Cosmetically speaking, it’s a different world than it was a few decades ago.
Minimally invasive procedures like soft-tissue fillers to plump lips or cheeks are now highly visible on social media. The situation has gotten so that more young adults and even teens show a growing interest in them, influenced by their Instagram feeds, Snapchat filters, and the celebrities they see on these platforms, such as Kylie Jenner, who at 21 already has a well-documented history with lip fillers.
Some might find the situation unsettling, but Mat Maitland, a London-based collage artist who works with creative consultancy Big Active, has taken it as a source of inspiration. Maitland is known for having done the cover art for Michael Jackson’s posthumous album Xscape—Jackson is a hero of his—as well as creating “surrealist pop images” for clients such as Kenzo, Louis Vuitton, and MAC Cosmetics. Lately on his Instagram page he has been sharing a new series, showing what female icons, such as Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor, would have looked like had they adopted current cosmetic trends.
The results can be a bit outlandish, but they’re also provocative. They tempt the viewer to think of the before and after, to consider if the person actually looks “better,” and by consequence to question the beauty standards behind the images.
In a recent interview with Paper, Maitland pointed out that he wasn’t criticizing cosmetic surgery with the images. He said he’s always been fascinated by people who “push beauty to the extreme.” He was thinking about how procedures that were once reserved for celebrities and the wealthy have become much more attainable. He explained:
Everywhere you look there is evidence of these contemporary ideals of beauty. You can observe the new normal across the world. This is what made me think about identity in our contemporary world. I started to imagine some of the most idolized stars embracing cosmetic procedures and trends if they were still alive today. Celebrities of the past altering their iconic looks to fit in with today’s more clone-like ideals.
Old Hollywood’s celebrities weren’t necessarily all-natural themselves. Marilyn Monroe appeared to have had surgery on her chin and nose, and Rita Hayworth had electrolysis to raise her hairline, in order to look less “ethnic” and align with Hollywood’s biased beauty standards at the time. Folklore even holds that Marlene Dietrich had her molars removed to make her cheeks look more hollow, emphasizing her cheekbones.
But Maitland’s images also do a good job of capturing today’s big trends in cosmetic procedures. People getting injections of botulinum toxin type A, including Botox, jumped 819% in the US between 2000 and 2017, according to data (pdf) from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. The use of soft-tissue fillers grew substantially, as did laser skin resurfacing, while lip augmentations involving surgery, such as implants, increased 60%. Maitland’s icons, with their unlined foreheads, filled cheeks, and puffed lips, are perfectly, eerily contemporary.