Natasha Radmehr warns the rise in cosmetic procedures and pursuit of the perfect look risks turning people into a malfunction at a Kardashian factory instead.

HOW refreshing it has been, these last few weeks, to see people’s faces again. I haven’t quite been organised or brave enough to meet friends for food or drinks yet, but the sight of strangers gossiping across picnic tables brings a rush of vicarious pleasure.

Living in a busy pocket of Glasgow affords me a heady dose of people-watching every time I nip to the shop: couples taking their new lockdown puppy out for a trip to the local; men throwing back their newly shorn heads in laughter; women showing off their new faces.

What, you mean you hadn’t noticed? You might have thought a year of largely being unable to indulge in plucking and preening while trying not to, well, die, would have lowered our beauty standards and fostered a modicum of self-acceptance where looks are concerned.

And to an extent, that’s been true. Lipstick sales have plummeted, heels are gathering dust, and I finally became one of the much maligned Going To The Supermarket In My Pyjamas set.

But while some of us have let the grey hair flow and embraced tracksuit life, others have galloped in the opposite direction. New desires and habits have snuck in. Cosmetic procedures – both surgical and non-invasive – have boomed in popularity during the pandemic even among those who previously would have shied away.

LaingBuisson, a healthcare market intelligence provider, reported one London cosmetic surgery clinic had seen a fivefold increase in bookings. Even when treatments couldn’t be carried out due to restrictions, enquiries skyrocketed – the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons noted a 70 per cent rise in virtual consultations.

How ironic when it’s the sight of ourvirtual selves, at least in part, driving the demand for these appointments in the first place.

Several surgeons and aestheticians say the vast swathes of time spent on video calls mentally noting our so-called flaws has led to this “Zoom boom” in cosmetic procedures.

Pre-Covid, we had no idea we sat in meetings with a resting frown face. We weren’t confronted by our lopsided smile every time we laughed with friends. And we perhaps didn’t have as much time on our hands to let the seeds of our insecurities take root.

Of course, the trend for cosmetic treatments, particularly injectables such as Botox and lip fillers, was already on the upswing with my generation – I’m 34 – before coronavirus hit.

Reality stars showed the transformative power of these procedures. Snapchat and Instagram provided filters that gave us normies a flavour of how we’d look if we had bigger eyes, smaller noses, higher cheekbones.

Throw into the mix a year spent living on our phones, more disposable income and the ability to work from home post-treatment and it’s little wonder we’ve arrived here.

A big part of me thinks if someone wants to change something about their appearance, why not? It shouldn’t matter to me. Women – and it is mostly women – can do whatever they like with their bodies and it’s frankly none of my business. That’s what I’ve always believed, but for the first time in my life I’m fighting to say it with conviction.

I oscillate between a liveand-let-live attitude and a feeling of despair when I see someone’s been under the needle. Why is that? Where to begin. It’s become commonplace for young women in their early 20s and 30s to get non-surgical procedures and discuss it openly. It’s been normalised in a way that plastic surgery in the 90s never was; Botox and fillers are as standard a beauty treatment to my generation as a trip to the hairdresser is to my mum’s.

A Vice poll of 47,000 young people found that 68 per cent of millennials and Gen Z had a friend who’d already had this type of procedure. A scroll through a prominent Scottish aesthetician’s Instagram feed shows a clientele of women much younger than me getting their cheeks sculpted and jawlines slimmed.

I met a 32-year-old recently who told me offhandedly about her plan to get a facelift. My instinct was to scream, ‘You don’t need it!’ – but who actually does? The world of cosmetics is largely built on wants that feel like needs, but few people really need any of it.

It is ageist of me to consider a cosmetic procedure justified when the lines settle in, as though the only reason to turn to a surgeon is in pursuit of youth, as though only the young can be beautiful, as though beauty should even matter at all (that’s a whole book in itself). But there is a self-assurance that comes with age which in my experience isn’t always fully formed in your teens and 20s.

I think that’s what’s tugging at me. I remember how intoxicating it was to experiment with make-up when I was 13; how my best friend and I delighted in the discovery of hair straighteners; how good it felt to inch closer to resembling the women I idolised in magazines.

I can see a version of myself born 20 years later, more deeply immersed in internet culture, who could quite easily have been tempted by “tweakments”. I can feel the pull of it now. I’m not immune. Some might argue dabbling with fillers is just the modern-day equivalent of getting a perm in the 1980s; it’s a trend, and beauty trends have always existed.

They have never been this expensive though, and this doesn’t feel so transient. Yes, dermal fillers can be dissolved, but not as readily as make-up can be wiped off. When you change the contours of your face, I imagine you acclimatise quite quickly to your new normal, then you’re locked into a cycle of maintenance in the best-case scenario and an endless quest for improvement in the worst.

And isn’t there something eerie about everyone aspiring to have the same face? The writer Jia Tolentino described the Instagram Face as “a single, cyborgian face”, one that is “distinctly white but ambiguously ethnic”.

I can think of several women who have morphed over the years into iterations of the same person, their unique features blurred and bland and uniform, like there was a malfunction at a Kardashian factory.

How refreshing it would be, one day, to see people’s real faces again.