The ugly side of plastic surgery
CLEO’s PHOEBE HOOKE is 24 and gorgeous. But several of Sydney’s leading cosmetic surgeons say she needs Botox, a nose job, brow lifts and fillers. She delves into an industry thriving on girls’ insecurities.
The cosmetic surgeon leads me into his office in Sydney’s swanky eastern suburbs. I relax into a deep leather chair and feel comforted by the medical degrees lining his walls. Then he hits me with a barrage of questions. “How old are you?” 24. “What do you do for work?” I’m a writer at CLEO. “You’re in a brutal industry. Have you been thinking about this for a while?” Yes. “We’re talking about your nose, aren’t we?” Ouch. “Have you ever broken your nose?” And so it begins...
You Need A New Nose
I’m at the first of four major clinics in Sydney that I’ll visit over a week as I ‘window shop’ for cosmetic surgery. Every practice I visit knows my name, age and that I work for CLEO.
As debate heats up about whether teenage girls should be banned from having work done, I want to find out how much pressure plastic surgeons are putting on young women who walk through their doors. Do they prey on girls’ insecurities to make thousands upon thousands of dollars? To find out, I’m asking each of the clinics what work they think I need to fit in with the glossy world of magazines. The doctor at the first clinic is brutal.
“Everything is about proportion, everything is about balance,” he says as he grabs what I’ve not-so-affectionately termed the face protractor. He measures the distance from my forehead to my nose, then chin to nose, all the while bombarding me with facial ratios. “In a perfect world, I want to measure your face and find that the lower third matches the middle third and that your nose is two-thirds as long as the middle third of your face, and sticks out two-thirds as far as it is long…” Huh? All I know is that my numbers don’t add up.
“Your nose is dominating your face,” the doctor concludes. “We need a plan to fix it. I don’t want to see some hanging kamikaze hawk thing going on.” So having confirmed that my schnoz is the problem, we go through a before and after slideshow of reconstructions (on an impressive plasma screen), pausing on the ones that best resemble my own bumpy predicament. The doctor takes my mugshot from every angle (assuring me that these unflattering images will go nowhere without my permission – under the plastic surgery confidentiality clause, of course).
If I go ahead with the “potential changes”, I’ll be knocked out with a general anaesthetic, the doc will peel the skin on my nose back off the bone and get to work chiselling and reshaping. Then I’ll be like a bear in hibernation (or at the least be forced into Lady Gaga-style sunnies to conceal the two black eyes I’ll be sporting) for two weeks postop. On top of that, it’ll be at least 14 weeks before I can hit the social scene and then up to a year before I even think about posting a selfie.
For such a huge commitment, I am given absolute assurances about quality and safety, which I totally believe. But that’s not the part that makes me uneasy. To cover the enormous expense of the procedure, the doctor suggests I take out a bank loan. (Hey, Mum and Dad, my shitload of debt is for a new nose, not an apartment!)
So, armed with all the right information and a brand new nose complex, I cough up $220 (RM645) for the consult and head off with the comforting thought that if I just hand over an additional $10k (RM30k), I could be symmetrical – that is, beautiful.
Your nose is dominating your face. We need a plan to fix it
A Brow Lift Should Do It
Following my visit to Dr Nose Job, I book in to see a cosmetic consultant at the International
Centre for Cosmetic Medicine (ICCM) in Sydney’s CBD. The clinic advertises itself as “Sydney’s premier cosmetic clinic”. One look at the young platinum-blonde manager (and, er, face of the clinic) and you can tell she’s a big fan of lip fillers. She also confesses to having had a boob job. I tell her I work at CLEO and am looking to “fit in” with the mag crowd. “You’ve got great cheekbones,” she says. It softens what comes next. “You have a heavy-set brow… we could do a brow lift, but not surgically.” Phew! No surgery. But my relief is short-lived. “We do it with threading, where we put a suture underneath the skin from your eyebrow to your forehead in a triangle to lift it up.” This $3,500 (RM10,256) procedure is performed under local anaesthetic and sedation. Hmm, sounds like surgery to me. Afterwards, I’ll be left with youthful – but, I imagine, permanently surprised – facial features, with the added benefit of being “able to put on more eyeshadow”. Always a plus.
She also recommends a non-surgical nose job, which involves putting fillers in the areas around my nose bump to make it appear flatter. All I need is a few tweaks, costing a fewfe thousand dollars, and I can join their perfectpe club.
As I double-check my brow line in the elevator mirror,m the middle-aged practice owner jumps in for theth ride to the ground floor. With a bemused look on his face he asks how old I am. When I tell him, he bursts out laughing and, with a megawatt smile, says,sa “I call it the pretox for people your age! A generationge ago women put make-up on but now it’s a little jab here and there – it’s your generation’s beautybe regimen!” And he’s right. Statistics from the CosmeticC Physicians Society of Australasia show thatth 700,000 Aussies between the ages of 18 and 29 haveh had an anti-ageing cosmetic procedure.
Fill ’er Up
My third consultation is where things take a coconfusing turn. I go to the Refine Cosmetic Clinic in Bondi Junction for a free consultation with ththe managing director, Manuela. Manuela is not a doctor – but she knows how to sell cosmetic prprocedures. When we meet, her smile is broad and bebeautiful, but her forehead doesn’t move. “I can’t frown, you see, because I’ve got a lot of Botox,” she says with mock humour.
She offers me sage advice: the skin is the biggest organ on our body and it’s the most neglected. Then comes the hard sell. I’m pitched medical-strength skincare products that will set me back about $400 (RM1,172). That’s not all. “In regards to face shape, you’re missing cheekbones.” What? No! The last professional I ‘consulted’ told me I had outstanding cheekbones! Manuela suggests plumping up my cheeks with fillers to balance out my “boxy masculine jawline”. I feel a lump in my throat. Being told my “best feature” needs $1100 (RM3230) -worth of dermal fillers is heartbreaking.
You have a heavy-set brow... we could do a brow lift
Just A Little Jab
All of this was becoming emotionally exhausting. At first, there was a certain excitement that came from being told how I could improve my looks, a bit like having the offer of a real-life Insty filter. But there’s a comedown: are my flaws really that obvious?
My final consultation is booked in with Samia Charamand, a consultant and senior laser technician at Indulge Cosmetic Medicine in Sydney’s south-west. Samia seems genuinely shocked to see me. We sit down in what looks like the waxing room of a cheap beauty parlour and she says, “I think you’re gorgeous and still so young, you don’t need anything.” But just as I think I’ve discovered a rarity in this biz, she blurts
out, “Look up for me please.” I do as I’m told. “You need Botox in your forehead,” she says in a matter-of-fact tone. “When you look up there are deep lines and with age these will get worse.” Need? I need Botox, do I?! At 24, I’m not sure I do – especially when it’s $350 (RM1026) a pop!
Trading On Insecurity
It’s hard to say how you feel after being told you need surgery to look better. Growing up, we’re all taught to embrace what’s unique about us as individuals, but I’ve delved into an industry that is eager to eliminate those lovable quirks – for a price.
Once you’re in a plastic surgery clinic, they’ve got you. All of your insecurities about your looks are magnified. Being told you need so much work done is soul destroying. But that’s what happens when you ask for a professional opinion on your looks. Then they offer you hope for a better nose, plumper lips or higher brows.
For some, having a little work done might be the solution to crippling anxiety about how they look and I applaud them for having the courage to make that choice. But personally, I was completely floored by the inconsistency of what I was being sold and of the procedures I was told I needed. Yes, I own a mirror and I do realise I have a wonky profile thanks to my mum’s DNA. But a brow lift, dermal fillers and Botox all recommended to me at 24? I think I’ll leave this conversation for at least another 10 years.