I was scrolling through Instagram over the weekend when a photo on my feed stopped me. It was an advertisement for a cosmetic surgery doctor.
The picture was of an attractive female smiling to the camera, face smooth and taut. Her name was Tanya*.
“Call us today!” read the caption. “And you can book in for cosmetic procedures just like Tanya, one of our actual clients.”
This alone wasn’t really that surprising – plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery advertisements pop up in my feed all the time.
The odd part was this: I knew Tanya.
There she was, having her face splashed across the internet as an 'actual client' for a plastic surgery clinic. God, she was going to be furious when she found out one of her Instagram photos had been scammed.
Flustered, I shot her a text message with a screen shot of the advertisement and a bunch of question marks.
"Uh, yeah?" she wrote back. "What's up?"
"Your face!" I text back quickly. "Did you know they used your picture????"
Oh. I didn't see that coming. (Post continues after audio.)
Just like that, I understood that in my haste, I didn't even stop to think that the advertisement was real - and that Tanya had actually gone under the knife.
More importantly, that she was OK with people knowing that. This was uncharted territory. I was out of touch. I was surgery shaming one of my dearest friends!
I didn't know what to think.
So how did we arrive at this place, where people are happily offering up their privacy in exchange for cosmetic treatments?
Well, advertising isn't what it used to be. The rise and rise of photo/video sharing apps like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat have opened up the opportunity for businesses to create highly targeted advertisements to reach their desired audiences from within. (Post continues after gallery.)
Over the years they've begun to whittle this type of advertising into a fine art. Businesses have learned one very important lesson: on social media, real people sell products. Highly curated and unrealistic campaign imagery gets skimmed over and passed off as, well, an advertisement. Boring. To be ignored.
So this is where my pal Tanya comes into the picture: for a small fee or a contra arrangement, businesses will ask to use a real-life customer's image to sell their product. We see this all the time for everything from protein power to teeth whitening kits.
My friend? Well, she was the spokeswoman for cosmetic surgery.
Surprisingly, she's not alone.
After fishing around with a few other women in my network who I knew had dabbled in cosmetic procedures - botox, fillers, that kind of thing - I figured out fairly quickly that this was standard procedure.
The clinics request people to allow them to use their photo in exchange for free or heavily discounted procedures. When you consider the $900 price tag on the average botox treatment, for many young women it's a pretty good deal.
Another friend, Kate* had some fillers last year to treat the natural dark circles under her eyes. At the time of the treatment - her first cosmetic procedure at just 25-years-old - the doctor ask if they could use her picture on social media.
"They asked me when I made my appointment and offered a 20 per cent discount if I agreed," she says. "They also gave me the most expensive treatment you can get for the cheaper price because they wanted it to look good in the photo."
For a fraction of the cost of what she would normally pay, all she had to do was pose for a picture that would be shared across their social media account. A $700 treatment cost her just $290.
Still, I couldn't wrap my head around this new, open, attitude about cosmetic procedures. Didn't she want to keep it hush-hush?
"I openly told people as I felt confident after I got it done," explained Kate. "Everyone was super welcoming to the idea!"
She did, however, point out that was only fillers - not Botox, or anything invasive.
"I did make a point to explain that it wasn't Botox though - as at my age can be slightly frowned upon to get Botox, however when mentioned they were fillers it was accepted."
It would seem there are still varying shades of what is, and is not, acceptable when it comes to cosmetic procedures.
Mamamia Out Loud, on plastic surgery. (Post continues after video.)
As Kate was so quick to point out, there are varying scales of acceptance depending on the procedure. Fillers to eradicate dark circles are one thing, a brand new nose is another. So is it acceptable to own up to one, and not the other?
High profile women are discussing without any shame or secrecy their decision to nip and tuck. Consider Roxy Jacenko live updating her rhinoplasty on her Instagram account, or Iggy Azalea opening discussing her breast augmentation surgery. The old taboo attached to cosmetic surgery seems to be fading fast. (Post continues after gallery.)
Indeed, Australians now spend more on cosmetic procedures per capita than Americans. With so many women now seeing this as the 'new normal', why shouldn't they be comfortable talking about it? Moreover, why should they hide it? With costs trending in the thousands, they really should get to show it off...
But the fact remains, the idea of cosmetic procedures - however big or small - is still shocking to many. I don't want to be prudish, but I suppose that even includes myself. To see familiar faces being flaunted as cosmetic surgery success stories is a jarring experience. And possibly makes me just a tiny bit sad.
*Actual names have been changed for privacy.