You know the ones.
From corner to corner, the skin is smooth, the pout plump and the grin wide.
They saturate your social media feeds, the reality TV landscape, and even the big screen. They are hers, and hers look like all the others, but perhaps they don’t look like yours.
In a realm where beauty is currency and a carefully curated social media account like a modern-day trophy, it’s little surprise the rise and rise of lip fillers would coincide so perfectly with our fixation on the virtual. We spend so much time online and so, in a world where people are only ever living their best lives, the concept of real is as foreign as the technology holding our online personas together.
When a typical young woman sees big lips all over her screens, she thinks, well, that must be beautiful. For her, it’s almost transactional. I’ll have a bit of what she’s having, and with that, I’ll be a little more beautiful. I’ll be a little bit more like the person society tells me I should be.
According to Australian Skin Clinics‘ Medical Director Dr Adam Cho, the organisation has seen a “dramatic increase” in demand for lip fillers in the last year.
Why are more and more young girls altering their faces to look like Kylie Jenner? The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss on this week’s episode. Post continues after audio.
“Lip fillers are the most common and the most commonly performed injectable fillers. Approximately 70 per cent of our dermal fillers are lip fillers,” he tells Mamamia.
He considers the “absolute” rise multi-faceted. The first is the relative non-invasive nature of procedure.
“The beauty of dermal fillers is that there is no downtime. Most patients come in during their lunch time and resume work and normal activities immediately after their treatment.
“It’s safe, has minimal complications and is a non-permanent procedure. If anything goes wrong with the shape, it can all be reversed. The price is very competitive these days, it’s come down a long way.”
The second? Ah, the Kardashian effect, of course.
“Back in 2015, Kylie Jenner made a confession that she has had lip fillers and this made a huge demand for the procedure. I also feel that patients are becoming more comfortable with discussing it and at the same time we are able to safely perform what patients are looking for.”
According to Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne’s School of Social and Political Sciences, there’s no doubt the Instagram aesthetic has an impact on the lens in which we see the world, and our overarching ideas about beauty.
“Generally fashion as related to on-trend body parts tend to be associated with features that aren’t natural to most people, but rather necessitate surgical enhancement or, at the very least, cosmetic purchases. Big lips is one of these examples: most women don’t have them naturally a market exists to sell things to those who want them [and] women have to spend money to achieve the latest on-trend look.
“Another aspect to this is that big lips are part of the Instagram aesthetic: a highly polished, highly manicured look. To carry off some of the lip looks that are popular on Instagram – think ombre lips – the effect only works if you have more lip real estate, hence fillers,” she tells Mamamia.
In short, none of us are going crazy. The prevalence of the perfect pout punctuates our feeds and distorts what we consider to be normal.
Dr Rosewarne considers their exponential rise part FOMO-effect (the sense that if everyone has bigger lips than her, she’s left behind) and part “high-level exposure”.
“Just as the contouring trend was fuelled by social media (of which the Kardashians hold huge sway), ditto big lips. It’s no surprise that social media darling Kylie Jenner – known for her own surgically enhanced lips – also sells a lip product line.”
If it seems a little hyperbolic to dub the Kardashians’ every move a catalyst for a tsunami of international trends, consider Kylie Jenner’s hold on Snapchat. On Friday, it’s reported with a single tweet (“Sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me… ugh this is so sad”) she wiped $1.7 billion from the tech giant’s value. Her cultural relevance is far-reaching and, at times, financially devastating for the products she deems done.
Of course, there’s more to it, like there always is. Cost, for one.
“The price varies, but we normally charge $389 [per session],” Dr Cho tells Mamamia. “The longevity also varies, but it normally lasts somewhere between six and 12 months.”
Then there’s old-age advertising legacy: Sex sells.
“Lips are sexual; throughout history women have painted them to draw attention to them,” Dr Rosewarne says. “Once upon a time sex workers specifically painted their lips red to signify that they were selling sex. Equally, even in times of economic downtown, women will still scrounge together money for a small luxury item like lipstick – it’s seen as important and indulgent without being excessively so.”
Interestingly, Dr Cho tells Mamamia women who come to Australian Skin Clinics for fillers aren’t after noticeable enhancements. They’re after something that makes them feel better, without sending a signal to the world that they have had work done.
“The majority of our patients want subtle, defined lips. They don’t want huge Pamela Anderson lips. They don’t want to be noticed by others. They’re looking for natural, subtle lips as if they haven’t done anything and they are they only ones to notice them selves. We inject 1ml on average, which is very small amount of product,” he says.
It does then play in to a common narrative that social media tends to celebrate: Be beautiful, but not too obvious. Be like the beautiful people, but don’t look like you’re trying too hard. It’s just another cog in the churning machine that the is unattainable, unfair and unhelpful standards of beauty for women.
“Social media – like advertising – exposes audiences to images of unattainable beauty. This doesn’t however mean women won’t try and attain them,” Dr Rosewarne concedes. “Personally I don’t have a problem with cosmetic surgery so long as customers understand that it’s not a panacea but part of a cycle – and an industry – where women are perpetually made to feel in adequate no matter what they look like.”
Naturally, we all have agency, and with that agency, we have the desire to pick the parts of ourselves we’d like to change. We get to the choose the way in which we present ourselves to the world and that can, in some instances, be empowering. On top of that, no woman should be judged for the decision she makes regarding beauty, cosmetics and enhancements.
However, it’s as important for us to paint the big picture: one where women are forever told they’re inadequate, one where we’re told we should be more, and one where young girls are growing up thinking they’d be worth more to the world if they looked more like the reality stars shining bright on their phones.
Because next year, Kylie Jenner could decide it’s the nose. And the year after, she could say it’s the arms.
And, well, then what?
Listen to the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud here: