Are we OK with games that allow kids to perform eye lifts and nose jobs?
Melinda Tankard Reist
A large needle is jabbed into the lips of a young girl. Instantly they become sausage-shaped.
Another girl, oxygen mask over her mouth, has her nose cut into with a scalpel.
A larger-sized girl in saggy underwear has a hose attached to her arm to suck out the fat.
Where did I see these images? In games targeted at children. With online gaming apps like Girls Plastic Surgery Doctor, Mermaid’s Plastic Surgery, Princess Plastic Surgery and Superstar Face, children are given the opportunity to carry out eye lifts, nose jobs, and lip implants, and create entirely new faces using plastic surgery simulators.
The games instruct them in how to use ice to numb pre-treatment sites, lighten dark skin, decrease larger noses, carve off weight and achieve rounded eyes.
In one game, the player is positioned behind the counter of a sterile waiting room. A woman approaches the counter and a text box pops up that says: “She needs a nose job, please help her.”
In some scenes, the young (virtual) patients look like they are being tortured, their eyes full of fear.
But it’s all worth it because they are transformed from an “ugly” girl into Elsa from Disney’s Frozen.
Given that a growing number of young women are seeking Botox and cosmetic surgery, wanting desperately to plump their lips to Kardashian proportions, these games should concern all of us.
They use animated characters and vibrant graphics to glamorise — and normalise — cosmetic surgery.
But while women have always been told they should strive to achieve physical “perfection”, the rise of games that effectively groom children to seek appearance-altering surgery in the future signals a new normal.
After all, why would they “love the skin they’re in” when they can slice, shape and inject it into something “hotter”?
The Botox boom is filtering down to our kids
I speak in schools around the country, including primary schools, about healthy body image — children often tell me of body image concerns.
I’ve seen little girls pinch their tummies and say they are “too fat”.
Indeed, we know that a growing number of children are anxious, worried, and unhappy with how they look.
The 2016 Mission Australia Youth Study identified body image as a top issue of concern for young Australians, and the National Eating Disorder Collaboration reports that 70 per cent of young women experience body dissatisfaction.
And, while no-one knows exactly how much cosmetic surgery is being performed in Australia (reporting of statistics is not mandatory), there is unprecedented growth in non-surgical procedures like Botox, with Australians spending at least $1 billion on cosmetic treatments each year.
Anecdotally, a growing number of young people are having work done — lip fillers are particularly popular, seemingly made normal by celebrity culture.
It’s partly why the Australian Medical Board last year introduced a mandatory cooling-off period for young people under 18 seeking cosmetic surgery, and mandatory consultations for anyone seeking Botox and fillers.
“We know that younger people are often a bit impetuous and often are vulnerable in ways that more mature people aren’t, in relation to self-esteem, and concerns about appearance,” said Dr Joanna Flynn, chair of the Medical Board.
The companies profiting from the ‘body angst’ epidemic
The global technology companies that sell these games — Apple, Google, and Amazon — need to acknowledge that they are profiting from this epidemic of body angst, and introduce clear policies stating that they will not accept them from developers in the first place.
There are hundreds of cosmetic surgery games available through the various app stores for kids to play: a mix of paid and free, though most appear to be free (the ads featured within them generate revenue).
While some games are listed as available for adults only (for example, 17+, depending on the platform), their features undoubtedly appeal to children and there is nothing to prevent children accessing them.
Currently, the onus is on parents to report apps they consider to be unsuitable.
In fact, Apple removed some apps in 2014, and again in 2016, after receiving complaints, but they have since reappeared.
Which is why Endangered Bodies, The Butterfly Foundation and Embodied at La Trobe University have combined to petition them to remove these games.
Similar petitions launched in the US, UK and New Zealand have attracted almost 20,000 signatures.
‘Contributing to children hating themselves is not a game’
Sarah McMahon, a psychologist and founding director of eating disorder treatment practice BodyMatters Australasia, said she and her colleagues were seeing more cases of young girls and boys presenting with “clinically significant concerns regarding their appearance”.
“Kids are growing up with a stronger message than ever that your appearance matters, you can only look one way, and there is tremendous cost to not meeting that ideal,” said Ms McMahon, who is also the Australian spokeswoman for Endangered Bodies.
“If you don’t meet that ideal there is something wrong with you that needs to be fixed.
“Cosmetic surgery apps frame major surgery as a game, normalizing the procedures and trivialising their risk. These apps make choosing a new nose look as innocent and harmless as choosing a new outfit rather than the major surgery that it is.”
Of course, women have long been told they should strive for a “youthful” appearance, and that we are irrelevant if we’re not hot.
We are targeted everywhere — from airbrushed images in magazines and on billboards, the lack of body diversity in the fashion and beauty industries, to filtered social media images.
But contributing to children hating themselves is not a game.
Do we really want our girls to grow up believing that surgically altering their appearance is a normal part of being a woman?
Originally published by ABC News
Surgery is Not a Game. Sign the petition against cosmetic surgery games here.