I have lost count of how many times I have mentioned I’ve had lip filler and been quite literally told off.
“As Black women, we are born with naturally big lips, don’t get anymore otherwise you’ll get addicted!’’
“Are you ashamed of your ancestors' features?’’
“You don’t need it, you’re going to ruin your face.’’
But hold on, didn’t Ariana Grande once say ‘“I want it, I got it’’? That’s what I did. I wanted it, so I bought it. And, I cannot lie I am obsessed with the results.
Being lectured about my decision to get filler like it is abhorrent, anti-Black, and not what Black women are ‘’supposed’’ to do can feel like I deserve to sit on the naughty step reserved for Black women who go against the grain.
But what happened to embracing body autonomy?
I didn’t experience the classic lip filler fairytale, like many non-Black women. I didn’t grow up insecure about my lips like Kylie Jenner because they were too small, in fact, I was mocked in middle school for having “Jay-Z lips’’ — which you would think would make me insecure but actually did the opposite. I was always confident about my features. Yet growing up, I wanted just a bit more definition and plumpness in my lips. I would spend lots of money on lip-plumping gloss hoping it would do the trick, until eventually when the opportunity presented itself I was ready to take the plunge. I took it and I am so pleased with the results. If I have the capital and access to get something that’s going to make me feel poppin’ then well, why not? For me, it’s no different to getting my nails done or wearing a wig or a weave.
Tweakments — which is a play on the words “tweak’’ and “treatment’’ — are non-surgical minimally invasive treatments that can really enhance your look but in a very subtle and natural way: think Botox, fillers and micro-needling. These tweakments were once reserved for the rich and wealthy and now more people have access than ever.
Women regardless of their age are shamed for cosmetic surgery; older women are made to feel like they’re “cheating’’ at ageing when they get Botox or filler, even though in society they’re made to feel invisible as they age. In Vogue, Claire Cohen writes about there being a toxic pressure to “make the best” of ourselves and not “let ourselves go.” But there’s also a double standard that emerges if we’re seen to care too much (“how sad that she thinks she has to do that to herself”). For Black women, there is an additional double standard when you’re seen as cosplaying as white women who are cosplaying Black women. The shame and taboo of cosmetic surgery feel very different for Black women due to the over-policing of what we do with our faces. It’s as if we are not allowed to experiment, as if doing so means we’re turning our back on our own Blackness.
With that being said, there is no denying that for many women having tweakments is not seen as a form of female empowerment and more a result of patriarchal beauty standards. It’s argued that getting tweakments is still upholding the billion-dollar cosmetic industry machine that is profiting off our insecurities, shame and self-deprecation. Yet for many Black women choosing to get fillers is about accessing the capital of beauty on our terms and not about assimilating; we’re enhancing what we already have, rather than removing it.
"Lip fillers are losing their cultural impact with its core audience... but this doesn’t signal the end of fillers being popular."
Dr Lauren Hamilton, the founder of London aesthetics clinic Victor & Garth, told Vogue in 2020 that the demand for fillers amongst Black women had almost doubled. Meanwhile, journalist Hannah Giorgis acknowledged the “unrelenting the social pressures” driving the demand amongst Black women, writing in The Atlantic, “Black women have been necessarily excluded from the dominant narrative about beauty—that is to say, beauty as an instrument of social and economic power.”
Beauty is a social currency allowing many to leverage their image for access, influence and yes, success. With fillers and injectables costing anything from £200-£300 in the UK and on average, $500-$800 in the US, you can save up in a few months and tap into this perceived influence. How can we blame Black women for wanting to look and feel better?
There are also many types of Black women getting filler but the most obvious who comes to mind, and that people think of first, are extreme examples of IG baddies with botched “built like an ant” BBLs. In pop culture, the likes of SZA, who in the song "Conceited" off her recent album SOS, says: "I just got my body done, ain't got no guilt about it. I just heard your opinion, I could've did without it." Fans of singer Summer Walker will remember when she candidly posted a picture of herself pre-surgery, posting to Instagram: “I dead can’t believe I was this skinny lmao, Thank god for a** shots."
I'm from the UK and in a British Fiat 500 world, lip fillers are losing their cultural impact with its core audience, with the likes of UK mega-influencer Molly Mae telling her 7.5 million Instagram followers that she feels ‘’the prettiest she’s ever felt’’ since taking her fillers out; UK reality star Charlotte Crosby applauded by fans for “ditching fillers” and Faye Winter of Love Island 2021 fame saying her inflated pout made her look “silly”. The choice to remove their fillers has been celebrated as a step closer to the demise of the “Instagram face”.
The impact of the “great dissolve” seems to be widespread. Blac Chyna has recently garnered praise over the dissolving of her facial fillers and butt injections stating enough is enough. “It all has to come out," she explained. "Back to the baseline. Honestly, I'm just tired of the look and it's just not flattering, it's not what I look like. It totally changed my face." Still, the dissolving of her tweakments doesn’t signal the end of fillers being popular, it simply confirms that natural looks have always been more acceptable than faces that make you look unnatural.
Blac Chyna benefitted from having surgery because of what it represented at the time: wealth, exclusivity and superstardom. However, as surgery and tweakments become more accessible, Blac Chyna simply started to become part of a cohort of women who all looked alike...
With #lipfillerdisolve having 37.8m views on TikTok, one could argue that the “Instagram face” is on the decline. As fillers are increasingly more accessible they are no longer reserved for an exclusive club and the specific class of women in that club. Like many others, Blac Chyna benefitted from having surgery because of what it represented at the time: wealth, exclusivity and superstardom. However, as surgery and tweakments become more accessible, Blac Chyna simply became part of a cohort of women who all look alike because they ask their surgeons for the same face and individuality ceased.
But not every Black woman is asking for that face. There are many Black women out there, especially celebrities, who have had work done but you simply can’t tell. Through access to the best surgeons, dieticians and aestheticians in the world, they’ve managed to escape the criticism usually reserved for those who have drastically changed their image.
Cosmetic-curious Black women, like me, who are in their late twenties and dabbling in filler, Botox, and micro-needling procedures can actually achieve a natural look and accentuate our features without the changes being made obvious. But why should we keep quiet about our tweakments?
There are refreshing and candid Black British female voices who are normalising getting work done, such as medical and cosmetic doctor Dr Ewoma and TikTok content creator Coco Sarel who revealed to her 862,000 followers that she got filler to get rid of her gummy smile, she said:
"I spend a lot of time on camera, I’m presenting, I am interviewing and my problem is when I laugh, I cackle. I throw my head back, my lip disappears and all you can see is my gummy smile. It was so annoying, so I got Botox [lip lift] at the top of my mouth and filler in my lips. Because of what I do, I see myself on camera so much, you start noticing things about your face.”
It isn’t just Black women going to Black surgeons either. Jodie Parsons, CEO of Dollface Aesthetics in London says “60% of her clients are Black” and always tells her clients that she doesn't want to change their faces but only enhance. Parsons says lip filler is one of the most popular procedures within her Black clientele wanting everything from a more “defined border” or the popularly requested “cupid and Russian lips.”
While there is immense pressure to obtain an overtly polished look, especially if you are a content creator seeing your face in all its glory all the time, it’s important to mention self-improvement is not self-hate.
Women like myself aren't about pleasing other people, it's about making myself feel good. Fillers are just an enhancement and it's the way only I see it, so I am not relying on other people’s validations to tell me it looks good because most people don’t notice.
For me, it’s not a question of whether I love myself. There's nothing wrong with perfecting or tweaking my appearance. I'm a big girl making big girl choices and for Black women who have been denied access to beauty and all its privileges, it’s an opportunity to do what you want on your own terms.