There were a few things last week that shocked me. Renee Zellweger's 'new look' was one - so drastically different did her face look that I actually had to get someone to confirm to me that it was her. Then I saw a picture of Donatella Versace, whose lips have grown over the years to man-eating proportions and then there was Tulisa Contostavlos who is looking more like Kim Kardashian every day. However, what really did it for me was a picture I saw of an old friend on Facebook. I haven't seen her for twenty years, but her face looks like it's been pumped full of every injectable going... lips, cheeks, chin, frozen forehead, the full whammy. She doesn't look soft, fresh-faced, or prettier (as I'm sure was her aim) she just looks like she's had a hell of a lot of work done. Does she look younger than me? Youth doesn't come into it - the 'work' unfortunately eclipses everything.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not against a bit of cleverly administered Botox (I've had it myself before, I'm 38) or a clever use of fillers (must be very clever mind, not administered by any old person with a syringe full of hyaluronic acid), but there is a line between looking real and when you have too much and it begins to look fake. Once you cross that line, you don't look younger, you just begin to look weirder. Plus you just have what I can only describe as 'that look', where your cheeks or lips become a bigger shape than is possible naturally. It's something I think many celebrities are blind to, unaware they start to look like caricatures of themselves. That's the problem with being surrounded by people who tell you you're gorgeous every day, they tell you exactly what you want to hear.
Why do I find it so wrong you might ask? After all, we use eye makeup to alter our eye shape, lip liner to enhance a skinny lip, we use hair dye to colour our mousey hair? The answer to that is because when you change your features into a shape that doesn't occur naturally as a human being, you start to look quite alien-like. Call me old fashioned, but the human race is beautiful in its uniqueness and no two people are ever the same. If you found yourself at an LA party next week you would probably find everyone starts to morph into each other. This, I feel strongly, is very weird and really quite mad.
Who says that big fat lips and bulbous cheekbones is the ideal? Where exactly did this insanity come from? When you think about some of the greatest beauties of our time - Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Brooke Shields, Linda Evangelista, Kate Moss - is it huge roly poly lips, ballooning cheekbones and a cardboard forehead that make them attractive? Absolutely not. It's the twinkle in their eye, the little lines that show they've lived and can share a joke. On a purely physical level, it's also about bone structure and angles - cover your bones in a load of filler and that 'structure' can be lost.
I understand there are many many reasons for having surgery: for someone who has been bullied all her life for her exaggerrated nose it must be a welcome relief; for someone that's flat chested and goes up to a B cup, I totally get the confidence boost. I also heard that Renee Zellweger has always hated her eyes and so she's much happier with her 'new face.' This is all fair enough, but altering cheekbones or lips to grotesque, cartoon-like proportions is not what beauty is about. Real beauty and real sex appeal is about being comfortable in your own skin (the opposite of what all this says about ourselves).
So does the problem with all this lie with us, or does it lie with the practitioners? Surely the practitioner has a duty to tell a woman (or a man of course, I say women because they are the majority that read this site) when her lips are the size of Cumberland sausages? Dr Tapan Patel, Medical Director at the Phi clinic in London and a specialist in natural looking facial rejuvenation says that absolutely, the practitioner can often be to blame.
"People have very different aesthetic eyes, or what I call the 'aesthetic compass," he says. "I believe the responsibility ends with them, as many patients put their trust in them." One of the biggest issues, he tells me, is that you can administer Botox having had only one day of training. This is something the government made a very big fuss over at the beginning of 2013 and are hopefully bringing in laws for, although it looks like nothing will happen until later in 2015. Until then, we are left with the fact that you or I could by the end of the week be out there with a syringe in hand freezing people's foreheads.
Many problems lie in bad training, says Patel. "How a trainee learns the trade is governed by who taught them. If the person that trains them tells them to put 'x' amount above the brows as standard, and 'x' amount besides every eye wrinkle, then that's how they'll do it for everyone," he says. It's incredibly important that you find a practitioner who understands the unique aesthetics of the human face - they need to be able to see how one person's face moves and administor product accordingly and then do something entirely different for someone else. They need to understand there are particular no-go zones for certain features.
"If a person has a low brow [for example], there are particular things you must not do else it will make it lower," he says. A good practitioner, like Tapan, will talk to the client first to understand what they are trying to achieve, whilst watching how their face moves, see how they laugh. If they want that 'frozen' look however, he will turn people away. "If they are walking out of my clinic with a look that isn't right for my aesthetic compass, it will give me the wrong reputation," he says.
Dr Vicky Dondos of the Medicetics cllinic in London who is also an advocate of the 'less is more' approach tells me she says no to clients or has to bring them round to her way of thinking regularly. "I have clients who come in clutching pictures of celebrities wanting particular features," she says "But it's my job to advise them on whether that would work for them. It's like walking into the hairdressers with a picture of a celebrity hair cut - the hairdresser needs to tell you if that would work for your hair type or face shape. It's the same for injectables - no two faces require the same treatment.
"It's a myth," she continues, "That lots of Botox makes you look young.' Indeed both Dondos and Patel explain that they use much less as the client ages. "There is a window of opportunity in your 30s when Botox is extremely effective," she says, "But I pull back as the client gets over 40 as whilst Botox eradicates lines, a line-free area starts to mismatch the rest of the face and the skin's texture which can give a wrong expression. It doesn't give that light freshness it once did. This is very important for a practitioner to understand else the client can start to look odd." As for fillers (where a product is injected to plump out lines and decrease sagging) it is true that the ones we notice are the bad ones (Meg Ryan a big case in point), as Dondos says "Most of the women you see in the public eye over a certain age have had fillers of some sort." No longer as scary as they once were (poor Lesley Ash has given fillers a very bad name), Dondos uses hyaluronic acid (which occurs in our body naturally), and only adds the tiniest bit. There is also a solution that dissolves the product immediately so if you don't like it, it can be zapped away.
Whilst the trend for fillers and Botox started out as an anti-ageing mechanism, for many women round the world, there is another reason for women to have a face full of fillers and Botox: status. This is something that Dr Patel recognises: "In some parts of the world like Eastern Europe, some parts of the Middle East and Russia especially, bigger is better, it's like a status symbol - it's seen as the more product you have injected into your face, the more affluent you are." As my hairdresser said the other day, "Many people want this 'look'". Sadly, this is also something filtering down to the younger generation, and girls in their teens are now having their lips pumped full of collagen - not because they want to look younger, but because they want the associations with wealth and bling. Last week one of my editorial team showed me a picture of Kylie Jenner, 17 year old half sister to Kourteney, Kim and Khloe Kardashian. Whilst she may not have had anything put into her face, she's done a very good job at applying makeup that mimics 'that look' - overblown lips, extremely arched eyebrows, and super sculpted cheekbones.
So what's the solution? Where does it stop? For me, I think the first step if you are considering injectables of any kind is to find a good practitioner. When hopefully the laws come in next year, there will be a much tighter control over who can administer what and how. In the meantime there is the website Treatments You Can Trust which has been set up to help people find a qualified and trusted clinic. You can search by postcode or type in the name of the practitioner you have heard of.
The second step is a worldwide reeducation that little tweaks can be very effective (as I said before I'm not against clever, minimal use of Botox, and even cleverer, minimal use of fillers) but too much won't enhance your face and could actually ruin it. Neither Dr Dondos and Dr Patel would dream of freezing your entire forehead for example. Both would apply Botox so that you still have movement. It would be helpful if people in the public eye took this less-is-more approach on board too. I was bolstered this week by Julia Roberts who spoke out in the Mail on Sunday's YOU magazine about the pressure to have surgery in the film industry: "By Hollywood standards, I guess I've already taken a big risk in not having a face lift, but I've told Lancome that I want to be an ageing model," she said. The third step (or perhaps this should be the first) is to do as Dondos does and focus on the skin. "Dewy, healthy, glowing skin can really help with lines and wrinkles. I'd say from your early 30s to start using more active ingredients and have medi facials, which I consider a preventative investment," she suggests.
One day, I feel, we will look back on this bizarre trend of pillow lips and hamster cheeks and laugh at the absurdity of it all. In the age of the Instragram selfie or the enviable perfect Facebook post, it seems everyone is chasing an unreal filter of themselves, one that looks great in a photograph. However as Dondos explains what works in a freeze-frame doesn't work in real life, when you're a moving, talking, human being. "Everyone these days wants to be picture perfect," says Dondos. "I want to see that person throw their head back laughing, talking and smiling. Flatness is not sexy or attractive."
Amen to that.
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