THE relentless inventiveness is at least to be admired.

Just when you think there can't possibly be another female body part left to be manipulated and opined upon, well, guess what sucker? There is.

Buccal fat removal is the latest way to make women try to fit a fashionable aesthetic. Women pay to have the fat irreversibly sucked out of their cheeks to give them sharper angles.

The actress Chrissy Teigen has admitted to it and there are rumours that the singer and actress Lea Michele has similarly tweaked her poor face.

It doesn't make a lot of sense, when you think about it in the round. The most consistent beauty standard is the valuing of youth. As we age, we lose fat in our faces, bits sag and it's a sign of looking older.


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So persuading young women to permanently remove the youthful plumpness of their faces seems a particularly cruel trick. "Cheek contouring" is the less clinical name for it, making it sound no more than that which can be achieved with an angled make up brush and some bronzer.

If I sound a bit scornful here, it's because I am. But not at the women doing it, or the women sitting up at night searching online for price lists and wondering whether to go ahead. No, scorn is reserved for the industry that comes up with these belittling schemes.

The scorn is another facet of beauty ideals and why they're so tricksy. Women are given the hard sell on these aesthetic standards while simultaneously being mocked for wanting to participate in them. You can't win.

Participating is such a gamble too, because the goalposts shift all the time. How long before plump visages are back in fashion and women are off for cheek implants? "Does my bum look big in this?" was an oft-used term in the lexicon of my teens and 20s. Now the TikTok algorithm constantly punts me videos of gym bunnies doing Russian split squats in a bid to "grow a peach".

I note also, from what the algorithm likes to show me (what on earth was I searching for to prompt all this?) that the fashionable terminology is now "eat in a calorie deficit", which is yet another one of these attempts to repackage "dieting" as about health and body positivity, rather than thinness.


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Anyway, one of the reasons for wanting buccal fat removed from one's face is to look better in selfies. An ignoble pursuit but one about which a great many young women truly care.

A significant study earlier this month found that three-quarters of children as young as 12 said they disliked their bodies and felt embarrassed by how they look. In young people aged 18 to 21 the figure was eight in 10.

Social media is, the study from mental health charity stem4 claims, to blame for this with nearly half of the children and young people surveyed saying they have been seriously affected by bullying and trolling online about how they look. Young people reported stopping socialising, exercising excessively and self-harming due to online comments on their looks.

One of the problems with social media is the sheer volume of content pushed by algorithms that show young people only certain content, and that repeated reinforcement can create real harm.

HeraldScotland: Actress Chrissy Teigen has admitted to undergoing buccal fat removalActress Chrissy Teigen has admitted to undergoing buccal fat removal (Image: PA)

A young person who took part in the study said: “Social media has a huge impact on how we see ourselves. If social media didn’t exist, I wouldn’t compare myself or be compared: I’d just get on with life.” I'd love to believe that would be true, but it simply isn't.

If not social media, young people would be taking these messages from other sources, just as my generation took them from the heavily airbrushed pages of magazines.

The fact is, no matter the current specific trend or phraseology, the relentless messaging for women is that they should seek physical self-improvement and thinness. This is no matter a woman's success or who loves her.

If you type "Pierce Brosnan" into Google, one of the autofills is "fat wife". The actor and his wife have been married for decades but it's still headline news – and prompts heated social media discussion – that he hasn't traded her in for a thinner model.


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The beauty industry invents a problem and then it sells a way to fix it. This was true long before the days of social media, which doesn't create but does amplify the problem.

That women can't win is a lesson useful to learn early. That's the long, the short and the middle of it. You accept that and you find something more interesting to occupy your time.

It feels unkind to say that physical self-obsession is boring. It's easier said than done to choose to reject beauty standards but it's not impossible. To "just get on with life" seems like such an overly simplistic take and yet the alternative is misery.