The de­mand for cos­metic en­hance­ment among girls in their teens and early 20s – dubbed the Love Is­land ef­fect or ‘fillerexia’ – has sky­rock­eted. Is it a pass­ing fad or the new beauty norm? Jo Glanville-Black­burn re­ports

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It’s over. Eight weeks of watch­ing the lat­est in yet an­other cos­met­i­cally en­hanced se­ries of Love Is­land with my kids has in­deed been a rev­e­la­tion. A whop­ping 3.6 mil­lion view­ers, the vast ma­jor­ity aged 16 to 24, tuned in for the fi­nal of the re­al­ity TV show. Now a YouGov re­port has re­vealed that at least one in ten young women who watched it has been in­spired to have some form of cos­metic pro­ce­dure, from Bo­tox and lip and cheek fillers, to bot­tom lifts and boob jobs. And I’m talk­ing teenagers. It wasn’t just the lure of the show’s cast, some of whom proudly ad­mit to the work they’ve had done, but the count­less ad­verts from im­age com­pa­nies for ‘easy’, ‘af­ford­able’, ‘do it now, pay later’ treat­ments, all prey­ing on view­ers’ lack of body con­fi­dence and self-es­teem.

This ob­ses­sion has been la­belled ‘fillerexia’. It’s a dis­or­der, not just ‘a bit of work’: th­ese girls want treat­ments to be no­tice­able as a marker of per­ceived wealth and sta­tus. Cos­metic clin­ics and beauty sa­lons have seen an in­crease of around 20 per cent year-on-year as teens de­mand in­sta-beauty lip and cheek fillers, Bo­tox and breast en­hance­ments. Due to cus­tomer de­mand Su­per­drug is now of­fer­ing fillers and Bo­tox. The fastest-grow­ing sec­tor of the im­age in­dus­try, non­sur­gi­cal treat­ments in the UK are worth more than £2.8 bil­lion. New statis­tics re­veal that women in their 20s are now four times more likely to have cos­metic pro­ce­dures than five years ago, and it’s all to help ‘em­power their beauty’.

‘Lip fillers make you feel ex­pen­sive – like a Louis Vuit­ton bag for your lips,’ says 23-year-old Huda Khan, a hair­dresser from Manch­ester. So where once if you couldn’t af­ford the de­signer bag you bought the lip­stick, now you barely bother with the bag as fillers are cheap in com­par­i­son

(cost­ing from £300) and are a big­ger sta­tus sym­bol. ‘There’s no point in do­ing them sub­tly,’ adds Huda. ‘It’s a waste of money if no one can see the re­sults. It’s all about im­age. Ob­vi­ous fillers make me look rich even though I took out a loan to do it. So you go big­ger to flash it off.’

This new class of cos­metic in­jectee shows no em­bar­rass­ment and proudly re­veals a plumped-up, in­flated al­ter ego, post­ing pho­tos on In­sta­gram mo­ments af­ter leav­ing the clinic in a quest for more fol­low­ers. But the der­ma­tol­o­gists and cos­metic sur­geons who are pre­pared to turn away high-risk, dys­mor­phic and fillerexic teens from their prac­tices are con­cerned. ‘It’s the 17- to 24-year- olds I’m most wor­ried about,’ says Dr Ravi Jain, a cos­metic sur­geon and aes­thetic med­i­cal spe­cial­ist. ‘They’re ex­per­i­ment­ing with cheaper cos­metic work from dis­count providers who have nei­ther the proper train­ing nor qual­ity prod­ucts. They think it’s safe, tem­po­rary and a quick fix, unaware of the risks that they are tak­ing un­til some­thing goes wrong.’ Things that can go wrong in­clude any­thing from lumps, asym­me­try and an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion to real dis­fig­ure­ment – work the good guys then have to cor­rect. How­ever, while it’s pos­si­ble to ad­just a pro­ce­dure, it can’t be un­done. ‘We need to em­power young peo­ple to help pre­vent them from mak­ing im­pul­sive de­ci­sions they may well come to re­gret with age,’ says Charles Nduka, a consultant plas­tic, re­con­struc­tive and cos­metic sur­geon who runs safer­cos­met­ic­

‘Th­ese young peo­ple aren’t in­ter­ested in healthy skin, they’re “man­nequinised”, mak­ing them all look the same,’ says Dr Jain. ‘It’s the cur­rent trend, just like the volup­tuous 1950s and the skinny 1970s: it’s a phase that will hope­fully pass with­out too much trauma. Right now young peo­ple won’t make a de­ci­sion with­out run­ning it by their net­works first. They’re in a shop try­ing on a dress and send a photo there and then to their au­di­ence on In­sta­gram or Snapchat and say, “What do you think?” They do not have the strength of char­ac­ter to de­cide for them­selves, and that seems to be the mind­set right now.’

Dr An­jali Mahto, a Har­ley Street consultant der­ma­tol­o­gist, says, ‘It’s hard grow­ing up now as self-worth seems to come from what you look like rather than who you are in­side. This is a dis­con­tented gen­er­a­tion. I don’t know how they are ever go­ing to be happy. It’s all about in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion: they’re used to hav­ing ev­ery­thing at their fin­ger­tips, smart­phones gov­ern their lives, they get bored eas­ily and have a short at­ten­tion span. Young peo­ple think the world is their oys­ter and ev­ery op­tion is there but, un­for­tu­nately, if you want to be good at some­thing you have to work hard at it – there are no short­cuts. I see it in ju­nior doc­tors and other pro­fes­sions; peo­ple want to be seen as ex­perts but they’ve only just started out in life. And when you have girls as young as seven putting face fil­ters on their pho­tos, I think this is cre­at­ing an­other gen­er­a­tion that is go­ing to have se­ri­ous men­tal health is­sues.’

Psy­chol­o­gist Honey Lang­ster-James, who


worked with the cast of Love Is­land, feels it’s just an­other way, be­yond make-up, for women to al­ter their ap­pear­ance. ‘It’s be­com­ing cul­tur­ally nor­mal, like tat­toos – just an­other form of self-ex­pres­sion. I would only be con­cerned when ap­pear­ance be­comes an ob­ses­sion and it’s all that per­son can think about, to the ex­clu­sion of other more im­por­tant things in their life.’

Heidi Cirque, 24, a trainee ac­coun­tant from Lon­don, ad­mits, ‘I’m al­ready ad­dicted. My lips were al­ways my best fea­ture. I’ve had them done twice in the past six months and will keep do­ing it now be­cause I love the at­ten­tion. I’m al­ways on the search to bet­ter my­self and am look­ing at cheek and jaw fillers next as I have a round face. I’m also about to have my sec­ond boob job as the first one didn’t work out very well, so I’m go­ing to go big­ger [32E on her size 4 body]. I’m look­ing into bot­tom im­plants, too, as I want a body like Megan’s [from Love Is­land] – all the guys were lust­ing af­ter her. I al­ways com­pare my­self to oth­ers. I was pretty when I was young and I want to be pret­tier now I’m older. I feel that ev­ery­one judges you on the way you look th­ese days, es­pe­cially guys. A lot of girls I know also do it to pre­vent their boyfriends from cheat­ing on them. Plus it’s so nor­mal to get th­ese things done now.’

Fillerexia, much like the eat­ing dis­or­der, is an ad­dic­tive, men­tal-health is­sue. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study by the Men­tal Health Foun­da­tion, 49 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds who have ex­pe­ri­enced high lev­els of stress, with lack of body con­fi­dence, cite fre­quently com­par­ing them­selves to oth­ers as a cause, and half of men­tal-health prob­lems are es­tab­lished by the age of 14. Par­ents, teach­ers, si­b­lings and friends, take note.

‘There’s a lot of fear and anx­i­ety for our kids, es­pe­cially girls,’ says Dr Jain, who has a 15-year old daugh­ter. ‘Stories of self-harm­ing or sui­cide be­cause kids haven’t got enough likes on so­cial me­dia is a ma­jor is­sue and one I don’t think psy­chi­a­try knows how to deal with yet.’

Heidi goes on to tell me, ‘My mum’s ar­ranged for me to see a ther­a­pist and I’m now on an­tide­pres­sants. She’s not happy about the work I’ve had done but I’m 24 so there’s noth­ing she can do.’ Sud­denly, this ap­par­ently con­fi­dent young wo­man be­comes a frag­ile lit­tle girl. Badly bul­lied at school for hav­ing skinny legs, she wore six pairs of woolly tights, even in sum­mer, to look fat­ter. Heidi suf­fers from anx­i­ety, yet she has al­ready had sev­eral pro­ce­dures at a lead­ing Har­ley Street clinic. How many more slip un­der the radar in sec­ond-rate, cut-price beauty clin­ics, hid­ing their vul­ner­a­bil­ity be­hind an air of bravado? Maybe what she re­ally needs is a big­ger, tighter hug.

For sup­port with ad­dic­tion to cos­metic pro­ce­dures con­tact The Royal Col­lege of Psy­chi­a­trists ( or to find a ther­a­pist try For ad­vice on fillers and prac­ti­tion­ers con­tact The Bri­tish As­so­ci­a­tion of Aes­thetic Plas­tic Sur­geons ( or safer­cos­met­ic­ For com­plaints con­tact the Gen­eral Med­i­cal Coun­cil (gmc-


Above, the 2018 cast of re­al­ity TV se­ries Love Is­land. Be­low: con­tes­tant Megan Bar­ton Han­son pre cos­metic pro­ce­dures and, op­po­site, af­ter­wards

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