. There is something special about this place that does wonders for recovery. I believe in the near future we have the potential to fundamentally shift the way we approach plastic surgery altogether.
Who informs your personal and professional ideas of beauty?
I have noticed that contemporary visions of beauty have become a multicultural and multiracial blend. There is no longer one dominating standard and that is very empowering and liberating. Photographers like Mario Testino, Mert Alas, and Lina Tesch (to name a few) provide glimpses of that. Professionally, my inspiration comes from great plastic surgeons like Dr. Alfredo Hoyos in Colombia (who, by the way, has almost a million followers!), Dr. Michael Miroshnik in Australia, and Dr. Baris Cakir in Turkey. This is a global industry and a supportive international community of peers. Each of them is a pioneer and an icon in my specialty and I look up to them.
What is the most pressing question on your mind right now?
How do I contribute to the transformation of plastic surgery moving forward into the 21st century? The most triggering myth about cosmetic surgery still is that it makes people look “fake.” The majority of our patients are looking to restore a certain aesthetic they lost to injuries or illness or to improve an area of the body that had always been a concern to them. They want subtle or even unnoticeable changes. Educating the public through my work is a true calling. How do I continue to innovate, improve, and inspire so that people can undergo these life-affirming procedures with confidence?