Swollen lips, be gone: the reality stars ditching filler and surgery
When it comes to reality TV stars, there is a distinct and long established look. It’s the one that graces Instagram, and makes the cast of Love Island, Geordie Shore and Towie all look related, with their filler-plumped lips, filler-pumped cheeks, taut foreheads and ski-slope noses. It’s a look that means the casual viewer might confuse Geordie Shore’s Chloe Ferry with Kylie Jenner of Keeping Up With the Kardashians (KUWTK), but she also eerily resembles the singer and star of Braxton Family Values, Tamar Braxton.
But some reality stars-cum-influencers – who are generally solid indicators of the shelf life of trends – are turning their backs on modification. The past few years has seen the rise of the “explant” movement, with the very TV personalities who popularised these procedures having implants removed and injectables dissolved in search of a more natural look. Last year, Love Island alum Molly-Mae Hague dissolved her lip filler for the first time since her teens and stripped back her teeth veneers. Megan McKenna of The Only Way Is Essex did the same to her lips the year before, after stating she had lost sight of what a “normal face looked like” and branding the use of fillers as dangerous. After one of her breast implants flipped over and exploded beneath the tissue, Towie’s Amy Childs had them removed, while Love Island’s Olivia Attwood opted for breast reduction surgery in 2019. Holly Hagan, Charlotte Crosby, Laura Anderson and Heidi Montag are among the other reality stars who have either reduced the size of their breast implants or got rid of them altogether.
Articles on the “explanters” tend to lead with the shock factor of the before and after images, missing the real story in the process – that is, the body dysmorphia that leads so many reality stars, almost all of them women, to change their appearances so drastically in the first place. This isn’t just my diagnosis, but often their own. However, the results – cartoonishly high cheekbones, swollen lips, ginormous bums and boobs – are only ever discussed with a snicker in the Daily Mail sidebar of shame. Despite our newfound societal focus on mental health, that of reality stars is not taken seriously because of who they are and what they do.
Every so often, a startling post-surgery image goes viral. In 2018, it was ex-Towie star Lauren Goodger, who appeared to have filler in both her jaw and lips that made her unrecognisable to fans. Then it was Hague the year after, with chin and cheek implants that fuelled meme after meme. Three weeks ago, it was Khloé Kardashian who disabled comments on an Instagram post that had been going viral due to her unmistakably different appearance. The images themselves are usually the biggest talking point, but what is brushed over is how candidly these women speak about why they are changing how they look. When Goodger’s pictures went viral, the fact in 2016 she wrote: “I probably do (have body dysmorphia)”, in a column for New! magazine, was quietly forgotten. Her Towie cast-mate Frankie Essex opened up regarding her battle with the condition, too, as did Ferry, who said she developed it after appearing on Geordie Shore. Ferry’s co-stars Hagan and Marnie Simpson said the same. Speaking to Good Morning Britain, McKenna admitted she had “a bit of body dysmorphia”, while Ex on the Beach’s Chanelle McCleary was formally diagnosed with the condition at 17.
When we think of Kim Kardashian’s meltdown on KUWTK over unmodified images of her floating around the internet, the fact she said they were “like, literally giving her body dysmorphia” isn’t seen as part of a wider, more concerning issue. It seems to be treated, by and large, with less empathy than many other mental afflictions – especially if those with it are characterised as self-obsessed and vain. After criticism from tabloids and viewers, these women spend thousands on what they are told is improvement, only to be shamed for procedures they had in order to lessen the scrutiny, and the vicious circle continues. Even the explant movement, though welcome, is probably in part fuelled by the cruel commentary from the papers on “botched” jobs and surgery “fails”. While reality stars are in many ways the cause of the wider crisis in body image, the unmatched scrutiny of the public takes its toll, even while they are used as desired “after” pictures by fans. And it’s unsurprising, when our sense of what human beings look like is completely skewed. Love Island presents a world in which Alexandra Cane and Anna Vakili are billed as “plus sized”. As someone who watches Towie religiously, I’ve become acclimatised to seeing longstanding cast members resemble a brand new lineup each season. But whenever I watch with someone who doesn’t, they are amazed at the fluctuating lip sizes and shrinking noses.
All of this makes for a climate where surgeries and subsequent regret are rarely discussed without schadenfreude, and are scoffed at as part of “generation selfie” vanity. But this isn’t simply a symptom of the “millennial condition” but rather a real and debilitating one that sees women regularly risking their physical health in pursuit of perfection; Childs’ exploding implant was also the source of back pain and Anderson’s left her permanently scarred. The explant movement is a start, but that’s not to say that embracing “natural beauty” will make everything OK, or that the public will embrace celebrities’ pre-surgery features by default. Kylie Jenner, canary in the coalmine for all cosmetic procedures, made headlines in 2018 when she swore off lip fillers. Just three months later, she reverted back to them after a mixed reception on social media.