Imagine that people regularly wrote entire articles picking apart your appearance, highlighting the weight gain you thought wasn’t noticeable, drawing a red circle around that annoying spot you tried to cover up. The pressure of keeping your youthful face piles up, so you head to a plastic surgeon to ‘fix’ a feature the tabloids have consistently mocked you for. You carry on with your life, and then discover that a national TV station is critiquing you, in a show spitefully titled Celebrities: What’s Happened to Your Face? Charlotte Crosby – who says she’s always been pretty candid about the cosmetic work she has done – took to Twitter after she was featured in the second episode of the show. She says her agent was “ignored” by producers when they learned it was commissioned, despite their concerns around how “detrimental it could be to [her] mental health.”
The crux of the problem is that there’s a sense of public possession when it comes to celebrity bodies. A picture of Zac Efron with suspected Botox work trended on Twitter recently, with fans collectively mourning the baby-faced Troy Bolton days they felt entitled to expect. When Billie Eilish’s Vogue cover was revealed, people adopted her decision to change her style as a political stance: her corset became much more than fashion, with one article claiming that it was “proof that money can make you change your values and sell out.” Meanwhile, former member of Little Mix Jesy Nelson recently shared how the constant scrutiny of her weight made her “frightened to wear certain things in case I looked bigger than the others,” and sent her on “extreme diets” to lose weight.
“But these are celebs,” you may cry, “it’s part of the career! What’s that got to do with us normies?”
Well, crucially quite a lot.
On the same platforms that find the flaws in a celeb’s ‘botched Botox’ or mock another’s weight gain, bodies altered by plastic surgeries are put on a pedestal as the conventional ideal. Take the Kardashians, for example. Millions of young women – myself included – were thrown into a pit of self-doubt when Kendall Jenner posted that mirror selfie last year. Her tiny waist, insanely flat abs, even her almost non-existent bellybutton, all created insecurities I didn’t know could exist before I saw the photo – but the shot is widely suspected to be the product of a Photoshop session.
Then again, when admitting that gets you the media attention that Charlotte Crosby faced, coming clean when you’re already in the spotlight might not seem like such an attractive option – and as normal citizens, we’re not entirely innocent of that, either. I’m very guilty of using the odd Snapchat or Instagram filter, and once I’ve seen my cheeks pinched in, skin smoothed out and contour applied with no effort on my part, it can become pretty difficult to see my own, unfiltered face as ‘acceptable’ to post. One slightly comforting thought, as damning an indictment of society that it is, is that I’m not alone in my insecurities.
Despite the bad rep that cosmetic work has, it’s not just celebs getting plastic surgery done. As a post-lockdown life looms, some plastic surgeons are seeing demand increase by as much as 200%. The number of men seeking consultations for cosmetic work has risen by 70% since early 2020 according to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. Requests for facial surgery across the board rose significantly – think face lifts, Botox and procedures designed to perk up droopy eyelids. Seeing our reflections in the far-from-flattering light of Zoom has many of us picking apart all of our perceived flaws, and a pressure to look good ready for the return out of lockdown have created a pretty lethal cocktail of self-confidence doubts.
And here’s why celeb culture is still relevant: some surgeons reckon that one of the most sought-after facial structures – feline-like eyes, a pointy face and full lips – has Kendall Jenner to thank for its popularity. As much as social media criticises those who have work done, it’s still those altered faces and bodies that are seen as the ideal – but if you get the work done to achieve that, you open yourself up to ridicule. It’s a vicious catch-22 situation.
So, where do we go from here? It seems that the only way out of the cycle is to challenge the idea that every facet of the lives of celebrities is fair game for the world to comment on. That sense of possession is what emboldened Channel 5 to air their documentary, what encouraged social media to make Billie Eilish’s body the centre of debate, and what allowed tabloids to hound Jesy Nelson to her breaking point. And maybe when we stop using the bodies of celebrities to hold a greater social significance, we’ll all gain the confidence to finally leave the lifting to lockdown and embrace our bodies just the way they are – or at least be open and honest about all the work that goes into our Instagram-ready shiny selves.