Patients who went to cosmetic surgeons in 2010 usually asked for similar things. Subtle procedures that could reduce fine lines, or make their skin appear "glowing" and youthful. They were seeking a look that Dr. Tijion Esho, one of Britain’s leading cosmetic doctors, calls “quintessentially Parisian.”
It’s a look that corresponded with the times. Back at the start of the decade, Cara Delevingne was the country’s most prominent supermodel, winning "Model of the Year" at the British Fashion Awards in 2012, and again in 2014, as well as fronting a high-profile Burberry campaign and walking for everyone from Stella McCartney to Chanel. It was almost impossible to find a fashion brand or magazine cover that didn’t feature the model and her signature dewy skin and bushy eyebrows. In 2016, the Guardian declared eyebrows as the “beauty obsession of the decade,” inspired by Delevingne’s brow-heavy look. Other "It" models of the time matched her fresh-faced ingenue aesthetic; Daphne Groeneveld, Karlie Kloss and Miranda Kerr to name a few.
Fast forward to the end of the 2010s, and beauty looks very different. Thanks to social media and the growing influence of reality TV stars, non-surgical treatments that transform your face more than an eyebrow pencil ever could have become the norm. Bella Hadid, the model currently enjoying the success of Delevingne in her early years, is rumoured to have had procedures including Botox and dermal fillers, despite continually denying them. Many claim that Kylie Jenner, the youngest Kardashian clam member, has a similarly doctored face, with her statement pout and sculpted cheeks helping turn her Kylie Cosmetics make-up brand into a billion dollar business. The filler trend has also reached the UK, with reality TV stars including Love Island's Megan Barton-Hanson and Charlotte Crosby of Geordie Shore speaking publicly about their use of face-sculpting and lip-plumping procedures.
In October, Hadid was named "most beautiful woman in the world" by a cosmetic surgeon who claimed to have analysed her appearance using "proprietary face-mapping technology". However dubious-sounding these methods are, Hadid’s victory certainly cements the idea that faces with signs of surgery are now the gold standard of beauty. As VICE reported earlier this year in its Fill Me In editorial series on fillers, the dominance of Jenner, Hadid, reality stars and other influencers has created a whole new aesthetic: the "Instagram Face."
Indeed non-surgical treatments are now such an integral part of our concept of beauty, that 59 percent of respondents to a VICE Snapchat poll said that they view dermal filler and lip injections as being on a par with more casual grooming, like getting a haircut. This is something that Dr. Esho puts down to a market explosion in the aesthetics market. “Ten years ago, cosmetic surgery was expensive and something that only the rich had but never spoke about,” he explains. “Now we have a new generation of people who actually talk about what they’re having done, because it’s more accessible.”
Patients have also moved away from the Parisian look. They now adopt what Esho describes as "pan-African" features. “It’s that full lip with a defined Cupid’s bow and a slight dip in the bottom lip. A darker skin tone and a chiselled jaw line,” he says. “People say, ‘Doctor, I want your lips.’ And I’m like ‘Well, if I cut out a picture of my lips and stuck them on your face, would that suit you?’”
This racially ambiguous look has its critics. Last year, a number of white social media influencers came under fire for "blackfishing" on Twitter and Instagram, including Swedish Instagrammer Emma Hallberg, who was criticised for performing black racial identity through her choice of hairstyling, clothing and artificial tan. But for many, filler injections and fat transfers for bigger bums and hips, combined with the long-standing trend for tanned skin, are not seen as appropriation – rather, they are keeping up with the looks they see on Instagram.
“There are now two beauty ideals,” Esho says. “There’s one for reality and another for social media.”
Even Instagram is becoming aware of the ways in which the platform can influence how we see beauty. In October, it announced that it would be banning "cosmetic surgery" filters, which alter faces to look as if they have had lip injections, fillers or a face lift after suggestions that face-changing filters can make people feel worse about their appearance. Still, most smartphone cameras now come with built-in filter options for smoothing and brightening the skin, meaning that when we are confronted with how we look IRL, it can be a shock.
Twenty-year-old Helena* is aware of the disconnect between the faces we see on Instagram and real life. She shows me a recent Instagram post from Anastasia Karanikolaou, a close friend of Kylie Jenner, taken at a Playboy_-themed Halloween party. It shows Kelsey Calemine, Olivia O’Brien, Sydney Carlson and Karanikolaou wearing matching _Playboy bunny costumes. Their faces – the plumped lips, the full cheeks, the false eyelashes – look eerily similar. “I can’t believe it. I mean, I can, but as if they can’t see it,” Helena says. “They must have the same doctor but it’s still crazy that their faces are exactly the same.”
While Helena also tells me that she finds the Instagram face ridiculous, she thinks that these women are the pinnacle of beauty.
Dr. Esho says that technology warping the way we see ourselves is to blame for some of the botched work he has fixed. “Some social media influencers are scared for people to see them in real life,” he says. “If you hyper-masculinise a female’s face, on social media with angles, it’s going to look great. You’ll see that person in reality and it just looks like someone has clamped an extra jaw onto the end of their face and it doesn’t look good.”
It’s now easier than ever for people to spot whether someone has had surgery. Coinciding with the explosion in affordable treatments are numerous Instagram accounts that document the changing faces of celebrities and influencers. One of them, @celebface, has 1.3 million followers and compares videos and pictures of celebs who claim never to have had surgery. In 2011, Kim Kardashian had an x-ray on an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, in an attempt to prove that she had not had Silicone bum implants. A few years later, a 17-year-old Kylie Jenner denied having had lip fillers. Today, thanks to platforms like @celebface, we’re far more knowledgeable about surgery: Kim could have had fat injections, which would be undetectable via radiology and Kylie eventually admitted to having lip fillers in 2015.
For Helena, @celebface has been eye-opening. “It’s sad because you realise that you have the same insecurities as the people who feed your insecurities,” she says. “The only difference is they can afford to change themselves.”
Does learning about the cosmetic procedures that celebrities have had make her feel better? “I don’t know,” she replies. “I don’t think so. It’s just funny to see how everyone looks the same.”
An answer to this is greater variation across beauty, fashion and influencing, with all body types represented. Romany Francesca started her own modelling agency, Rare Select Models, in 2017 as a reaction to the lack of diversity in the industry. “When I was studying media and communications, we had to analyse adverts and write about how they communicated with an audience,” she says. “There were not enough people of colour.”
Rare Select Models has been a success, with a number of its models appearing in Vogue. “I think they’re actively sourcing models from agencies like mine, which stand for diversity,” she says. “My own experiences as a woman of colour in this industry brings a personal element. People recognise that inclusivity in fashion is important.”
While work like Francesca’s is crucial to widening our conceptions of beauty, Dr. Esho isn’t convinced that standards will change dramatically over the next decade. He predicts that both men and women will continue to use non-surgical treatments, but shift towards a more androgynous look. And Hadid’s reign as "most beautiful woman"? It won’t last forever.
“If you go even further back,” Dr. Esho says, “Marilyn Monroe was the most beautiful woman. But no one’s bringing pictures of her and saying they want to look like her now, are they?”
*Name has been changed.