Photos by Leo Leigh
Beautiful Liverpool, our new feature-length documentary, was made by Andy Capper and Leo Leigh as a follow-up to Swansea Love Story. The idea behind Beautiful Liverpool was to take a lighthearted look at the lives of the glamour girls and bodybuilders who help to keep the city’s thriving fitness and beauty industry six times more active than anywhere else in the country. We wanted to make a film that was more upbeat than the melancholy Swansea Love Story and we were also keen to avoid shooting young people injecting themselves with illegal substances in alleyways. While this documentary certainly strikes a cheerful note, the more we filmed Beautiful Liverpool, the darker it became and eventually we ended up filming more needles piercing skin than we did in Swansea.
You don’t see this in the film, but on our second visit there, we survived an attempted set-up/mugging in an abandoned building after being lured there on the promise of being able to watch people inject anabolic steroids. The steroid scene in Liverpool is intense and controlled by bodybuilders/doormen and, some claim, the police. We were also ejected from a city centre gym when we mentioned the word “steroids”. Our release forms were ripped up and from then on, whenever we filmed at a bodybuilding event, we felt very uneasy.
Disappointingly, we didn’t succeed in filming anybody taking steroids but we did film girls in their early 20s having botox and collagen top-ups. To these girls, having botulism injected into their face every couple of months was as normal as getting a new perm done.
And then there’s the Melanotan story, which runs through the film. Melanotan is an unregulated drug of dubious origin which can be purchased online and is also sold by people from gyms who sell steroids. It contains a chemical that darkens skin and is said to make you horny, but it may also cause cancer. We were told that Melanotan was now so popular that workers at the city’s needle exchanges were used to seeing yellow-skinned heroin addicts being barged out of the way by orange-skinned working mums on their way to the school run, needing new needles for their home-administered tanning injections.
And that’s how we met one of our favourite new people, 26-year-old “alternative glamour girl” Carolyn Arrowsmith, aka Scouse Pammie. She agreed to meet us in a hotel room in Liverpool city centre and inject Melanotan into her stomach while we filmed. When the footage was released, the country’s media pounced on it and she’s now been catapulted into a position of fame. Here we are, talking about this.
Vice: How has your life changed since the documentary came out?
Carolyn Arrowsmith: I go out in Liverpool about three times a week and, I’m not being funny, but it feels like all people have been talking about lately is that I was in [local newspaper] the Echo. It’s like the whole city lives for other people’s lives—it’s ridiculous! All the beauty websites picked up on you, as did the Times, Sky, ABC in America, and the well-loved Daybreak with Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley.
Yeah, I went on Daybreak to talk about the documentary, and they sat me next to this doctor who spent the whole time slagging me off. Then, after the show, she gave me her card and asked me to help her campaign against Melanotan. Hahaha! That’s a bit rich.
I hope this article isn’t just about the tanning, love? I don’t wanna be known as “the Melanotan Girl”. I’d like to get away from that now. I guess it’s a way to plug Beautiful Liverpool again and to talk about your sudden rise to fame.
I’ve got a press agent—a magazine one. I’m a card girl in the boxing, and I’ve just done a pilot for a new TV show called Mersey Shore. I’d like to be on TV and show off my personality, not just my appearance. I’ve got a bit of a quirky dress sense and I do alternative glamour. I’m a blonde with an edge. Sounds cool. How did you get started in the world of glamour and beauty?
My dad runs his own beauty empire in Liverpool, so I’ve been surrounded by glamour since I was born. I was still a little girl when I started using sunbeds, about 12, maybe younger. I was modelling for his hair salon at the time, and the two go hand in hand—if you’re going to get your hair coloured, you’re going to get a fake tan too, aren’t you? I do remember being into it a lot earlier than my friends at school were, though. I’m a very extreme person, you see. What someone normal does, I’ll take it three steps further. Right.
I got into Melanotan when my dad started telling me to get off his sunbeds. I was always laying on them, sometimes for 16 minutes at a time, and I’d come out burned. I had to find another way to keep my skin dark. Injecting Melanotan puts more melanin in your body, which is the chemical that dictates your skin colour. Once it’s in, you just go on the sunbed to magically activate it.
Carolyn injects Melanotan into her stomach in the bathroom of a Liverpool hotel room.
How does your dad feel about it?
My dad knows I inject it, but he doesn’t really ask questions. The thing is, everyone bangs on about the health risks, but no one talks about diabetics like they’re junkies. Since the documentary, my face has been plastered across about 17 newspapers and they’re all saying I’m a drug abuser. Hahaha! I don’t think of myself that way. I reckon the only reason people don’t use Melanotan is because they can’t afford the shots. They’re, like, £40 for ten injections and those only last two weeks. That’s cheap, isn’t it?
My friends don’t get the fuss either. They’ve all been on my Facebook wall saying, “Eh, I don’t know why they’re making such a big deal out of you injecting yourself with tanning solution you bought off the internet.” There’s no medical evidence that says Melanotan’s dangerous. The media just sensationalise everything. But nobody knows what the unregulated Melanotan is made of and whether or not it causes cancer. People have to inject themselves in the stomach with it, and you told us in the film that one girl nearly died because of that.
Of course, you have to make sure there’s not an air bubble in the syringe, because if you inject that into a vein or an artery, it can kill you. But if you jumped off a bridge that could kill you too, do you know what I mean? Everything’s dangerous these days, love—y’know, mobile phones and all that. Maybe it’s more invasive to actually inject one of these so-called dangers into your bloodstream, but I use sunbeds less now, so I probably have less chance of getting cancer. Hmm.
Also, my OCD means I’m obsessive about keeping my needles clean, too. I’ve always hated germs. If I dropped something on the floor, I was one of those kids who wouldn’t pick it back up and eat it. My mum would always say, “Don’t do things like that”. That’s good advice.
Saying that, I’ve had a few bad experiences with beauty stuff. I’ve got implants and me boob burst in the middle of a sunbed sesh, didn’t it? Haha. They’ve been in three years and I’ve had seven separate operations since then, because the heat from the ’beds brought out this red, like, infection under me implant and it ruptured the boob and started leaking. I’ve still got them in though! Don’t get me wrong, most people probably would’ve given up after the second rupture, but there you go. Wow. Why do you keep doing these things?
It’s competition. And I think there probably is a competitive element to tanning around here, yeah. I don’t like it when I see someone browner than me. There is such a thing as the perfect tan—it’s goldeny, not orange. If I see someone that colour, and I’ve gone a bit pale… well, you can’t help but compare, can you? Watch Beautiful Liverpool now.