Nonsurgical cosmetic methods, like nose and face shapers, are all over social media as users chase the perfect selfie—but these rituals are nothing new.
“Hey yo,” say dozens of young women on TikTok. They look into the camera with their hands obscuring the lower halves of their faces. “Nose job check!” Or, if their perceived flaw is their lips, “Lip filler check!” Bryson Tiller’s “How About Now” plays behind a montage of photos showing off their old noses and lips—selfies, school pictures, prom photos of normal-looking teenage girls. They reveal their new faces on beat, complete with tiny noses and full, pouty lips. Commenters gush (or gripe) about their transformations, and then the clips get edited into compilation videos posted on YouTube, where they get thousands of more views.
Of course, not every person in these clips has gotten lip augmentation or rhinoplasty. Those procedures aren’t cheap, and many parents wouldn’t allow them anyway. But that inaccessibility, combined with the rising interest in plastic surgery spurred by image-focused platforms like TikTok, has bolstered a social media subtrend: showing off nonsurgical methods to remodel your face for more flattering selfies. A woman shimmies to “Lowrider” by War while wearing a nose shaper, which looks a bit like a plastic clothespin. Others strap on face shapers that wrap around their heads and necks and attach behind their ears. (The recommended wear time? Eight hours.) On YouTube it’s no different. Some videos will teach you how to tape back your face skin so you can look “snatched and popping” in photos. Other gurus have reviewed nose tweakers, injectable nasal bone lifters, “nose shaping exercises,” and double chin flatteners in the hundreds, from all over the world, for years.
Nonsurgical cosmetic methods—often called “At Home Nose Jobs” or “At Home Facelifts” in video titles—have been low-grade viral on the English-speaking web for almost a decade. They hum in the background of online beauty communities, usually cast as a weird or wacky thing (and often as an exotic import “from Asia”) to try when you’re bored and/or low on content ideas. At some point in the last five years, though, they’ve gone from being a great way to take a clickbait-y thumbnail that makes you look like you’re being tortured by a Claire’s salesperson to something that some people seem to be using unironically, and buying from Amazon in droves. “Can it be used on my 13-year-old daughter?” one customer asks about a product called “Nose Up Lifting Magic Nose Shaper Clip Beauty Nose Slimming Device Pain Free High Up Tool.” The seller’s answer? Yes.
The products aren’t an internet invention, or even a recent one. The oldest record of a nose shaper I could find was a 1905 patent held by an American named Ignatius Nathaniel Soares, for a device that was basically a nose cup held on by a strap that wound around the head and buckled above the eyes. Similar devices have been invented and reinvented in the century since. People always want to look better, especially people who make their living in front of cameras. “In the ’90s, tapes and various other devices were used if you wanted to take a few years off someone for a movie,” says plastic surgeon Reza Jarrahy. “You see less of it in Hollywood now because of CGI.” The doctor had never seen the Amazon-available versions of the devices before, and frankly, was a bit surprised that average people were willing to stuff plastic up their noses or girdle their faces.
The phenomenon comes as no surprise to people whose research extends beyond the United States and Europe. According to Crystal Abidin, a digital anthropologist studying online celebrity, these products are part of everyday beauty rituals for many people across East and Southeast Asia, radiating outwards from Japan. “Really mundane yet specific objects have a long history in Japanese material culture, like things that will shape your egg into a square,” Abidin says. While these products are often advertised to Western audiences by exoticizing them as strange Asian devices, Abidin notes that they were considered equally bizarre when first introduced in Asia in the 1990s. “When they came into the market people thought, ‘This is so ridiculous, but this is so fun,’” Abidin says. “Eventually, so many people were using them that they [became]normal cultural items.”
Knowledge of the devices likely came Westward with the rest of the so-called “Korean Wave.” “You might see a middle-aged woman using them as part of an at-home beauty routine in a Korean or Japanese drama,” Abidin says. “If you follow K-pop stars, they use face rollers and nose pinchers off-duty during their streams.” Even people who don’t follow K-pop stars eventually saw the products used in reaction and compilation videos. “When young Chinese women are preparing their faces for the day, they might stick up their chins and necks with tape, put things that look like cotton or rubber into their nose to make their bridge look stiffer,” Abidin says. “It’s not too dissimilar from YouTube makeup gurus, but to some people it looks very spectacular.” That, however, can lead to the videos becoming a sort of xenophobic menagerie. According to Abidin, the social media advertisements for such products sometimes strike a similar tone: You’ll never believe what Asia is up to! “As an ad, I get it,” she says. “But can you sleep at night?”
People are always trying to sort out how much of the hype around these products is spectacle and how much is science, usually trying them on themselves with very inconclusive results. According to Jarrahy and plastic surgeon Daniel Gould, some of the products available online do resemble devices actually used in medical practice. “We use molding devices in newborns to change the shape of ears and noses, when cartilage is soft and pliable,” Jarrahy says. The devices are also a bit like the splints used to support healing tissue after a rhinoplasty. If you’re a healthy-nosed adult, though, they hold limited promise, since they’re really just mashing down or expanding soft tissues. “It’s temporary,” Jarrahy says. “You go out for the night, you get photographed, then your nose goes back to its natural shape.” Using the devices over time might make the results last longer, but Gould stresses that they are untested and largely unregulated. You could end up making your nose look worse by giving yourself a pressure ulcer, or actually encourage it to expand. “Bone can grow in the direction of the force,” Gould adds.
Despite the possible effects, people are unlikely to stop using these devices anytime soon, and the conversation around them shows why. “I love this product! I am a black woman and my nostrils are wide and the bridge is low,” says one user. “I’ve been using this product for several months, 15 to 40 minutes per day. I saw a YouTuber who used it for a year everyday for 15 minutes, and [it]totally reshaped her nose.” The pressures to use such a device—or splurge on full-blown plastic surgery— aren’t just beauty pressures, they’re racial, too. “The most common type of rhinoplasty in Asia is basically augmentation of the nose to give it a more Western appearance,” Jarrahy says. Devices to make one’s nose temporarily taller and thinner are more of the same.
As images continue to dominate the social sphere, products promising painless and quick results that last just long enough to take a selfie will continue to be popular. “Anything that generates just enough of a change for a photograph gives us an idea that these facial structures are achievable with minimal downtime,” Gould says. “I think it’s a problem.” According to Gould, plastic surgeons have enough of a selfie problem already. “When patients bring me pictures, a lot of the time I have to tell them, ‘I know that person, and that’s not what they look like,’” he says. Trouble is, what someone looks like in a doctor’s waiting room doesn’t matter—what they look like in their posts does. For folks doing it for the ‘gram, Gould seems like the one who’s denying reality.
This article first appeared in www.wired.com
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