Another year, another season of Love Island where women are picked apart online. The most common recurring theme? Whether or not the Love Island girls have had plastic surgery and ultimately, basing their value and likeability on that. Sigh.
This year, the focus is around Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu, fan-favourite and equal parts drama and beauty queen (literally, she competed in pageants up until 2017). Her model-esque looks haven’t gone unnoticed by viewers, so naturally some must hunt for a valid reason how she could be so beautiful. Cue hysteria when it was revealed she has, in fact, had some work done.
From endless tabloid articles about her ‘unrecognisable’ early years to TikTok transformation videos, people are obsessed. In fact, ‘Ekin Su old photos’ is a major trending search term right now – as well as ‘Ekin Su before and after surgery’. Except Ekin is very open about her penchant to go under the knife, she quite literally has an Instagram Highlight named ‘Surgery’ and has appeared in videos from her aesthetics clinic getting facial filler before heading into the villa.
It's no secret then, but why the obsession? It makes sense that some feel a need to protect themselves from the barrage of insecurities created through false elusions on social media, but with so much to say about Ekin-Su as a person, is her plastic surgery really the most interesting thing about her?
Now, don’t get us wrong – the people searching for ‘Ekin-Su before and after pictures’ are not necessarily the problem. We all get curious sometimes and for women in particular, we’re raised in a society that forces us to compete with each other for unrealistic beauty standards and surrounded by men that praise ‘natural beauty’ (despite not having the faintest a clue whether we’re wearing foundation or not, of course). These searches are symptomatic of a larger disease then, the result of decades of sexist beauty standards dictating our worth and forcing us to need reassurance that perfection is not always attainable.
What is problematic though, is the surrounding commentary after viewers realised Ekin-Su had cosmetic surgery. ‘Ekin Su before surgery is a completely different broad,’ one Twitter user posted. ‘Ekin Su needs to act the way she looked like before surgery,’ another said. ‘Ekin Su really thought surgery was going to fix all her problems this girl’s insecurities are still SCREAMING she needed a therapist not a surgeon she spent the money in the wrong place smhhhh,’ a third added.
Suddenly, Ekin-Su’s confidence was qualified by the fact she chose to have surgery – the implication being that she was less attractive before and as such, less attractive women shouldn’t have the same demands or desires for their romantic partners as the most beautiful. Now, it goes without saying that Ekin-Su looks beautiful in all of her pictures, but we’ll say it anyway.
The Daily Mail comments were even worse. ‘27? I really don't think so and she looked far better before - just, why?’ one reader said. ‘Needs to hit the gym and tone up the legs for starters. As for the surgery, Turkish plastic surgeons work on full display here, she must get discounts,’ another commented. ‘All these plastic surgery airheads will have kids one day, but they'll bear no resemblance whatsoever. Shame really,’ said a third.
So often when narratives like this occur, the same sexist tropes roll out. Suddenly, tabloids find 1000 old pictures to write 1000 new articles about, always with the same focus on how wildly ‘unrecognisable’ someone is, baiting people into debating which look is better: ‘before’ or ‘after’. The comments spiral quickly into misogynistic hate, dubbing all women who want cosmetic treatments as ‘dumb’ or ‘vain’ – when in fact, one could argue that choosing to game the system by taking advantage of beauty privileges is quite smart – and implying that we mustn’t respect them because all they care about is ‘looks’. In a world that constantly makes women feel as though they’re not pretty enough, those that choose to do something about it are condemned without one nuanced thought.
Ultimately, the women choosing to get surgery represent those same symptoms of unrealistic beauty standards wreaking havoc on women’s self-esteem as the people obsessively searching for ‘before and after’ pictures. We’re all victim to the same disease, but perhaps if we changed the conversation to focus on Ekin-Su’s value outside of her beauty, those standards might have less and less of a hold on our worth.