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*
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!”
THE LIP DOCTOR
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.
LAW AND ORDER
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.
IN THE HOT SEAT
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