THE RISE OF SELFIE SURGERY How far would you go for the per­fect shot?

Ques­tion: Which of the women on this page have had their lips sur­gi­cally en­hanced? The an­swer: All of them*

Cosmopolitan (UK) - - Contents - *In­clud­ing the writer of this story Words LUCY PARTINGTON Pho­to­graphs SARAH BROWN

It’s 9am on a Satur­day morn­ing and I’m perched on the end of a vel­vet sofa some­where north of New­cas­tle city cen­tre. The Weeknd is play­ing out of a small speaker that sits pre­car­i­ously on the top of a mini fridge. All around me are framed pic­tures of lips. There are clas­sic red lips, lips with nee­dles art­fully placed over them and lips that look so sexy I al­most feel in­de­cent look­ing at them. The most strik­ing pic­ture of all, though, is the one in front of me: the im­age of a man not much older than me, dressed in sur­geon’s scrubs. His name, it ap­pears, is Dr Ti­jion Esho, the owner of the grand, white-washed clinic that I find my­self in. And lips are his busi­ness – he’s re­spon­si­ble for all the lips along the top row on the pre­vi­ous page.

If, over the last few years, you’ve no­ticed that cer­tain celebri­ties, or pos­si­bly even friends of friends, have started to look a bit more ‘well en­dowed’ in the lip area, then Dr Esho may well have had some­thing to do with it. He is, af­ter all, the self-pro­claimed ‘king of lips,’ and in a world where no­body ap­pears to have the pout they were born with, be­ing the lip king is a pow­er­ful place to be.

Dr Esho has two clin­ics, one in Har­ley Street in Lon­don and one right here in New­cas­tle’s Colling­wood House. It’s this lat­ter mecca that I’ve long been in­trigued by, which is why I’ve in­vited my­self up here for 12 hours. I’m not in­ter­ested in a new pair of lips, by the way (my own are pil­lowy and on the mid to large side), but I am in­ter­ested in why women on the street are start­ing to look, how can I put this… dif­fer­ent. I am def­i­nitely in­ter­ested in why ev­ery woman on my In­sta­gram feed and on my favourite re­al­ity TV shows (Love Is­land, nat­u­rally) ap­pears to have boun­ti­ful lips. And I am def­i­nitely, def­i­nitely in­ter­ested in the peo­ple who are now talk­ing in a strange new lan­guage that in­cludes words like ‘mills,’ ‘vol­ume’ and ‘lip ra­tio.’ Along with why Dr Esho’s name keeps com­ing up.

Sud­denly, the door swings open and in walks a young blonde woman.

“Sorry I’m late, traf­fic was aw­ful. Had to go through the Tyne bridge, that’s how bad it was,” she says in a thick Ge­ordie ac­cent.“Where is he? Is he here yet? Oh, is he in there?” she asks, point­ing at the treat­ment room. “No won­der he wasn’t re­ply­ing to any of my mes­sages!”


This is how Dr Esho works. He’s not afraid to stay in touch with his pa­tients on What­sApp. And he thinks noth­ing of giv­ing out his mo­bile num­ber so they can text him at all hours of the day (and they do). Which is ex­haust­ing, I think, when I see the num­ber of women due to come in that day (there are 30 back-to-back ap­point­ments). De­mand is so great for Dr Esho’s work that most days he’ll see pa­tients un­til 9pm, and there are women who have been wait­ing to see him for six months. He doesn’t come cheap either, charg­ing £400 per millil­itre of filler in­jected. Yet he’s some­how man­aged to cap­ture the hearts of mil­len­ni­als, and I want to know how th­ese girls, who are all younger than my 27 years, can af­ford to spend that much money two or three times a year, when I can barely af­ford my rent.

Per­haps it’s be­cause lips are to my gen­er­a­tion what teeny, tiny ski-jump noses were to the ’80s and what bagel-shaped breast im­plants were to the ’90s. Lips are what we now fetishise. Take a look at our idols – Kylie Jen­ner (who fi­nally ad­mit­ted to hav­ing fillers af­ter months of me­dia spec­u­la­tion), An­gelina Jolie and Scar­lett Jo­hans­son. Each one of them is a woman who gives big lip. Look at the num­ber of new lip prod­ucts: it grew by al­most 11%* last year. Tie in the fact that in the last two years Google has seen an 88%** rise in the num­ber of peo­ple search­ing for fillers, and it’s clear we’re a gen­er­a­tion ob­sessed.

But peo­ple no longer just want to look like celebri­ties or su­per­mod­els; in­stead they have dreams of look­ing like aug­mented ver­sions of them­selves. They as­pire to look as per­fect as they do af­ter they’ve Face Tuned their pic­tures, or with a fil­ter over their face. And Dr Esho is no stranger to peo­ple com­ing in clutch­ing self­ies with the Snapchat flower crown on.“This

“Lips are to my gen­er­a­tion what teeny, tiny ski­jump noses were to the ’80s”

gen­er­a­tion of girls see them­selves as an avatar, but they’re not. They’re real peo­ple and it’s im­por­tant they know what’s re­al­is­tic and achiev­able. They need ed­u­cat­ing prop­erly,” he says.


The lack of ed­u­ca­tion, how­ever, is a very real prob­lem. Fillers are, as it stands, to­tally un­reg­u­lated, which means you don’t need any med­i­cal train­ing or back­ground to ad­min­is­ter them. I could buy sy­ringes and so­lu­tion off the in­ter­net and in­ject strangers if I wanted to. That’s why so many peo­ple – in­clud­ing re­al­ity tele­vi­sion stars – are, wor­ry­ingly, able to set up shop, use so­cial me­dia to ad­ver­tise their lip-fill­ing ser­vices and take book­ings over Face­book. It’s also why so many girls are left with long-last­ing lumps and bumps.

Dr Esho does a lot of cor­rec­tion work; around a third of his time is spent fix­ing other peo­ple’s botched jobs. To­day he’s see­ing Jaaid, 22, who had fillers done by a lo­cal beau­ti­cian her friends rec­om­mended. But they’ve gone wrong. She’s got what looks like a Tic Tac-sized blis­ter on her lips – I later learn it’s a filler cyst – and is caused by filler not be­ing in­jected deep enough. This is com­mon and is the rea­son why you see so many lips that look like a cob­bled drive­way.

Aside from lack of reg­u­la­tion, legally there’s no min­i­mum age you have to be to have your lips done (although many clin­ics won’t go through with it with­out parental con­sent if you’re un­der 18). With

a grow­ing in­ter­est in fillers from girls un­der 18, that can spell dan­ger.“It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that any­body un­der 18 is still ma­tur­ing, their body and ap­pear­ance is still chang­ing. At a min­i­mum, pa­tients should con­sult and rely on the judge­ment of a trained and li­censed health­care pro­fes­sional,” says Brent Saun­ders, CEO of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany Al­ler­gan. As a fa­ther of two teenage girls, he is ap­peal­ing to his peers to try and work out how teenage pa­tients can be best ed­u­cated.

Dr Esho agrees. He won’t treat any­body un­der the age of 21, de­spite get­ting around 12 en­quiries ev­ery month from girls younger than that.“There’s a lot more mo­bile prac­ti­tion­ers in the north east that will treat younger clients,” he says, by which I as­sume he means less qual­i­fied and less scrupu­lous.“So if they’ve al­ready had fillers done, they think I’ll do their lips, too.

“That’s why I started doc­u­ment­ing ev­ery­thing I did on so­cial me­dia,” Dr Esho says. But is he en­cour­ag­ing young girls by up­load­ing ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing? “Not at all. See­ing some­body shoot a gun on TV isn’t go­ing to make you kill some­body. I know I have a big so­cial me­dia voice so I try to use it to ed­u­cate peo­ple,” he says.“I never use fil­ters on any­thing I up­load be­cause I want peo­ple to see the good, the bad and the ugly. You see Kylie Jen­ner one day and the next her face has changed. Peo­ple aren’t see­ing any of the in-be­tween stages so they don’t un­der­stand why they’ve got bruises from in­jec­tions, or why I tell them the af­ter­care of any pro­ce­dure is im­por­tant,” he says.

The more of Dr Esho’s pro­ce­dures I watch, the more I find my­self wish­ing I had the sort of def­i­ni­tion and shape in my pout that he’s giv­ing th­ese girls. My lips are big, yes, but when I catch sight of my­self in the mir­ror I no­tice the top is a lot thin­ner than the bot­tom. I know I’m over­analysing and com­par­ing my­self to Dr Esho’s pa­tients, but I’m start­ing to feel more tempted than I ever thought pos­si­ble.


It’s El­lie – the young blonde’s – turn in the hot seat. She’s 22 and this is the third time she’s been to Dr Esho.“I haven’t al­ways had a prob­lem with my lips. Most of my friends have got fillers, though, and I al­ways thought mine were re­ally small in com­par­i­son,” she tells me. How does she af­ford it, I ask? “I just put the money aside when I know they need do­ing. It’s the same when I have my hair ex­ten­sions done,” she replies with a bit of a shrug.

And what about any other out­go­ings? “I don’t re­ally have any. I pay my par­ents a lit­tle bit of rent, but that’s it. I’m young so I’m not sav­ing for a house yet. I know it’s a lot of money, but I like get­ting my lips done and I’d rather pay to see Dr Esho than have them go wrong,” she tells me. Her at­ti­tude is al­most blasé. It’s her money, and it seems El­lie and her friends see hav­ing their lips done as a nor­mal ex­pense, like pay­ing their phone bill or get­ting a man­i­cure. I won­der if I still lived at home with my par­ents, would I be able to jus­tify drop­ping £400 two or three times a year on my lips? It feels like an alien con­cept to me.

I watch El­lie get den­tal block­ers be­fore her fillers – they’re the same numb­ing in­jec­tions you get at the den­tist. “This is the worst part,” El­lie says, clutch­ing my hand. “They in­ject your gums and it’s aw­ful.” I tell her to squeeze as tightly as she wants. I know from her grip the sec­ond and third in­jec­tions hurt the most. “You can feel the stuff go­ing in. First there’s a scratch from the nee­dle and then the liq­uid stings.”

Is it worth the pain? “Oh god, def­i­nitely, but he knows when to stop,” El­lie says. “When I first came I said I wanted a full millil­itre in my lips but he wouldn’t do it. I was an­noyed but I woke up the next day and they’d swollen so much. I was glad he hadn’t put it all in. I think my lips would have ex­ploded. They could def­i­nitely take it all now though,” she says, like a sea­soned pro­fes­sional. I ask Dr Esho how much filler will be in­jected to­day. “Prob­a­bly only 0.2ml,” he says. El­lie looks dis­ap­pointed.“Some­times you don’t need to in­ject a lot of prod­uct to get the re­sults you want,” he tells her.

El­lie’s con­vinced her lips have gone ‘small again,’ but Dr Esho says they haven’t, all that’s changed is her idea of what’s nor­mal. And that’s usu­ally what’s hap­pened when you see girls walk­ing around with sausage-shaped pouts. So much filler has been in­jected that the Cupid’s bow has dis­ap­peared and there’s no def­i­ni­tion or shape left. Los­ing sense of re­al­ity can hap­pen though, and as au­thor and be­hav­iour ex­pert Judi James says,“The height­ened fo­cus on one sin­gle body part takes it out of con­text with the rest of the features. That, com­bined with the ini­tial hit of change in ap­pear­ance, can bring more at­ten­tion from oth­ers, and

“Drop­ping £400 to have my lips done is an alien con­cept to me”

boost con­fi­dence, mean­ing the de­sire to get that hit again is in­creased.” Com­par­i­son is also key – with so many celebri­ties and in­flu­encers hav­ing th­ese pro­ce­dures done, a new level of ‘nor­mal’ is cre­ated.“Ex­treme looks are be­com­ing nor­malised, and, wor­ry­ingly, the bar keeps get­ting raised. Th­ese girls’ lips aren’t get­ting smaller, but they think they are be­cause the lips they’re see­ing on so­cial me­dia and TV are just get­ting big­ger and big­ger,” James ex­plains.

I won’t lie: with a lit­tle ex­tra filler added, I’m im­pressed with El­lie’s lips. They’re de­fined, she has an ob­vi­ous Cupid’s bow and they look plump. The next day I look at the pic­ture of them Dr Esho has sent me. They’re not too big, not too small. They suit her. I think my mum would prob­a­bly de­scribe them as ‘lus­cious.’ I look at my lips in a mir­ror and all I can see is how thin the top one looks.


Al­most two weeks af­ter my visit to New­cas­tle, I’m on a bed in his Har­ley Street clinic. I’ve spent a week tak­ing Nel­sons ar­nica tablets to help with bruis­ing, I’ve had den­tal block­ers (which, by the way, weren’t as painful as El­lie made them out to be) and now, as my lips are be­ing filled with 0.75ml of Ju­vé­derm so­lu­tion, I feel a bit like Louis Th­er­oux in his plas­tic surgery doc­u­men­tary. Ex­cept he had li­po­suc­tion and I haven’t quite gone that far... yet. But I have be­come a vic­tim of com­par­i­son syn­drome.

Never in a mil­lion years did I think I’d end up here. But af­ter spend­ing a few weeks im­mersed in this world, I’m in­trigued by fillers. Dur­ing my ini­tial con­sul­ta­tion, Dr Esho didn’t dis­agree with me when I told him my con­cerns. I half wanted him to tell me I didn’t need any­thing do­ing, but then I re­alised, ac­tu­ally, that’s not his job. His job is to per­form th­ese pro­ce­dures safely and re­spon­si­bly. If the young women who’ve waited six months to see him have made their choice about want­ing lip fillers, and he’s happy to treat them, why should he per­suade them not to go ahead with it? This is how he makes his money, af­ter all. “I know I’m not sav­ing lives – I used to when I worked in the NHS, but not now. I might be chang­ing them by giv­ing peo­ple con­fi­dence, but that’s it. The work I do is about re­spect­ing the de­ci­sions peo­ple make and work­ing with them to make sure they’re happy with what I do,” he says.

And he’s right. But I still can’t help but won­der that if I – some­one who had ab­so­lutely no is­sues with their lips at all be­fore now – have been se­duced by the prick, what chance do the thou­sands of other younger, more im­pres­sion­able women have?

Dr Esho: the nee­dle king

Go­ing un­der the nee­dle Lucy’s puffy lips be­fore the swelling went down



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