Increasingly, the Instagram accounts of beauty businesses, clinics, and salons are being used to advertise and give away free cosmetic surgery — everything from facial fillers and Botox to breast enhancements and even the notoriously dangerous Brazilian butt lift. To enter for a chance to win, followers simply have to regram, like, and share posts. In return, brands receive free advertising and promotion as their posts circulate.
The rise in this type of giveaway is part of a wider shift in the culture around cosmetic-surgery enhancements that's become particularly noticeable in the past five years. There are more options competing on the market than ever before; UK-based beauty-and-wellness megastore Superdrug recently started to offer in-store fillers and Botox with prices starting at just £99 (around $130). Now, having work done no longer means a trip to an elite Los Angeles doctor and thousands of dollars to spare.
With companies and clinics on Instagram making cosmetic surgery even more accessible, it poses the question: In a world where beauty enhancements are becoming normalized, are young women under more pressure than ever to consider surgical and nonsurgical treatments?
To see how many ads and giveaways there are on Instagram these days, you only need to spend a few minutes searching. The "lip specialists" at La La Land Lashes & Aesthetics in Liverpool, England, use their feed to offer followers the chance to win free jawline, lip, and cheek surgery for themselves and a friend. "Amazing give away jawline/cheeks and lips for you and a friend!" the post reads. "Screen shot this picture and upload it to your feed. Tag us and your bestie. Winner announced Friday 19th 9pm." A post from Southeast Medspa, located in Clayton, NC, reads, "The new you awaits! …and red is the inspiration! Post a picture of yourself to your page wearing red lips and tag us for your chance to win free lip filler!"
In a world where beauty enhancements are becoming normalized, are young women under more pressure than ever to consider surgical and nonsurgical treatments?
Other companies, like Augusta Plastic Surgery in Augusta, GA, have taken it a step further, giving away surgical treatments for a whole year. "We're giving away free botox for one year to one lucky winner! Visit our office to enter," a recent post read. You can now also have Botox parties with your girlfriends, with brands advertising free enhancements at "friend filler nights." A post from KLG Aesthetics in the UK reads, "Who fancies a girlie night in with some fillers? If you and 5 friends book a filler night, the host will get 2ml revolax for free!!!"
So there are a lot of these types of giveaways on Instagram, but how are they actually affecting real women? 26-year-old management assistant Nadia Jabakhanji told us she enters these competitions on a regular basis. "I've entered loads of lip-filler and microblading competitions but have never won," she said. "I’ve had my lips done a few times now and I absolutely love it — it does get very addictive. I feel like there’s an image that we have to try and keep up as women. You always feel your makeup looks better when your lips are plumped."
Angela Bond, 29, who won fillers through an Instagram competition, told us, "I only had to give an Instagram account a follow and I won the fillers. I’d never had them done before, but I absolutely love them and would definitely get them again," she said. "Now that I know it’s not a scam, I would actively search for more giveaways on Instagram."
However, not everyone thinks the competitions are such a wise idea. Sally Baker, a London-based hypnotherapist, doesn't mince words, calling the rise in plastic-surgery freebies on Instagram "cynical ploys from the morally-bankrupt plastic-surgery industry playing on the physical insecurities of young people," especially those that are living with anxiety and body dysmorphia. She says that the offers are an effective way to attract them as potential customers, and to normalize the idea of invasive cosmetic surgery.
Plastic-surgery clinics benefit from promoting the idea that enhancement surgery is commonplace, readily available, and an everyday occurrence, when in reality it remains statistically very niche.
"Plastic-surgery clinics benefit from promoting the idea that enhancement surgery is commonplace, readily available, and an everyday occurrence, when in reality it remains statistically very niche," Baker says. "Many young people who are dissatisfied with their physical appearance focus on themselves as a way of dealing with greater emotional overwhelm in other areas of their lives. They are at risk of manipulation and debt in chasing superficial results for deep-seated emotional challenges."
Others feel that there is no accountability surrounding these posts, and that there is a concerning lack of thought in the decision-making process to have surgery. Mental-health experts worry that because of the prevalence of Botox and fillers, people don't weigh up the pros and cons of a procedure before going ahead. Women's coach Chelle Shohet, who calls herself "The Self-Love Stylist," believes surgery giveaways send a clear signal to women that they need surgery, that they're not good enough as is.
"When a woman with low self-esteem and body confidence comes across these posts, she'll see them as a quick fix," Shohet says. "They also make it more attractive to the person on a tight budget that is struggling with self-esteem and self-confidence. They do not encourage the person entering to research the company and research the actual effects of the procedure." The same people, she says, can get "hooked" on cosmetic procedures, leading to more and more in the future.
"My advice to any woman is to get to know your body and fall in love with yourself inside and out before you have any sort of cosmetic procedure," Shohet says. "If you do not like something physically, you’re just going to put on a band-aid so to speak and get short-term relief from this issue, so the problem will come back."
Life coach and mental-health expert Geeta Sidhu-Robb makes a different point, saying, "Surgery is something that should be taken seriously and carefully researched, rather than given away to a mass market without proper knowledge of any health repercussions. All treatments need to be met with the adequate health checks beforehand, as people react in different ways to different things."
Normally, we would expect a good friend or family member to question our motives about changing our appearance, but if they're also being offered the same treatment for free, they might be more likely to put their reservations aside.
As for the offers that encourage women to get their friends involved as well, with ads dressed up in lighthearted phrases like "tag your bestie," counselor and integrative psychotherapist Hilda Burke warns that the "+1" element adds another layer of danger, serving to normalize casual cosmetic enhancements within friend groups. "Normally, we would expect a good friend or family member to question our motives about changing our appearance," Burke says, "but if they're also being offered the same treatment for free, they might be more likely to put their reservations aside."
We reached out to Instagram regarding the prevalence of free cosmetic-surgery offers. The reply read: "We work hard to make Instagram a safe place for people to spend their time. Anyone using Instagram to run a promotion or competition must follow our terms, which include the need to comply with the rules and regulations governing competitions."
As it stands, there are currently no campaigns against these posts, or warnings from official groups to get the ads pulled from social media — but perhaps there should be. As positive-psychology coach Adele Hawkes told us, "It’s dangerous that the implicit message for women is that we’re not enough as we are. That if we want to be happy, we have to pay to fix ourselves. And it’s this that ultimately does the most damage to our confidence, mind, and self-worth."