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Fillers make you look fake...the uncomfortable truth

We can all name a few celebrities who have "gone too far". At some point, they crossed the line from refreshed and rejuvenated into waxy and weird.

Don't they know what they look like? Who's done that to them? Haven't they got people around them telling them when to stop?

It's a tricky trifecta of perception drift, availability of treatments and fundamental changes in how we evaluate our appearance that increasingly leads to people crossing the line from refreshed and rejuvenated into waxy and weird.

At 37 I got Botox. My first treatment was to sort out my 11’s. These 11’s weren’t mine. They were my mums. I’d inherited them, the frowny face that goes with them and the “why are you cross?” questions from my kids.

Botox sorted the 11’s better than any serum I'd used. It was like magic.

Fast forward a few months...my forehead lines…where did they come from? No problem, I knew the fix. Done. Forehead smooth.

My lips. Very thin. Veeeerrrryyyy thin. Back I go again.

Nose too. “Can that be straightened?"

“These nasolabial lines…?"

“These pre-jowls..?”

“This little dip here, at the corner of my mouth…?”

“This turkey neck…?”

It’s a slippery slope.

My perception of my face was inevitably skewed following each treatment. Each treatment proving that the solution was really “just a little pinch” away. Each treatment allowing me to identify the next “flaw” and set in place a plan of action to address it. Each treatment making me that little bit happier with how I looked. Each treatment boosting my confidence a touch.

Every few months, I could quite easily pay someone to deliver treatments to my face. I could get them to chase every line and shadow. Fill every crevice and crease. I could slowly, but surely, erase every single one of my perceived flaws in the quest for perfection. But rather than the perfection I was hoping for, I would end up looking pillowy, odd, waxy and “done” and I wouldn’t even know it until it was too late.

So how do people end up with fillers that look fake? How do they not know what they are looking like? Don't they have anyone telling them they are going too far?

There are four factors at play, and if you aren't against having a tweak here and there, it's important you know about them.

1. Perception drift

Perception drift was first coined by Dr. Sabrina Fabi, dermatologist and dermatologic cosmetic surgeon.

“Perception drift occurs when individuals constantly undergo procedures and no longer remember what they initially looked like before cosmetic changes. When a patient’s perception of change after a procedure is inaccurate or skewed, it is known as perception drift. It only takes one millimetre of change to be noticeable, and often, others notice the changes, but not the individual who underwent the procedure.”

We’ve seen it with celebrities like Courtney Cox, Madonna, Tom Cruise and Simon Cowell. They look great initially, but then one day you see a photo and they are oddly smooth and line-free. A bit strange looking. Waxy and weird when moving. Not necessarily younger or fresher. Just “done”.

How does perception drift happen?

Much like the boiling frog analogy - the notion that a frog immersed in gradually heating water won’t notice the creeping change in its circumstances, even as it's literally being boiled alive. Aesthetic treatments are so gradual, incremental and their effect cumulative, that eventually, over many years, you end up looking nothing like yourself.

You begin with a baseline perception of yourself and appearance -> 1st treatment -> new baseline -> 2nd treatment -> new new baseline…and so on..by the time you have your 15th treatment, the original baseline is long gone and you're potentially in waxy and weird territory.

When this is coupled with a practitioner who also has perception drift or even Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), or is primarily, financially motivated, it's easy to see how patients end up having “gone too far”.

2. Altered appearance evaluation

We no longer evaluate our appearance in the same way our parents and grandparents did.

A number of technological and societal changes have increasingly influenced our psychology, sociology and appearance.

50 years ago, we would evaluate our appearance based on what we would see in the mirror, what we see around us, how we look at any one time compared to photos/video footage from the past and the reactions of others around us. We would form a baseline evaluation of our appearance and would work from there. We would tweak with makeup and creams and the odd device. But largely, we had to accept the genetic deck we were dealt and crack on.

Now, the age of the smartphone, cameras, selfies, filters and social media, from a young age, this baseline is harder than ever to establish.

  • There have been significant changes in how we connect with others, socially and for work. This means we now have constant exposure to how we look, how others look and how we “should” look.
  • Smart phones cameras and social media filters/photo editing means we have tools at our disposal to generate fabricated, digital versions of ourselves. We can curate/create versions of ourselves that are false.
  • We're constantly exposed to the close-up details of our faces. Every day. In selfies, on video calls, on social media. Skin texture, asymmetry, laxity, pores, lines. The minutiae. More things for minds to fixate on.

3. A limited visual diet

At the same time as we are exposed to our own flawed features, we’re simultaneously served an increasingly limited diet of other peoples “perfect” faces.

Young, smooth, high cheekbones, peaked brows, slim nose, tight, contoured jaw, neat chin, plump lips. These features become familiar and familiarity breeds attraction. THIS is what an attractive face looks like.

Our daily visual diet insidiously shaping our perception of what beauty is.

4. Increased availability and affordability of aesthetic treatments

In the last 20 years, aesthetic treatments have moved from being solely accessible to the rich and famous, to being available on your local high street.

When you combine the factors above with easy access to relatively affordable aesthetic treatments, the outcome is widespread adoption of treatments, accelerated perception drift and a resulting shift in what's deemed 'normal'.

So, you want treatments, but you don't want to end up on the ubiquitous, weird and waxy side of the line?

Here are some pointers:

  • Train yourself to not fixate on “flaws” - by objectively rationalising your “flaws” and their relative (un)importance, you’re better able to make decisions regarding potential treatments and the improvement they might bring to your quality of life.
  • Stop/limit the use of filters - these trick you into developing an inaccurate baseline of your own appearance.
  • Diversify and curate your social media diet - familiarity breeds attractiveness, consider curating your feed to vary your visual diet.
  • Don’t make treatment decisions after spending extended periods on social media - “cleanse your digital palette” before making decisions regarding treatments.
  • Leave a good amount of time between treatments - get accustomed to your face before going back for more.
  • Find a practitioner who looks natural - practitioners are not immune to perception drift and/or BDD and if it’s a look they like, they’ll lean towards delivering the same look for their patients.
  • Choose your practitioner carefully - safety and training is a prerequisite, but find one who is honest and will tell you no.
  • Keep photos and videos of yourself prior to any treatments - these are your true baseline and are a necessary reminder of what you actually look like!
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