When 32-year-old Lauren Pesce went to have a breast augmentation over summer, she didn’t do it on the down low or let only her closest friends know about the surgery. She shared it on social media.
Pesce isn’t completely living her life in private (she’s engaged to reality star Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino from MTV’s Jersey Shore) and she said it was a “quick decision to share this journey in front of everyone.”
“I’m kind of used to being vulnerable to the public. It’s not easy, but it is rewarding when you share such intimate parts of your life and receive such positive feedback. Clearly not all of that feedback is positive, but in today’s world, it’s nice to be open and honest.”
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Pesce also thinks sharing such details helps others who are considering plastic surgery. “Any surgery is scary! And sometimes it’s difficult talking to immediate family or friends without a certain kind of judgment—that judgment can cloud your own thoughts about the process, which is the most important. It’s your body and you are the one who ultimately has to be happy with the decision you make.”
“By sharing my journey publicly, I’ve already had a lot of women reach out to me for advice. Just last night someone privately messaged me on Instagram to share that she just had her before-and-afters done last week and all the advice I gave was spot-on. She’s grateful for my openness and I’m happy I could be helpful.”
Livingston, NJ, plastic surgeon John Paul Tutela, MD, who performed Pesce’s augmentation, is also pro plastic surgery on social media. He thinks it not only shows the public what a procedure entails, but also gives a look into his personality and an honest view of his practice, which can potentially attract new patients.
“The benefits are fantastic! I find that potential patients use social media to get an idea of what to expect when researching procedures, practices and doctors to do their desired surgery. I try to post as many encounters that I have in and out of the operating room because I want to give a clear view into the process. From the posts, a patient can see bodies that might look like theirs and what type of procedure might be good for them.”
Dr. Tutela points out that getting patients to agree to let him post on social media isn’t that difficult—although there are special consent forms to fill out—and he pegs approximately 80 percent of all his patients agree to it.
“I keep it super casual. I usually ask right after I take their formal photos that are for their chart. I then show them the pics and how their faces aren’t included. Then I just ask, “Can I post this on Instagram?’”
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As for showing an image that may clearly identify someone, Dr. Tutela tends to follow a “no face rule,” uses emojis (to cover) for privacy and stresses that he would never use names.
“Whether the patient chooses to comment on the photo or chooses to share it is up to them, but, overall, they are open with me about what they want shown versus what they don’t want show and I try to follow that,” he says. “Some have no problem showing everything off but I want to respect my followers so I use the emojis. I get a ton of happy patient selfies and ‘belfies,’ which are butt selfies, and I love to share those! Seeing my patients enjoying the end result is most rewarding, and it also helps prospective patients see an end result and gets them excited about the process.”
Huntington Beach, CA, plastic surgeon Peter Newen, MD, says, in his opinion, most plastic surgeons who have experience in social media can usually tell which patients will be receptive of requests to post the surgery, and adds that many patients are “quite open” to the idea—although it’s not something he or his staff takes lightly and it’s something that the patient should have control over.
“It does require a significant amount of time and effort from both the surgeon and the staff. It is extremely important to obtain very clear, concise and legally enforceable release from the patient to utilize this photographic form of social media,” he says. “Failure to do so can open the surgeon to the potential for great liabilities. If the patient is not identifiable by the story and no photograph is used, I believe there is greater latitude with regards to the prior consent of the patient. However, it is advisable to obtain a prior release to using any of the patients’ information. At any rate, the patient should decide how much information can be revealed and how much of their photograph should be visible.”
Catherine* is one of those patients. She recently underwent a facelift, performed by Troy, MI, plastic surgeon Anthony Youn, MD, and while the results “exceeded her expectations,” she had some very specific thoughts on how to share it.
“I agreed to have my surgery filmed for educational purposes—not social media—and I was only comfortable with it being used anonymously,” she says, although she does recommend anyone who is considering plastic surgery to read other accounts on social media to help in the decision-making process. “I prefer not to share photos on social media, as I think results will vary based on the individual. I will only share my experience.”
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It’s the sharing of experiences on such a large scale that Newport, CA, plastic surgeon Sanjay Grover, MD, says makes social media such a plus for an industry like plastic surgery.
“In many ways, this form of communication and education has allowed plastic surgeons to reach the average person more than any other means previously used. Potential patients are now able to see what is possible from the before-and-after pictures that are displayed on different social media platforms. They are even able to get a close-up view of the actual procedure being performed.”
Of course, in the world of social media, not everything is always presented perfectly. “Some plastic surgeons have shown patients’ images and videos in a manner that is not respectful of the patient nor to the profession itself,” Dr. Grover says. “Plastic surgery procedures, whether they are surgical or nonsurgical, are actual medical procedures with the potential for real, devastating complications and should not be taken lightly. Potential patients should be made aware of the positive outcomes of different treatments, but should also be made aware of potential risks or complications that may arise due to these procedures so they can make an educated decision whether to proceed with such a procedure.”
What’s more, Dr. Grover points out, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) has now taken on the task of creating a set of ethical guidelines for its members to follow when posting on social media. “Needless to say, social media is becoming larger and larger on a daily basis and plastic surgeons should utilize it in a proper manner. It can be a wonderful tool to educate potential patients about what is possible and to promote an individual’s practice, but it should be used properly.”
*Name has been changed upon request.