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REM Beauty Ariana grande botox lip filler transparency
REM Beauty

Are we in a new era of celebrity transparency around cosmetic work?

As Ariana Grande joins Kylie Jenner in opening up about her cosmetic procedures, it seems we are in the midst of a transparency vibe shift

Ariana Grande has opened up for the first time about the cosmetic treatments that she has had in the past. In a make-up tutorial for Vogue, the singer spoke candidly and emotionally about having used Botox and lip filler when she was younger as a way to “hide” her true self and how her relationship with beauty has changed over the last few years. “For a long time, beauty was about hiding for me,” she says, welling up, “and now I feel like maybe it’s not.”

While doing her eyeliner, Grande starts to talk about the pressures she was under to look a certain way as a young woman in the spotlight. “Being exposed to so many voices at a young age, especially when people have things to say about your appearance at a young age, it’s really hard to know what’s worth hearing or not,” she says. “Over the years, I used make-up as a disguise or as something to hide behind.” She points to her hair getting bigger and bigger and her eyeliner getting thicker as ways in which she would try to protect herself through beauty. “But I think as I get older, I don’t love that being the intention behind it anymore.” 

Grande then reveals that she used to get “non-invasive” cosmetic procedures including Botox and “a tonne of lip filler,” and it’s at this point that she gets emotional, taking even herself by surprise as she tears up. “I stopped in 2018 because I just felt [it was] too much. I just felt like hiding.” She continues that she stopped, in part, because she wanted to see her “well-earned” cry lines and smile lines. “I hope my smile lines get deeper and deeper and I laugh more and more. And I just think ageing can be such a beautiful thing.”

Grande’s reveal comes shortly after Kylie Jenner opened up about her boob job for the first time. In an episode of The Kardashians, Jenner said she had plastic surgery done when she was a teenager and that she has since come to regret it, particularly after having her daughter, Stormi. “I would be heartbroken if she wanted to get her body done at 19,” she said.

These admissions, from two of the biggest young female stars today, seems to indicate a sea-change when it comes to celebrities being transparent about their cosmetic work. The topic has traditionally been taboo, with changes attributed to things like diet, make-up and skincare or drinking a lot of water. And on the surface, it might seem like this new transparency is a good thing. We are currently in a self-esteem crisis, and many argue that believing that celebrities or influencers look the way they do “naturally” or just through make-up and skincare causes people to feel worse about themselves, as they are unable to achieve the same results through those means.

However, what these admissions also do is help normalise cosmetic procedures and diminish their seriousness, turning injectables and “tweakments” into just another step in your beauty maintenance routine, like a manicure or getting your lashes done. “Once we know someone’s done something, then it starts to open up a question of if we should as well,” Charlotte Markey, a professor of psychology specialising in body image at Rutgers University, told Dazed earlier this year. “The normativity and accessibility – particularly of non-invasive treatments like Botox and fillers nowadays – adds extra pressure to women to feel like it’s an ideal they should be reaching for.” This is further compounded by an almost moral distinction being created by people like Jenner between plastic surgery and injectables. On The Kardashians, Jenner denied the “misconceptions” that she has had surgery to change her whole face, claiming that she has had “only fillers”. 

As these procedures become more common, it is becoming increasingly expensive, and therefore inaccessible, for people to reach the beauty standard. As the cost of beauty increases – in the US, lip filler averages between $500 to $1,000 per session – people are being priced out and putting themselves at risk financially, sometimes going into debt, in order to participate. “The result is a benchmark for ‘beauty’ only reserved for those with disposable income, and a new beauty class system in which there are those who can afford to participate and those who cannot,” as Ellen Atlanta put it.

Conforming to beauty standards through things like cosmetic surgery and injectables also upholds and perpetuates the singular, idealised standard and intensifies the pressure on other women to meet it. Both Jenner and Grande, as well as celebrities like Khloé Kardashian, have spoken out about the pressures that they have been put under by other people’s negative comments about their appearances. “Other people can instil insecurities in you,” Jenner said during a discussion with her sisters about beauty ideals, while Grande points to other people and their opinions as the main reason for having Botox and filler.

We all know that the press and social media can be cruel and degrading towards the appearance of celebrities, particularly women – at its height of popularity, Heat magazine had an issue dedicated to the top 20 celebrity “flaws” including Uma Thurman’s big hands and Emma Bunton’s large forehead. But at a certain point, these people who wield huge power and platforms – like Grande and Jenner – need to start thinking about their own impact on others and what messages they are passing on to their fans and followers about the right way to look.

If what Grande says about how her relationship with beauty has evolved is true, that’s great. Saying that she now thinks of make-up and hair as “self-expression and accentuating what is here” instead of something to hide behind, is a lovely sentiment. But she is still, ultimately, selling make-up to her fans with her beauty brand r.e.m. and making a profit through others thinking they need to change themselves. As Jessica Rogers wrote in her exploration of whether celebrity transparency around surgery is helpful, “It’s important to remember that celebrities who rely on their physical appearance for profit have an overwhelming incentive to deny that their coveted aesthetic is sculpted by a doctor, and not a result of the products or the image of themselves that they are selling you.”

Ultimately, there might not be one right answer or route for discussing surgery and celebrity beauty practices, and it is undoubtedly a topic that we will continue to debate and disagree over for a long time to come. In the meantime, Grande has an opportunity to take what has happened to her in the past, and make sure that no other young people experience the same pressures as she did to hide and change themselves through beauty.