Once only talked about in hushed tones behind closed doors, cosmetic surgery has become a topic fit for the dinner table.

We know from browsing furtively through our mums’ magazines in the ’90s that it used to revolve around treatments that require a fair bit of cutting and the removal of tissue – breast enhancements, rhinoplasty, liposuction and the like – but it has evolved so tremendously over the past decade. Today, there are a host of non-surgical procedures divided into two categories: minimally invasive and non-invasive.

Beauty ideals are ever-changing – in the early 2000s, it was all about plump lips and arched eyebrows; today, we want our lips small and soft, and our eyebrows straight. This is all thanks to the K-Beauty phenomenon, which hasn’t just spawned other beauty trends like the v-shaped face and luminous complexion, but also popularised the idea of investing in multi-step skincare routines and even cosmetic procedures to achieve them.

So why are we obsessed with K-Beauty? “This is in part due to the idolising culture, and in part due to our shared Asian ethnicity,” explains Dr Yingzhou Tan, Founder and Medical Director of Simplistiq Aesthetic Clinic. “[K-Beauty culture] has built a stigma around ‘bad or dull skin’, thus heightening our desire to achieve skin as good as theirs.”

Popular procedures

So what’s the difference between minimally invasive procedures and non-invasive ones? The latter refers to procedures that are performed outside the body, like laser and microdermabrasion treatments. In fact, if you’ve so much as undergone a chemical peel before, you’ve had some non-invasive cosmetic work
done yourself.

On the other hand, minimally invasive procedures involve breaking the skin, with Botox and fillers being the most common procedures done today. In a nutshell, Botox weakens muscles to iron out fine lines and wrinkles, while fillers fill creases and folds to add volume and fullness.

While both are used to reduce the signs of ageing, Botox is usually injected across the forehead, between the eyebrows and on crow’s feet, while fillers are injected on the cheeks, chin and jaw line. At Simplistiq Aesthetic Clinic at Marina Bay Link Mall, a quarter of its monthly patients fall between the ages of 20 and 29, 30 percent of whom get Botox or fillers.

Public approval

Gone are the days of guessing whether a friend or colleague had cosmetic surgery – most people are now comfortable with sharing what they did, where they did it and for how much if we simply ask them. So how did this topic go from taboo to trendy?

While lots of Hollywood celebrities and Korean stars have admitted to undergoing cosmetic surgery, it’s the surge in bloggers and Instagram influencers openly talking about it that has gotten us comfortable with the pride-in-procedure phenomenon.

“Aesthetic treatments are now embraced by social media influencers or otherwise ordinary girls living high-profile lives – people young women can relate to. This fuels the perception that these procedures are not only acceptable, but no longer out of reach,” says Dr Yingzhou.

While celebs used to express outrage at any implication of having had work done to their faces or bodies, today, they are more than happy to detail their experiences on social media. “I feel that our generation is a lot more open-minded. People now realise it’s actually OK to go for such treatments if it makes them feel good about themselves,” shares local blogger Donna Goh, who also goes by the online moniker Pony.


She blogged about her experiences with cosmetic treatments, including a Botox treatment on her jawline three years ago, and a filler on her nose bridge a year back. And she’s not alone: bloggers like Wendy Goh (Xiaxue) and Tammy Tay (Ohsofickle) have also done the same.

“Most of my friends have tried at least one kind of aesthetic treatment, and especially for [those of us who are heavily involved] with social media, we work closely with clinics, so doing Botox and fillers is considered a norm in our circle,” says Donna.

Pretty perks

It’s not hard to see the appeal of Botox and fillers. “[These treatments] can perform a subtle and natural face enhancement where the difference is noticeable but not drastic, something not achievable with plastic surgery,” adds Dr Yingzhou. “They are low-risk and suitable for those averse to going under the knife, and also for those who like the reassurance of a reversible procedure.”

According to Dr Yingzhou, they also have the ability to delay signs of ageing. “Starting fillers and Botox treatments early can keep the skin taut and prevent fine lines from deepening into wrinkles,” he says.

There’s also the perception that these treatments are also friendlier on the wallet. However, since the effects only last for four to six months, patients will likely end up spending a fair bit of cash to maintain the results.

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“Most patients who do Botox come back regularly for their Botox fix. I would say nearly 90 percent of them,” says Dr Yingzhou. “As for fillers, patients who do them to fill up their fine lines… tend to come back regularly,” he adds.

The reasons for undergoing such treatments vary from person to person. “I decided to give these treatments a go as I had insecurities about my face shape. When the chance to fix it came about, I decided to improve my appearance as well as my confidence,” says Donna.

Eventually, she underwent surgery to reshape her jaw and is considering doing the same for her nose. “From my point of view… you can do whatever it takes to make you feel beautiful, as long as you don’t overdo it and go overboard.”

Pushing it

But just what does “overboard” mean to someone who’s known for her good looks? “Enhancing your features is one thing, but doing so to a point where your face looks very unnatural, or if you do not look the same anymore, is when it’s too much,” says Donna.

We all care for our skin and use makeup, even if to different degrees, so who’s to judge how much is too much when it comes to aesthetic treatments? In the grand scheme of things, we’re all vain in our own way, and whether we like our makeup au naturel or caked up, it boils down to how we best choose to enhance our features and present our beauty.

However, there’s self-love, and then there’s narcissism. “If you’ve noticed that you’re spending an extensive amount of time [on your looks] on a regular basis, and that it’s negatively impacting your life, such as if it… affects your relationships with friends and your partner, that’s usually when you should draw the line,” says Dr KC Lee, a psychologist who has treated a number of patients who have struggled with an obsession with beauty.

“The dark side would be when individuals confuse personality and personal achievements with beauty standards. While attractive individuals do have a certain edge in life… if you are unskilled, difficult to work with or overly self-absorbed, your work and emotional life will be difficult in the long run, no matter how attractive you [are].”

Plenty more

For better or worse, it seems clear that cosmetic procedures are the future of skincare. “These treatments are likely to become a mainstay of every woman’s beauty regime. Lasers are potentially going to replace traditional facial procedures and become the next generation of facials,” says Dr Yingzhou.

“Anti-ageing treatments will be the next big thing, and with greater demand for Botox and skin-lifting procedures comes greater affordability,” he adds.

Standards of beauty have evolved and will only continue to do so. While it helps to keep up with the latest beauty trends, it’s important that we only do what we’re comfortable with, and to always be as bold as we want to be beautiful.

Image: Wang Tom/123RF.com