If I wanted to, I could probably calculate exactly how many days I’ve had great skin as an adult. That would equate to roughly six months: from the end of summer 2019 – when a beautician convinced me to stop using the harsh skincare products I was used to – until March 2020. You can guess already what put an end to it: the pandemic destroyed all sense of balance in my life, including on my face. Since the spring of last year, I had the skin of an unlucky teenager, with acne on my chin and cheeks which, although I didn’t make it worse, still managed to stick around for weeks and scars.
After months of trial and error, my skin’s balance has returned, but the hyperpigmentation from a year of extreme rashes is still visible even through makeup. Until now, that wasn’t something I had to worry about – I could soften my features on Zoom and use the “Paris” Instagram filter if I ever posted a selfie. But the return to normal life led me to research laser facials costing thousands of dollars, wondering if the expense would be worth it to stop worrying about my skin condition.
Over the past year or so, we’ve spent more time looking at ourselves than any human being should ever need. Business meetings, Zoom quizzes, and family Skype calls have made our own faces constantly float in our eyes. Now we not only know what we look like in the mirror, but what we look like during the minutiae of our facial movements; when we nod, when we rest our cheek against our hand, when we turn and are seen in profile.
This perpetual thinking coincided with the rise of plastic surgery facial filters on Instagram – a trend I thought had already gotten pretty extreme when I wrote about it in 2019. Look back at this piece now two things stand out: that some celebrities were using these filters when they had already had plastic surgery, and the concern expressed by psychology professor Melissa Atkinson that we would soon become addicted to these filters. In just 18 months, these two things have become the norm.
Now, across the country, plastic surgeons and beauty clinics are seeing an increase in demands for cosmetic procedures – both surgical and non-surgical – ahead of a full reopening in England, currently scheduled for June 21. Botox, fillers, nose jobs, and full face and neck facelifts are all in high demand. The industry had a quiet 2020, due to lockdowns, but some practices are now seeing an increase in requests for facial surgery, in some cases up to 200%.
Surgeons notice that many of their clients see June 21 as the deadline and reason for making an appointment. “There is absolutely an element of pushing people to look a certain way when they come out of lockdown,” says London-based oculoplastic and ophthalmic surgeon Dr Elizabeth Hawkes. “We’re also seeing, unfortunately, a very lopsided view of beauty right now.
[see also: I check my inbox at 11.30pm and read an email about returning to the office. Disquiet sets in…]
“We spend a lot of time scrolling through filtered images online instead of interacting with people in person due to the current restrictions,” she says. “The stress of the pandemic, coupled with the fact that we are seeing an ongoing reflection of ourselves on Zoom calls, has absolutely been a catalyst. “
Content from our partners
Dr Hawkes says she has noticed a particular increase in demands for blepharoplasty surgery – an operation on the eyelids to make them less droopy, making them appear more alert and, as a result, look younger. She adds that this has been particularly popular among her male clients who are concerned about looking too old, and believes that wearing the mask has increased the emphasis on the appearance of our eyes.
Looking younger – despite knowing that we are all still going through the same grueling pandemic, and the time has indeed passed – is a major concern among people seeking cosmetic surgery. “A lot of my patients feel like they’ve aged at an accelerated rate over the past 12 months,” says Dr John Quinn, cosmetic surgeon at the Quinn Clinics in Bristol. He cites the stress of recurring blockages, isolation and the pressure of working from home, home schooling and job insecurity as the main reasons for his clients’ perception that they have the job. look much older. However, he notes, this is just a perception. “Using detailed skin tone analysis and 3D imaging, for most of my patients, it just doesn’t correspond to reality,” he says.
Some surgeons believe that extreme anxiety is ultimately the reason a significant number of people seek their services and that this anxiety needs to be addressed first. “The aging process has not necessarily accelerated, we are just much more stressed and more self-critical,” says Dr Quinn. “If you are suffering from symptoms related to anxiety and / or depression, this may require assessment and treatment first.”
[see also: It’s not just you: Why the current lockdown is having an extreme effect on mental health]
The facial filters that sparked this heightened interest in cosmetic surgery all display a very singular European beauty: cat eyes, a small nose, full lips and a pointy face, a look popularized by the supermodel. Kendall Jenner (who has had cosmetic surgery herself and regularly uses face filters). It’s hard to find a mainstream influencer or celebrity who doesn’t use at least some form of face sculpting filter when posting selfies or talking to the camera. And of course, those are just the filters that Instagram is pointing out to us – there is a whole market of apps (like FaceTune) that filter faces and bodies in images and videos which can then be uploaded undetected on social networks.
Dr Paul Banwell, plastic surgeon and founder of several cosmetic clinics in the south-east of England, believes these filters are causing increased demands for cosmetic surgery – especially, he says, among young women. The average age of its customers continues to decline.
“Socializing online with filtered images throughout the pandemic has significantly distorted our idea of beauty,” he says. “We’ve only seen other people through filtered reality for a very long time and we forget what ‘normal’ beauty looks like.”
For some, this risk of “forgetting the normal” can take them to a breaking point. A number reality stars – including Island of love‘s Molly-Mae Hague and The only way is Essex‘s Megan McKenna – began documenting for their subscribers how they cancel cosmetic procedures, dissolve lip fillers, and remove implants. “I had a bit of body dysmorphia,” McKenna said on Hello Great Britain in early March, adding that she couldn’t remember what a “normal face” looked like.
But while some celebrities may be straying from this standard of beauty, in general, the trend is getting more and more extreme – with popular filters modifying our faces to fit an increasingly unachievable ideal. The cheekbones are higher, the noses are smaller, the pouts are even more swollen.
“We are creating a single cyborg face,” says Dr Banwell. “And if you look ‘weird’ long enough, it changes what you perceive to be normal. ”