This article originally appeared on VICE Australia. “A millimeter on a face, a kilometer on the soul,” Dr. Naomi had told me. “The little the things we do, just change people's lives.”
But now I can’t not see it. Ever since my visit to her clinic in Paddington, Australia, anytime I pass a reflective surface, my eyes dart immediately to the fine line etching its way into my forehead. It wouldn’t take more than a few seconds to wipe it off of my face. At least temporarily.
Or the grooves beside my nose that are deepening toward the corners of my mouth. Or the slight sag along my jawline—it couldn’t be too tricky to lift with a little filler…
That’s how the thoughts go, spiraling and smoothing and plumping my face into something closer to perfection. Although I’m not really sure what I expected would happen when I asked Sydney’s favorite cosmetic surgeon what she’d do to me if money was no object.
“With your upper third, you’re really beautiful there,” Dr. Naomi says, holding her pointer finger to my hairline and her thumb at my brow. “But you would look much more beautiful with a rounded forehead—it's very vertical. You're a little bit hollow in the temple, and your brow would look much nicer if it came out a bit further outward.”
I’m lying back on the luxe white recliner chair in Dr. Naomi’s very luxe, very white Paddington office. She tells me she's splitting my face into sections, and visually checking off each one with the precision of a surgeon's eye. "Your thirds are beautiful," she says. "Then I look at symmetry, you're not perfect there… this is your good side for photos."
Above me hangs a special light, which makes the “after” photos really pop for Instagram—where Dr. Naomi’s 166,000+ fans eagerly await her next post. Outside, in a waiting room that looks like an Architectural Digest spread, other women are waiting to see her. Her patients are mostly women. Women whose faces cost more than my yearly rent.
These are Dr. Naomi’s “dolls”—patients who’ve handed their appearances over to be sculpted by her expert touch. In their presence, you are suddenly aware of your every imperfection.
They are flawless in a way that doesn’t make sense: like those people who still look good after three days at a music festival. I am almost entirely sure that when I first wandered into Dr. Naomi's Manse Clinic—sweaty, scattered, and running late—the receptionist thought I was in the wrong place.
The dolls are the stars of Dr. Naomi's Instagram, their procedures documented in explicit, at times gory detail. Most of them are young, but Naomi says this isn't reflective of her clientele as a whole. There's just a real generational divide around cosmetic surgery between her older and younger patients. "The younger people. They're not ashamed of it at all," she explains. "I get comments all the time saying, 'You should post over 40's…' but I can only put out who consents."
“Coming down,” Dr. Naomi says, running her finger across my temple, “I personally would love you with more of a defined cheekbone at the side… you've got these gorgeous cheeks here, but I'd like to connect it out here.”
She draws a line up to my ear. Running my own finger over it, I can feel how my cheekbone peters out, and I wonder if I’d look better if she was to “connect it out.”
At my chin, Dr. Naomi pauses. “I like the width of your jawline—it's very cute,” she says. “But… your lower third is probably your weakest area.” Immediately, I know she’s right: the sad thin lips, that saggy jaw thing, and my lopsided dimples. I’m a mess, a victim of genetics.
Dr. Naomi looks down at me sweetly, wearing a pink kitty-face mask. It came as a surprise when she didn't want us to take any photos of her without it on. I can't help but wonder whether she thinks she's got a "weak lower third" too. I can't help but wonder what it must be like to live with the ability to instantly diagnose every imperfection on a face, including your own.
Because we're sitting in Dr. Naomi’s office though, my mangled lower face isn’t a death sentence, as much as it's an opportunity. So, what’s the fix, doc? “Botox,” she says, matter-of-factly, pulling a small syringe out of the drawers on the far side of the room. She rips away the sterile packaging and brings the needle close to my face.
I hate needles, hate them. I ask Dr. Naomi if they hurt; the lip ones look especially painful. She just shakes her head but then stops herself. "Well, the best thing about doing the videos with the girls is they're very focused on looking beautiful. So it's such a good distraction technique," she explains. "We put the numbing cream on, they're on the gas—we should have given you a bit of happy gas!"
Maybe it's her calming presence, or maybe it's the unexpected blast of nitrous oxide I get when I jokingly take a swig out of the "happy gas" machine, but in Naomi’s chair, I don’t even flinch as she brings the needles right up to my face.
It's just like how I hate gore and body horror and fail videos where people are clearly getting hurt, but will happily watch post after post of Dr. Naomi jamming a syringe into a patient’s already-pillowy lips, inflating them to a previously unimaginable fullness.
It could be because none of this seems quite real. Dr. Naomi creates a world where patients can become “dolls,” where no one has to live with the face they are born with. She creates a world where perfection can come at a price.
According to Dr. Naomi, for me, that price would be around $600—with one of the other doctors consulting from her clinic, of course. Just to get in the door of Dr. Naomi's office for an initial consult will set you back $500. If you can get an appointment in the first place. Right now, she tells me, the waiting list is about three months long. It seems like everybody east of Surry Hills wants to be one of her dolls.
“If I was going to do two things to you, it'd be a little bit of botox here and a little bit of botox there. Beautiful,” Dr. Naomi tells me, touching the needle to my forehead and crow’s feet. “You'd look more awake, and you'd look more fresh—less tired.”
I'm surprised. Given all the G&Ts I've downed in my life, and all the days I've forgotten to wear sunscreen, the prognosis doesn't seem that bad. Oh, nope, she’s not done yet. “Filling the fold would be really good,” Dr. Naomi continues, running her finger down my cheek. “Filling this area would be good, filling this area would be good… filling your chin a little bit like that would be good.”
Dr. Naomi tells me that botox is still the number one thing people come to the Manse Clinic for. But fillers—usually made from hyaluronic acid—are getting more popular, for plumping and smoothing the skin, and raising depressions in the skin from acne scarring. She says the biggest change comes from using fat dissolvers under the chin, a procedure that was only introduced in Australia earlier this year.
“Lips have exploded,” she adds. “Lips are huge; I do a lot of lips every day.”
Talking to Dr. Naomi, it's clear she eats, sleeps, and breathes cosmetic surgery. She spends her rare free moments on Instagram: pouring over images of celebrities, scrutinizing the aging process, deconstructing the faces of Kylie and Bella, and trying to work out how other cosmetic surgeons have tweaked them into perfection.
And she's been this way since medical school. "I didn't know what to do with medicine; I didn't like anything. There wasn't really an industry for non-surgical cosmetics, and I didn't want to do surgical,” she explains. “I was a resident, and had botox… and I thought, Okay, that's going to be my life.”
But there are many other so-called "cosmetic surgeons" out there who don't take the profession as seriously. And Naomi says that needs to change, pointing to the death of salon owner Jean Huang earlier this year. Huang was undergoing a breast enhancement procedure at her own clinic when she died at the hands of Jie Shao, a Chinese tourist with no Australian medical qualifications.
“The regulations in our industry are poor… it’s just so unregulated,” Dr. Naomi says. “One of the problems is because a doctor doesn't have to be onsite at a clinic that's doing injectables—patients can't even check up on who's responsible for their care… That's what we want to change.”
In the wake of Huang’s death, Dr. Naomi wants the government to crack down on people calling themselves “cosmetic surgeons” and require them to have actual medical degrees—like she does. Early signs seem positive with the Australian Medical Association considering restricting the title to people with actual plastic surgery qualifications.
The tougher battle might be getting the world outside of the Manse clinic to take what Dr. Naomi does, and the skill it takes, seriously. There are those who are quick to dismiss her as indulging female vanity, and say her Instagram fame is unbecoming of a doctor.
My Uber driver who picked me up from the Manse Clinic after my appointment with Dr. Naomi felt the need to criticize me for even visiting a cosmetic surgeon. “These women with the fake lips, don’t they know they look terrible?” he asked, just a set of eyes in the rear view mirror.
Later, he admitted to buying his wife a boob job for her 40 birthday. “It’s not really the same thing,” he asserted. “She really wanted it and, you know, I’m not complaining!"
I think Dr. Naomi would’ve just laughed at him. The patient photo to meme ratio on her Instagram is testament to the fact that she can see the funny side of what she does. But she’s also built a small empire on the back of cosmetic surgery, and it's probably just going to get bigger. Australians are already spending around a billion dollars a year on cosmetic procedures. Per capita, we're even outpacing the Americans.
“I'm lucky I'm in a bubble with not many plastic-negative people in my life,” Dr. Naomi tells me, sitting at her desk, surrounded by gifts from her patients. “But they still very much exist."
“I had someone who came in the other day who's a psychologist, and she brought up something that I've always hated," she says, fiddling with a box of cookies decorated to look like botox needles. "[She said] she'll hear people in her circle putting down cosmetic patients, saying, ‘Ugh, they have such low self-esteem.’ And, it's like, get to reality. No they don't. They just want to improve.”
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