What’s it really like to get lip fillers
One woman tells all
When I was 23, I got myself a rhinoplasty. Though my nose is perfectly straight and sits well proportioned on my face, the somewhat bovine curve at the bottom bothered me. Not the curve, per se, but a childhood memory related to it.
When I was about six, my mother casually mentioned my nose looked like Barbara Streisand’s—which, in itself, is not a bad thing to say (though it doesn’t, what were you smoking, Ma?). A few months later, forgetting all about her comment and the fact that I have a spectacular memory, she said, “Barbara Streisand has a really ugly nose.” This, for a reason that completely escaped her, caused her little daughter to weep and weep until her little heart nearly gave way.
That unintentional scar remained on my psyche; I would never pose for pictures in profile. I was convinced it wasn’t my best face forward. So when I came of age, with my mother in tow, I consulted a plastic surgeon. A few days later, I protested as he injected my nose with local anaesthesia, and endured the hour-long tugging feeling. I walked away with an inconspicuous bandage and a little pain that stayed a few days.
The rhinoplasty fixed a psychological scar, nothing else. Physically speaking, there is zero discernable difference between before and after, despite going back a second time. The curve at the bottom still exists as it always did; but whereas it once looked to me like something you’d stick a ring through as if I were a cow, I’ve now made my peace with it. Difference or no difference, money down the drain or not, the surgery made me feel much better about myself.
I have since had other permanent changes made to my body. In addition to the navel ring I’ve had and loved since I was 19, I now have many more earholes than the socially prescribed pair, a nose piercing and eight tattoos (and counting).
Then there have been the impermanent changes—I shaved my hair at 19 and again at 23, got a disastrous perm and a whole host of colours. I’ve had my lips filled twice: once on a whim, the second time alongside some Botox when I was getting married.
The first time I had my lips filled was while visiting a famous and overrated dermatologist for regular stuff. I mentioned I had always wanted fuller lips and her ‘why don’t you try’ response coupled with my phase of flippant experimentation, set the ball rolling. The injections were painful. Worse, when the swelling subsided three days later, I discovered that her heavy hand left me with lips too full. I looked strange and was uncomfortable at work with the obvious new pout. The teasing by close friends, albeit good-natured, didn’t help. Within a month, my lips receded to the nice and gentle plumpness I had first envisioned; they were back to normal three months after that.
The second time was four years later, in the expert hands of aesthetic dermatologist Dr Rashmi Shetty. Painful, yes, but worth it! I loved my wedding photos; I loved how my lips looked on my clear face, the acne pits Botoxed away. Dr Shetty told me the pits would be smaller once the Botox wore off, that the mere act of injecting them would stimulate collagen and self-healing— and she was right, then and four years since. The doctor does make all the difference.
Notice I’ve clubbed the changes I’ve made to my body according to their permanence. Doing this is at the base of my argument—that our acceptance of ‘invasive beauty treatments’ is purely cultural. Ear and nose piercings don’t raise eyebrows in India, whereas a rhinoplasty does; in Iran, the ‘nose job capital of the world’, flaunting post rhinoplasty bandages is a thing. Also consider the (now outlawed) Chinese binding of women’s feet, scarification in some African tribes and the elongation of women’s necks using brass rings practiced by the Kayan tribe in Burma.
What we are allowed to do with and to our bodies and hair is completely culturally controlled. Prevailing Western norms idealise effortless, perfect, ‘natural’ beauty, where we are only allowed to decorate the features we are born with. Thus our willingness to talk about, even flaunt, some changes we make, while hiding others. Think about it: apart from the personal pain and patience thresholds, what differentiates filling lips from colouring hair or bleaching teeth, if one takes all chemicals to be equally harmful? (In fact, the most commonly used filler, hyaluronic acid, is less toxic than carcinogenic hair dye. Go figure.)
When I got the nose job, I thought long and hard about whether I would tell people. Considering just how successful my surgeon’s pursuit of a subtle change was and the lack of a scar, I could well have got away without revealing this indulgence to anyone but family. But I decided to come clean to avoid the lying and its complications (and then, as I am wont to do, I wrote about it in a national magazine). “No need for a nose job, babe, you’re beautiful as you are,” read a friend’s SMS. “Great new weight loss plan—getting rid of 20 grams at a time by chopping off body parts,” teased another. “Kya naak katake aayee hai,” said my witty grandfather.
I don’t think I’m ugly—far from it, I think I’m pretty attractive (and modest, as you can see). There is no doubt that looking good makes me feel good. At 33, I’m fitter than I have ever been. I don’t envision using lip fillers again and, in theory, I have no problems with the impending wrinkles and the inching sags. My tattoos both display and enhance my body confidence, and I foresee swathes of inked skin in my future. I also see myself covering growing greys with plumes of pink and purple; camouflage is clearly my thing.
Not for the pleasure of the male gaze, not for the pressure of perfection, I alter my body in these small ways because I want to. While I’m wary of ‘choice feminism’—not all choices women make are feministic simply by virtue of being women’s choices—my journey with my body is my own. I am individualistic; I do both, rebel against and participate in a variety of cultures. As does my body.
With the body, as with life, one must accept the things one cannot or does not want to change and change the things one cannot or does not want to accept. The goal, then, is to embrace it and transcend it; to enjoy it and worship it; to love it and let it go.
Photograph: Suresh Natarajan