Katie Byrne: 'Rich-girl face' widening the gap between the haves and have-nots
A friend of mine who is in her late 40s is worried about becoming the last woman left who has chosen to age naturally.
She's seeing pumped-up lips all over social media and preternaturally shiny foreheads on the Luas, and while she hasn't succumbed to cosmetic surgery, she's beginning to think that everyone else has.
Am I going to become some sort of antediluvian relic, she wondered out loud as she read yet another story about innocuous-sounding 'tweakments' last week. Am I going to become an ancient artefact from Ireland BC (before cosmetic surgery)? She's even been for a consultation with a cosmetic doctor, but she decided that the eye-watering figures she was quoted for a "freshen up" would be better spent on a garden revamp.
This friend came to mind when I read about 'rich-girl face', a term coined by Dr Dirk Kremer to describe the prevailing trend for conspicuously-injected lips, cheeks and jawlines. Younger women no longer want their work to look subtle, he says. Instead, they want to show it off to the world in the same way they'd swing a Louis Vuitton handbag from their arm. 'Rich-girl face' is the new status signal, he says. It screams that you can keep up with the Kardashians and afford to spend several thousand euro on looking vaguely deranged.
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It's a dramatic cultural shift, but this trend for CGI-style enhancement isn't just consigned to the cosmetic surgery industry. Just as young women want to look like digital avatars, a cohort of rich older men want to feel like they're super-human. The biohacking movement is gaining ground and, at its zenith, is a group of Silicon Valley billionaires who want to 'upgrade' their bodies and disrupt the inconvenience of ageing.
The 'immortalists', as they are known, are experimenting with everything from microchip implants and young blood transfusions to outrageously expensive supplements. It's a brave new world but, make no mistake, it's only for a privileged few. Face tweaking and biohacking comes at a price and not everyone has the time and money to upgrade their bodies.
And when one group of people can afford to upgrade and the other can't, the gap between the haves and the have-nots widens. As a society, we're becoming much more aware of systemic privilege as we consider the advantages skin colour, gender and post code can afford a person.
We're less inclined, however, to consider the exorbitant privilege immortalists will have over mere mortals in the not-too-distant future. What happens when a cosmetically enhanced job candidate applies for the same role as someone who hasn't succumbed to cosmetic intervention?
Granted, a twenty-something with blow-up doll lips probably won't have the edge in a job interview, but what happens when it's two fifty-something women with the same skill sets applying for a role in an ageist workplace (which, let's face it, is pretty much all of them)?
Does the woman who can afford to pay for a youthful glow look less pressured - and therefore more capable - than the woman whose face bears the stresses of modern life? And if that's the case, are we all going to become like Debbie Harry, who said she had a facelift for "business reasons"? Or will we be like Julia Roberts, who said she "risked her career" by not having one?
The potential inequalities of an enhanced world might seem implausible, but look around and you'll notice they are already playing out. In college campuses, those who can afford 'study drugs' like Adderal have an advantage over students who can barely afford lunch. Elsewhere, studies show that people with crooked teeth are less likely to get hired. How long before Botox becomes so normalised that we start to feel the same way about furrowed brows?
At a healthcare conference in 2017, ex-Facebook president and tech billionaire Sean Parker talked about the ramifications of a biohacked world. "Because I'm a billionaire, I'm going to have access to better healthcare so… I'm going to be, like, 160 and I'm going to be part of this class of immortal overlords," he mused.
It was an obnoxious remark, spoken from a place of unfathomable privilege.
It was also bang on the money.