The Dark Side of the #PerfectFace Surgery Trend

Editing celebrity snaps and famous paintings to look "hotter" and "more symmetrical" seems innocent, until you realise the impact it has.
July 13, 2020, 9:32am
perfect face
Image via @fixedyouu

What do Anne Boleyn, Frida Kahlo and Kylie Jenner all have in common, besides all being women? There’s a strange corner of the internet that firmly believes they both look better with fillers, a snatched nose, HD brows and eyelash extensions.

One night I came across a tweet that read: “This Instagram rly just bimbofied Anne Boleyn. I’m speechless.” Underneath was a screenshot of a before and after of the 16th century royal. The left side showed a famous painting and, on the right, her features were edited to resemble a Gen-Z model. Unsure if it was a joke or not, I searched the original Instagram account to investigate. Who is photoshopping the face of a 500-year-old monarch and why?

“If Anne Boleyn was that beautiful there's no way Henry would have that beautiful head whacked or even look at any other woman,” read one comment under the post. Another said: “Do Marie Antoinette next!”

This rabbit hole led me to a photoshopping community morphing well-known faces until they look “perfect”. Active on Instagram, YouTube and TikTok, a new digital trend of “fixing” celebrities has emerged: #perfectface. FixedYouu, responsible for the Anne edit, is one of the biggest on Instagram, with nearly 50,000 followers. There's also goddess.women with 110,000 followers, FixedYourFace with 23,000 and smaller accounts like Beauty.Kingdome and Just A Little Tweak. Most pages make edits of celebrities an average 20-year-old can recognise. Some accounts will even throw in transformations of the Mona Lisa and Queen Elizabeth II for a laugh.

The edits are divisive and often met with criticism. “This page is so depressing. Stop trying to ‘correct’ people smh,” writes one person in the comments of a “side profile” edit. “What the?! What is wrong with our world. What ever happened to being unique and authentic?!” stresses another.

Yet most users encourage the posts, saying things like: “This is a really good edit. I think it's very beneficial for people looking to get plastic surgery. Ignore the haters sis.” Another reads: “I always wonder how I’d look if I did plastic surgery… your work is awesome.”

This type of content isn’t only on Instagram. On YouTube, The Photoshop Surgeon, an account followed by nearly a million people, uses a “golden ratio” stencil to transform celebrity faces. A recent video called “Is BILLIE EILISH perfect?” has been watched by 3.3 million people. It’s a timelapse of The Photoshop Surgeon using the stencil to “fix” Billie’s face. Similar accounts like Photoshoppe also exist on TikTok, speed editing celebrities in 60 seconds to the hashtag #perfectface.

“I was interested in doing radical transformations, an extreme artistic challenge of what can be done with Photoshop,” The Photoshop Surgeon tells me. For a lot of people watching the Photoshop transformations, the content is intriguing or funny, but after reading multiple comment sections, it’s clear some are worried that content like this, far from being radical, is promoting certain notions of Eurocentric beauty standards, leaving no room for diversity.

“Of course people have discomfort around the idea that particular faces might be more aesthetically pleasing than others, but if it’s true that we have certain universal aesthetic preferences, then we really need to understand what they are, how they work and what implications they have for our behaviour,” The Photoshop Surgeon concludes.

FixedYouu’s backstory is a bit different. The page was set up in October of 2019, to help people in the “SX” community – how the online surgery community refers to itself – by giving them simulations their plastic surgeons didn’t offer as part of consultations. “When I was researching plastic surgery and looking at consultations, most doctors didn’t offer simulations,” says the 21-year-old behind the FixedYouu account, who wishes to remain anonymous. “This bummed me out, because I thought ‘How the heck will this surgeon know what I want?’ Back then it was a small group of us, maybe around 500 followers.”

The account started gaining serious traction after a post of Kim Kardashian and Angelina Jolie went viral, but it was never solely about photoshopping celebrities’ faces.

Most people don’t realise that beyond celebrity makeovers, pages like FixedYouu and The Photoshop Surgeon offer edits for people IRL. “In a month I probably edit for 20 to 30 people. If I’m not so busy with my personal life, maybe up to 40,” says FixedYouu. “They’re so happy with the edits. The ones I post on my page are definitely dramatic, but the personal edits are more realistic and achievable.” Even though the account gets numerous requests a day, it doesn’t charge for them, whereas The Photoshop Surgeon does private work for clients “trying to make a positive health change, or a transition”.

And what do people do with these photos? “They take [the edits] into their consultations,” FixedYouu reveals. “They are very thankful. It makes me so happy to know I was able to help them in their journey.” Just as some take “professionally” edited photos into clinics, others have been editing their own photos for years. With the popularity of Instagram AI filters and accessible editing tools like FaceTune, it’s hardly surprising that people are carrying edited photos of themselves to show practitioners what aesthetic enhancements they want done.

Mark is 29 and brings Facetuned pictures of himself almost every time he gets fillers. “I would say it’s no different to someone going for highlights and showing a picture of a particular celeb with the hair they like. It’s good to have a decent idea of what outcome you want.” However, he does recognise that as the apps show you increased levels of “perfection”, it can be easy to get carried away and want more aesthetic work done. “I would say I went a bit too far with my lips, but didn’t realise at the time.”

Rebecca Sparkes, a psychotherapist specialising in eating disorders and addiction, explained that obsession with this type of digital content can exacerbate mental health issues in young people. "Usually there are underlying emotional issues that go unaddressed,” she says, pointing to poor body image, eating disorders, trauma and issues surrounding sexuality, relationships and shame. "Younger people are at a bigger risk of being impressionable about these things – their world is their digital currency."

Dr Shah Desai, an oculoplastic surgeon on Harley Street specialising in non-surgical treatments like fillers and botox, has similar worries: "[These pages] are clearly attracting or talking to people with an obsession with body perfection." She’s concerned that the lack of regulation in the industry can’t keep up with the trends: “We have anybody and everybody injecting in the UK.”

When Dr Desai’s patients show signs of addiction, she tells them to get therapy, specifically CBT. “Often patients with body dysmorphia and any kind of addiction are not very happy with the results,” she says, insisting it’s a mental health issue needed to be sorted outside the clinic.

Unfortunately, the “quick fix” phenomenon of visualising your fillers through editing apps or having them done for you – in combination with unregulated practices – may be heightening body image issues instead of helping young people work through them.

When I continued DMing with the anonymous FixedYouu creator, they told me this criticism was unfair: “If it’s not my morphs that make young girls feel insecure or unhappy, then it will definitely be a 'naturally' attractive woman who’ll make them feel the same… Should we tell all the beautiful people on earth to stay in hiding? No, because that would be ridiculous.”

But the truth is complicated, and can’t be edited or made perfect. “I’m definitely on a spectrum of body dysmorphia lol,” they then confess. “I haven’t taken a picture of myself to post since like 2006? I fall in and out of depression. But it’s my choice. I know my potential and that’s what is keeping me sane. I know that once I have my surgeries I will be fully happy. I don’t blame society, I don’t blame beautiful people, and I don’t blame content creators.”

@thediyora