When it comes to beauty, I'm an open book. I confess to Facetune-ing my selfies, and I Snapchat all my beauty disasters, like the time I gave myself a trio of hickeys with a curling iron. I want people to know that even though I’m a beauty editor, I’m still kind of a mess. If anything, working in the beauty industry has only heightened my dormant insecurities. After all, it's hard not to feel pressure to look flawless when your job gives you unlimited access to top experts and products. I think it's important to have honest conversations about our insecurities, which is why I’ve told anyone willing to listen — my gynecologist, the chatty barista at Starbucks, my cat-sitter — about my lip injections. I first got my lips done in January of this year, after considering it for months. It's cliché at this point, but true: Kylie Jenner was the catalyst. Once I saw how good her lips looked, I couldn't stop obsessing over my own. Other than getting my ears pierced, I've never done any body modification — perhaps because the piercing (and my wisdom-teeth removal) hurt like hell. But my lips have always been thin, bordering on nonexistent. For years, I've been making mental notes to wear bright lipstick anywhere there might be a camera present; otherwise, my mouth seems to totally disappear in photos. The invention of the front-facing camera didn't make things easier, either. I found myself getting more and more self-conscious about what I perceived to be a massive imbalance on my face. With more dramatic lips, I figured, I would always feel good about how I looked. There’s nothing wrong with small lips; I just don't like mine.
When I walked into Jessica Weiser, MD’s office at the New York Dermatology Group on that January evening, I was scared. Like, shaking-and-shivering terrified. I asked fellow Refinery29 beauty editor Alix Tunell to come along, hold my hand, and Snapchat the entire procedure. Dr. Weiser prepped my lips with numbing cream before meticulously injecting both my top and bottom lips with one whole syringe of Restylane-L. (The -L, by the way, stands for lidocaine, a numbing agent in the gel. It's what you want if you're a first-timer or crybaby.) After each prick of the needle, Dr. Weiser stuck her gloved fingers in my mouth to shape and mold the gel. It sounds painful, but it's really not. I was so numb that all I felt was a tiny bit of pressure, kind of like when you have a head cold. All the poking and prodding took less than 45 minutes, and I walked home feeling high on life. My lips looked incredible (swollen, but incredible), and the whole thing hurt much, much less than I had imagined. The doc sent me home with an ice pack and told me that my new lips could last as long as a year, or as short as two to three months, depending on how my body metabolized the hyaluronic acid. I prayed that I'd be the first person whose fillers magically lasted forever. I was madly in love with my new lips from the moment I got them. I actually shed a tear the first time I swiped on lipstick following my injections. Using muscle memory, I traced the bullet over where I thought my lips were, only to look in the mirror and discover I had covered about half the surface area. It was awesome. With fuller lips, I felt just a little bit prettier and more confident as I left the house each day (and who doesn't want that?). But the strangest thing occurred to me a few days after the procedure. Even though my lips had quite literally doubled in size, nobody seemed to notice. Not even my own father over FaceTime. When I brought it up in casual conversation, the reactions ranged from “Really?” to “You can’t even tell!” Yes, I know, technically, that's a sign of good work. Just about every derm and plastic surgeon would agree: People don't notice a job well done. But part of me wanted my new lips to be a topic of conversation. So I made them one — on Instagram, on Snapchat, on Facebook. If you followed me, you were hearing about my fillers and seeing my kissy-faces. And I found that the more open I was, the more people responded and shared their own insecurities with me. It seemed like everyone was curious about the world of injectables, but felt like admitting to it was breaking some social taboo.
You may have noticed that I used the term "body modification" earlier to describe my lip fillers, not "plastic surgery." That's because it's not surgery; it's considered non-invasive. In the same way that getting a tattoo or a vitamin IV drip are not surgeries, neither are injections of hyaluronic acid or botulinum toxin. Yet they come with a hell of a lot more stigma. The way many media outlets covered the Kylie Jenner news after she admitted to getting "temporary lip fillers" was upsetting and anti-feminist. Some people were glad that she finally admitted to them, while others labeled her as fake, vain, even deranged. By simply being honest about a cosmetic procedure, she opened herself up to massive ridicule by the public, and we collectively dragged her through the mud with memes and unflattering before-and-after shots. It's no wonder she skirted the truth about her lips for so long, and look at the disastrous impact that had (ahem, Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge). The critics are ruthless: If we don’t try to enhance our appearances, we're not attractive enough. If we do, we’re plastic. Nobody should have to admit to getting work done if they don’t want to, but in my eyes, it should be a conversation on par with admitting to dyeing your hair or getting eyelash extensions. So why do fillers come with such a heavy layer of shame? If I had remained silent about my new lips, or gone out of my way to deny them, I felt like I would be contributing to this narrative, and I wasn't going to do that.
Within weeks, my lips began to deflate. I was beyond disappointed — come on, couldn't I have gotten six months out of 'em?! But, no, by the three-month mark, they were back to their thin little selves. My body was hungry for the hyaluronic acid, I guess. I went back to Dr. Weiser in May, and told her that though I loved my first round of injections, they disappeared more quickly than I would have liked, so I wanted to try to go a bit bigger this time. She nodded in agreement, but explained that taking me beyond two full syringes of Restylane-L would make my lips look out of proportion in relation to my other features. (The best piece of advice I can give you? Find a doctor you trust, and then listen to them!) So this time around, she hooked me up with an additional .25 of filler, which was just enough to make my lips look bigger without being too obvious. I couldn’t wait to share photos of my experience on social media again. This time around, I got even more questions from internet strangers. "What does it feel like?" Nothing, you’re numb. "How long does the swelling last?" About three days, but it only looks crazy until the day after. "How much does it cost?" Anywhere from $600 to over $2,000, depending on how much filler you get. Have another question you want to ask? Go ahead — leave it in the comments. Like I said, I’m an open book. I hope that by being so transparent about my injections and my reasons for getting them, I can help open up the conversation around this hush-hush corner of the beauty world. We all have insecurities. Some are easier to fix than others. And lip injections? They’re temporary. They go away, just like a bad haircut or a spray tan. Altering your appearance is a completely personal choice. So is talking about it. But if you’re looking for a buddy to gab with about cosmetic injections — privately or publicly — I’ll be right here, probably daydreaming about Angelina Jolie's mouth.