The demand for cosmetic enhancement among girls in their teens and early 20s – dubbed the Love Island effect or ‘fillerexia’ – has skyrocketed. Is it a passing fad or the new beauty norm? Jo Glanville-Blackburn reports.
It’s over. Eight weeks of watching the latest in yet another cosmetically enhanced series of Love Island with my kids has indeed been a revelation. A whopping 3.6 million viewers, the vast majority aged 16 to 24, tuned in for the final of the reality TV show.
Now a YouGov report has revealed that at least one in ten young women who watched it has been inspired to have some form of cosmetic procedure, from Botox and lip and cheek fillers, to bottom lifts and boob jobs. And I’m talking teenagers. It wasn’t just the lure of the show’s cast, some of whom proudly admit to the work they’ve had done, but the countless adverts from image companies for ‘easy’, ‘affordable’, ‘do it now, pay later’ treatments, all preying on viewers’ lack of body confidence and self-esteem.
This obsession has been labelled ‘fillerexia’. It’s a disorder, not just ‘a bit of work’: these girls want treatments to be noticeable as a marker of perceived wealth and status. Cosmetic clinics and beauty salons have seen an increase of around 20 per cent year-on-year as teens demand insta-beauty lip and cheek fillers, Botox and breast enhancements. Due to customer demand Superdrug is now offering fillers and Botox. The fastest-growing sector of the image industry, nonsurgical treatments in the UK are worth more than £2.8 billion. New statistics reveal that women in their 20s are now four times more likely to have cosmetic procedures than five years ago, and it’s all to help ‘empower their beauty’.
‘Lip fillers make you feel expensive – like a Louis Vuitton bag for your lips,’ says 23-year-old Huda Khan, a hairdresser from Manchester. So where once if you couldn’t afford the designer bag you bought the lipstick, now you barely bother with the bag as fillers are cheap in comparison (costing from £300) and are a bigger status symbol.‘ There’s no point in doing them subtly,’ adds Huda. ‘It’s a waste of money if no one can see the results. It’s all about image. Obvious fillers make me look rich even though I took out a loan to do it. So you go bigger to flash it off.’
This new class of cosmetic injectee shows no embarrassment and proudly reveals a plumped-up, inflated alter ego, posting photos on Instagram moments after leaving the clinic in a quest for more followers. But the dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons who are prepared to turn away high-risk, dysmorphic and fillerexic teens from their practices are concerned. ‘It’s the 17- to 24-year-olds I’m most worried about,’ says Dr Ravi Jain, a cosmetic surgeon and aesthetic medical specialist. ‘They’re experimenting with cheaper cosmetic work from discount providers who have neither the proper training nor quality products. They think it’s safe, temporary and a quick fix, unaware of the risks that they are taking until something goes wrong.’ Things that can go wrong include anything from lumps, asymmetry and an allergic reaction to real disfigurement – work the good guys then have to correct. However, while it’s possible to adjust a procedure, it can’t be undone. ‘We need to empower young people to help prevent them from making impulsive decisions they may well come to regret with age,’ says Charles Nduka, a consultant plastic, reconstructive and cosmetic surgeon who runs safercosmeticsurgery.co.uk.
‘These young people aren’t interested in healthy skin, they’re “mannequinised”, making them all look the same,’ says Dr Jain. ‘It’s the current trend, just like the voluptuous 1950s and the skinny 1970s: it’s a phase that will hopefully pass without too much trauma. Right now young people won’t make a decision without running it by their networks first. They’re in a shop trying on a dress and send a photo there and then to their audience on Instagram or Snapchat and say, “What do you think?” They do not have the strength of character to decide for themselves, and that seems to be the mindset right now.’
Dr Anjali Mahto, a Harley Street consultant dermatologist, says, ‘It’s hard growing up now as self-worth seems to come from what you look like rather than who you are inside. This is a discontented generation. I don’t know how they are ever going to be happy. It’s all about instant gratification: they’re used to having everything at their fingertips, smartphones govern their lives, they get bored easily and have a short attention span. Young people think the world is their oyster and every option is there but, unfortunately, if you want to be good at something you have to work hard at it – there are no shortcuts. I see it in junior doctors and other professions; people want to be seen as experts but they’ve only just started out in life. And when you have girls as young as seven putting face filters on their photos, I think this is creating another generation that is going to have serious mental health issues.’
Psychologist Honey Langster-James, who worked with the cast of Love Island, feels it’s just another way, beyond make-up, for women to alter their appearance. ‘It’s becoming culturally normal, like tattoos – just another form of self-expression. I would only be concerned when appearance becomes an obsession and it’s all that person can think about, to the exclusion of other more important things in their life.’
Heidi Cirque, 24, a trainee accountant from London, admits, ‘I’m already addicted. My lips
were always my best feature. I’ve had them done twice in the past six months and will keep doing it now because I love the attention. I’m always on the search to better myself and am looking at cheek and jaw fillers next as I have a round face. I’m also about to have my second boob job as the first one didn’t work out very well, so I’m going to go bigger [32E on her size 4 body]. I’m looking into bottom implants, too, as I want a body like Megan’s [from Love Island] – all the guys were lusting after her. I always compare myself to others. I was pretty when I was young and I want to be prettier now I’m older. I feel that everyone judges you on the way you look these days, especially guys. A lot of girls I know also do it to prevent their boyfriends from cheating on them. Plus it’s so normal to get these things done now.’
Fillerexia, much like the eating disorder, is an addictive, mental-health issue. According to a recent study by the Mental Health Foundation, 49 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds who have experienced high levels of stress, with lack of body confidence, cite frequently comparing themselves to others as a cause, and half of mental-health problems are established by the age of 14. Parents, teachers, siblings and friends, take note.
‘There’s a lot of fear and anxiety for our kids, especially girls,’ says Dr Jain, who has a 15-year old daughter. ‘Stories of self-harming or suicide because kids haven’t got enough likes on social media is a major issue and one I don’t think psychiatry knows how to deal with yet.’
Heidi goes on to tell me, ‘My mum’s arranged for me to see a therapist and I’m now on
antidepressants. She’s not happy about the work I’ve had done but I’m 24 so there’s nothing she can do.’ Suddenly, this apparently confident young woman becomes a fragile little girl. Badly bullied at school for having skinny legs, she wore six pairs of woolly tights, even in summer, to look fatter. Heidi suffers from anxiety, yet she has already had several procedures at a leading Harley Street clinic. How many more slip under the radar in second-rate, cut-price beauty clinics, hiding their vulnerability behind an air of bravado? Maybe what she really needs is a bigger, tighter hug.
The Love Island body: perfect or plumped up?
Rosie Williams, 26
Admitted to: Nothing
Expert thinks: Nose job and lip fillers
Georgia Steel, 20
Admitted to: Nothing
Expert thinks: Nose job and lip fillers
Hayley Hughes, 21
Admitted to: Boob job
Expert thinks: Lip fillers
Ellie Brown, 20
Admitted to: Nose job
Expert thinks: Lip and cheek fillers
Laura Anderson, 29
Admitted to: Boob job
Expert thinks: Botox
Dani Dyer, 22 (this year’s winner)
Admitted to: Lip fillers
Expert thinks: Cheek fillers
For support with addiction to cosmetic procedures contact The Royal College of Psychiatrists (rcpsych.ac.uk) or to find a therapist try rscpp.co.uk. For advice on fillers and practitioners contact The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (baaps.org.uk) or safercosmeticsurgery.co.uk. For complaints contact the General Medical Council (gmc-org.uk)