Pop quiz time!
Musician, TV presenter and personality Tulisa Contostavlos has just been on trial for:
A. Supplying drugs to a Sun reporter and assaulting a blogger
B. Being an overconfident delusional chav idiot who had no business thinking she could become a Hollywood star.
C. Ruining her face with fillers, wrecking her ‘natural beauty’ and being a bad example to women everywhere.
At times, the general public seemed fairly sure it was option B but, by the end of the last week, we had all, ahem, plumped for C. #TulisaFace was trending on Twitter, and women everywhere were wading in to criticise the star for altering her lips and cheeks, and admitting to it.
It was interesting that most of the women Tweeting about Tulisa aren’t being mean in a straight-forward way. There’s a strong sense of sanctimonious judgment here. We want our disapproval to be public and we want another women to feel shame because she had the audacity to mess with what is natural.
But although these Tweets are about women making a point of feeling superior to another woman, they also show a depressing truth – we’re all obsessed with appearance. It doesn’t begin or end with Tulisa, either. Be honest. Can you put your hand in your heart and say you have never looked at an actress, singer or reality star post surgery and said: ‘Oh my God, what’s she done to her face?’
Consider Katie Price, Heidi Montag, Jodie Marsh and Pamela Anderson – the litany of the most famous worked on women makes for fairly bleak reading. These celebrities are regularly mocked, abused and vilified by the public. Even global treasure Dolly Parton was accused of ‘mutilating’ herself by comedy writer Graham Linehan. There’s a pernicious double standard at play. We expect all high-profile women to be beautiful and, if they fail to meet our aesthetic standards, we’ll let them know about it. But heaven help the women who dares to take agency of her own body, and buy her beauty from a doctor. At best, it’s wicked vanity. At worst, it’s ‘beginnings or manifestation of dismorphia [sic]’. What makes us think that we have the right to question a woman’s motivation to change her face? And why is someone like Tulisa fair game, when A-listers like Gwyneth can admit to a little Botox and attract minimal criticism?
'We identify with certain celebrities because they possess qualities we have or would like to have (including the way they look, the way they live, the type of people they attract, the way they think),' explains psychologist Dr Hamira Riaz. 'We feel that we ‘know' celebrities because there is so much written about them. The more we know, the more we expect them to ‘be' a certain way. We want their behaviour to stay consistent, so if they then act in a way we perceive as 'out of character', we can feel misled. It never feels good to find out we have misjudged someone we thought we knew. That can generate a host of negative emotions that allows the person to distance themselves from the celeb who has let them down.'
As surgery becomes increasingly accessible, it makes sense that our obsession with it – and the people who choose to use it – grows. Once, beauty was part of what made celebs so thrillingly remote. Now, we can see them buying their faces and we know we could do the same. This makes us angry, but curious. We want beauty to be magical, almost accidental. Seeing Tulisa with artificial lips is like getting lost at Disneyworld and bumping into Mickey Mouse, headless and on a fag break. But surgery is a great leveller. We know we could choose to look like Tulisa if we had enough disposable income - but would we?
We're told body confidence is as important as beauty, and there's something noble about the natural. So it's easy to debate the world of Botox and fillers and come to the conclusion that you're taking the moral high ground by leaving your body be. Remember how desperate we all were to share our #makeupfreeselfies with the world? Also, think about how often we dismiss the women of TOWIE and Geordie Shore. If someone wears a lot of fake tan and false eyelashes, it's acceptable to make jokes implying they're promiscious, stupid or both. As women, we're constantly being told that our bodies are not for us to use, enjoy or take control over. It's no wonder that we think it's OK to think about #TulisaFace.
Despite not owing any of us an explanation, Tulisa told the Guardian that she’d had her lips and cheeks ‘done,’ adding that the images published in the paper were: ‘Pictures of me where my face was swelling, I had water retention – where you have filler your face draws up a load of water. So my face began to swell like a balloon.’ She’s disarmingly, charmingly frank about the process, and the result. She was also keen to stress it was a ‘choice,’ explaining: 'I’d lost a load of weight and I was looking at my face and felt…' We don’t know what the missing word is, but we can guess. We’ve all looked in the mirror and struggled to match our reflected facings to our feelings. The self we create with the help of a surgeon can feel more honest and authentic than the one we’ve been presenting to people every day.
If I were Tulisa, I’d be hitting the Botox hard – because I wouldn’t be able to cope with the level of verbal abuse I regularly received from strangers, and I wouldn’t want my critics to be able to read my feelings on my face. She’s fought for everything, and overcome adversity at every turn. If you still reckon Tulisa’s lips are fair game, think about how you'd feel if someone invented a horrid hashtag after you'd had a bad haircut. As far as I’m concerned, she’s a role model, as she’s handled so many situations with astonishing levels of honesty and grace when the rest of us would crumble. If we find the state of her lips more interesting than this, there's something about our brains, not her face, that needs to be addressed.*
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.