This is an open discussion thread for anyone on The Unpublishable mailing list — free subscribers, paid subscribers, everyone!
Welcome to The Great Deflation; we are living through historic times. Facial fillers — so many injectable acids like Restylane, Juvéderm, Radiesse, and Sculptra, used by over three million Americans per year to temporarily plump lips, pump up cheekbones, sculpt jawlines, soften wrinkles, or otherwise distend sagging skin in service to a youth- and wealth-centric Western beauty ideal — are falling out of favor.
Angela White (formerly known as Blac Chyna) documented the dissolution of her hyaluronic acid fillers on Instagram. Courtney Cox admitted to having hers reversed, as did Kylie Jenner and Amy Schumer. The Aesthetic Society reported a 57 percent increase in filler reversals between 2020 and 2021, and “the ‘lip dissolving’ hashtag has now been viewed over 71 million times on TikTok,” writes Amy Francombe in the Evening Standard. Dermatologists are using the term “filler fatigue” to describe some of the more upsetting and now — after a decade of normalizing near-constant injectable procedures and the emergence of longer-term research — unignorable physical consequences of these cosmetic substances: Users can end up looking overly puffy, their features in odd proportion. Filler can migrate around the face, and cause stretching and discoloration of the skin. It doesn’t “go away” at the six-month mark as promised; recent scans suggest some injectable gels remain in the body for up to 10 years, or maybe forever. Injectors have a tendency to use too much filler too often, due to financial incentives — an ethical issue, sure, but an aesthetic issue and a health issue, too (filler is known to disrupt lymphatic drainage, a core function of the body’s immune system). Meanwhile, consumers are using the term “filler fatigue” to describe the psychological consequences: They’re tired of inflating their faces — the look, the cost, the upkeep, the obsession. It’s all very Aesthetica by Allie Rowbottom!
Except… As we dissolve our Juvéderm, are we dissolving the underlying beauty standards that prompted all this plumping in the first place? Eh.
I’m skeptical that what the beauty media has dubbed “the big dissolve,” “the glow-down,” and “the rise of the make-under” marks any significant shift in the way we think about appearance — especially as filler remains one of the top three cosmetic interventions in the country, and its use is increasing overall. When Francombe asked me what I thought The Great Deflation was really about for this piece, here’s what I told her:
1. This trend speaks to the cyclical nature of beauty standards and beauty trends. There's a limit to how much you can inflate your lips! Where was the beauty industry supposed to go from there? Dissolving lip fillers keeps the trend cycle cycling. (To note: Dissolving hyaluronic acid fillers via hyaluronidase injections requires another potentially painful and pricey cosmetic procedure.) It's actually a pretty predictable shift.
2. The language being used to describe this trend doesn’t signal any significant change in how we think about identity and the body. For example, Courtney Cox told New Beauty, “I’ve had all my fillers dissolved … I feel better because I look like myself.” The anti-aging sector has long used the language of “feeling like yourself again” as a sales tactic. It perpetuates the idea that you, as you are now, are not the real you. It capitalizes on the innately human quest for identity and convinces you that you will not be real until you are "beautiful". It conditions you to prioritize the imagined self — a self that not only doesn’t exist, but will never exist — over your present self. It encourages you to pursue living in the past (“I want to feel like myself again”) or the future (“I’ll go to the beach when I finally lose weight”) in lieu of living in the now. It keeps you from being in the present moment (which, to my limited knowledge, is kind of the point of life). The current use of "going back to myself" to describe dissolving fillers is just another version of pursuing living in the past; of associating a different point in time and a different aesthetic with "the real you." It still presents the same problem of limiting the self to the body. It points to the fact that, collectively, we haven't made much progress in finding a sense of identity outside of aesthetics.
3. I also wonder if there's some overlap here with the resurgence of regressive ideas about femininity and morality (think: trad wives). Despite the recent "cosmetic transparency" movement, cosmetic procedures are still stigmatized. And being "natural" has been messaged as a moral obligation for centuries — in our culture, it's associated with being "good" and "pure." There are studies that show we judge those who have had cosmetic procedures and care about their appearance as being more superficial and less ethical. Perhaps the recent popularity of regressive politics has reactivated these feelings and inspired a move toward being "natural," "pure," and "good" — toward meeting the demands of traditional "femininity.” (This tracks for Blac Chyna/Angela White, who says she decided to dissolve her fillers after finding God.) This is not liberating oneself from a particular beauty ideal as much as tethering oneself to a new (old) one.
4. But who knows! Maybe people are realizing that conforming to a narrow standard of physical beauty is unfulfilling in the end. Maybe we are ready to opt out of our own oppression!!
What do you think? What’s driving The Great Deflation? Is this another go-round in the Sisyphean trend cycle? Is beauty culture changing for the better? Are these indeed historic times?? Aaand… GO!
Jess, I've been (obv) thinking about this, too, and am concluding that bottom-line, it's simply another example of the compulsion encouraged by the industry to do something—anything—to our faces in what you aptly call the Sisyphean trend cycle. Put it in, take it out, put it in, take it out, we're all just getting f*cked. xo
My first thought when I started seeing this trend was that it was STILL an issue of affluence. I mean, the women that are paying to have all this dissolved are women who can afford to go back to that dermatologist for expensive facial treatments that will help replicate the results of injectables anyway. Meanwhile, the average consumer who perhaps saved up for filler may not have the financial means to turn around and dissolve for whatever reason. (Do I sound dumb or rambling, or both?)
I’m currently reading The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf which touches on a lot of this--it’s connecting a lot of dots for me, like the fact that beauty standards really are, when it comes down to it, capitalism. When second and third wave feminism propelled more women into the workplace, our society begrudgingly accepted it, but invented a whole bunch of new beauty standards under the guise of “professionalism” to still keep women in line (and to drain away a lot of their newfound income): “The beauty myth, in its modern form, arose to take the place of the Feminine Mystique, to save magazines and advertisers from the economic fallout of the women’s revolution.”
So is it any wonder that the current beauty myth is doing a 180 from plump, overfilled faces to gaunt ones devoid of buccal fat, all while we’re in the middle of a probable recession? Nope, it’s the same old beauty myth finding new ways to take our money and keep us dissatisfied.
I think it’s just another go round of “this is how we’re beautiful now.” I agree with Rebecca that it is woman who can afford to dictating beauty standards.
I'm at the point where I'm seeing the changes in my face and neck, and looking older than I feel, appearing tired when rested. It's not always fun. There are times when I feel I don't look like me but am also embracing this emerging me. It's a tangle. I have an upcoming post about this (wherein your 'stack is referenced because it's amazing) and how we start so young, never giving our natural beauty a chance to bloom because we are so influenced by media/society/what others in our group are doing. While I'm not always super happy about the droop, I absolutely don't want to be distorted by fillers or a poorly pulled facelift. I just want to magically have less sag. So, I've learned to smile more. Instant lift. xo
It feels like the point of this is to, again, focus on "natural" beauty: meaning if you have it, you have it, if you don't, you don't. With Instagram Face, beauty was attainable if you could pay for it, any girl could have same face as the Kardashians or their favorite influencer. Filler disappearing makes me think we're heading back to the creepy "good genes" perfection of the early aughts. It feels connected to the recent rise of thinness, very much a "start working for it again, girls!"
The Great Deflation reminds me of the “shift away from Instagram.” Many writers I like and admire have spoken in the past year or so about getting off Instagram, spending less time on Instagram, the idea that Instagram is “dead,” etc. But none of that feels radical or revolutionary. Instagram was always toxic and we all knew it, so claiming to have arrived at that conclusion now seems disingenuous. Also, it seems that everyone jumped ship on Instagram at the same time, so the stakes were lower. If everyone you know is getting off the app, then of course you will too. Finally, many of these writers I mentioned have explicitly stated that they now spend all their time on TikTok. So they jumped from one app to the newer, more exciting app. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff here. And only once they had left the app did they write about how it is harmful, boring, useless, etc. When they were still on it, the app was “a way to connect” and “necessary to promote their work.”
A lot of parallels with what you are speaking about. These trends move in, everyone gets on board, the trends recede, and everyone jumps ship, saying “I’m so glad I’ve seen the light.” Well the light was always there, you just didn’t want to look until everyone else was looking.
I'm torn. On one hand, I'm happy if fillers are actually falling out of fashion. Good riddance! On the other hand, it's obviously making room for other trends. If we shift to a natural look it will be a bunch of new crazy expensive skincare stuff, 'your _____ but better' makeup, subtler or natural-signalling plastic surgery, etc.
People will find a way to display wealth in the context of their culture. People will find a way to mass produce interesting physical attributes, dulling their uniqueness for a profit. I think we take pleasure in the destructiveness.
Like the Walter Benjamin line:
“Humanity’s self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.”
I'm in my fifties and many of my friends my age and younger have started going in for injectables, so my first thought was "Well, good thing I'm already on trend". Let's face it, at least this trend is cheaper. Working on the rest will take time, but maybe for a while we might be saving money.
Jokes aside, the beauty standard is inherently classist. Looking "put together" is increasingly expensive as you age, and is inevitably the domain of wealthier women, which in turn makes it easier for these women to look professional and market themselves effectively. There is no doubt in my mind that newer and better injectables will hit the market at one point, with the promise of making people look "fresh" and not swollen, and the cycle will begin again.
I see the truth in the continual cycle. But I love that you leave room for hope at the end! I feel it too. At least in my own life, in this chat, in your substack...even other blogs where someone will interrupt a thread about beauty BS by saying check out Jess Defino! That’s all you need to know! It’s catching on 🖤
As the beautifully brilliant Joni Mitchell said “Happiness is the best facelift.”
This is just another show of wealth. Fillers have been popular long enough that while they started only with the wealthy, they are now more affordable to lower class people to be able to achieve the same look. It’s “trickle-down beauty standards” except now that it has reached the bottom, the wealthy don’t have anything to hold over the poorest heads. The solution? Another costly procedure to create a look (“natural”?) that only they can afford once again. That’s the cycle.
We are seeing it in body standards as well. Since the growth of Instagram fitfluencers has exploded with everyone trying to growing the biggest glutes and thighs and trying to naturally create the shape Kim K created with a BBL, the cycle is that now that body shape can no longer be popular because enough people have had the time to achieve it, and now we will go back to super thin being the ideal again.
I've been struggling with what it means to be 'feminine' enough these days and 'pretty enough'
I think some of this might be a reaction to all the filters and how uncanny and real they look. the way people want to know is your beauty real or is bought, acquired, put on? That being said, to be pretty means to fit the same standard by the happenstance of genetics.
The other, darker side of this that I think about is white supremacy. Is this some of this the backlash against minorities? Is this a reaction to non caucasian features or what we assume is nordic beauty (ex. big lips)? If beauty industry wealth is about power, what does this tell us about how safe or included minorities are in the current moment?
I wonder if there's a piece re: fashion and displays of wealth during 'stark' times. Could we see patterns/alignment with other times of inflation/recession (ex. 1970s beauty standards?)
Lots of rambles, few answers. Really appreciate your discussion/space here!
I think you nailed it when you said things ebb and flow. My ninth grade high school economics teacher said the pendulum will always swing back-and-forth through time. You make a convincing case this is not back to natural but a new tethering to a old concept that still doesn’t rest as somebody just being OK with who they are without any extra stuff, put in or on their face.
I think it’s another trend/apart of the beauty cycle. It seems beauty standards swings from one extreme to the opposite, so whereas looking “done up” was the trend being more natural will be next. This also mirrors the trend from Instagram/baddie makeup to the glossier/dewy/more focus on skincare trend. It all signals the move to “the natural” and I’m not sure it really is indicative of people rejecting beauty standards so much as it’s them following current beauty standards. I think some of the same people dissolving fillers now would go back to getting them in 10 years if that’s the trend.
I’m happy to say goodbye to fillers.
I will not however be welcoming whatever inevitably pops up to replace them. Because the trend of wealth and power dictating beauty standards will continue, there’s just no way of knowing how this iteration will look until we’re asked to shell out money for it.
This gives me “de-influencing” vibes. Where we’re being what not to buy as a primer for what to buy next
The beauty industry is now partnered with the medical community. A slow uphill battle for legislation for injectable’s to be available. Botox, filler. At almost 70, I have seen many beauty changes. Mary Quant passed today, a stylist we still revere through the thin nubile images of Twiggy. We, women, often not all but often look to our image as a way to tame the world or give us comfort. The industry, beauty, also alcohol and drugs legal and illegal all open a outlet to fix the pain.
A good friend I hadn’t seen for a couple years due to proximity, came by for lunch. It was a heartfelt reunion as she had lost her husband a year ago, after another yearlong dance with his Lou Gehrig’s disease slow passing. She showed up with cheek and chin implants along with lip filler, all making her look simply different. She didn’t look younger or prettier she looked pumped and distorted. Looking to self soothe, make her life better.
Sorry this is long. Just because something is available, doesn’t mean it will add value to your life. I’m happy for all the possibilities to fix a problem, if the problem is cosmetic.
I don't think it's a coincidence that fillers are trending down at the same time things like buccal fat removal are trending - they are just *different* ways to make your face more angular, exaggerated, and have new body/face shapes to put products on (or try to emulate with products when you can't afford the procedures). Like a cheek/jaw filler and buccal fat removal are two sides of the same, sucked-in-cheek, succubus-chic coin.
Beauty, like everything else, is an inside job. If we are brave enough to look deeply within ourselves, we may discover why we are constantly distracting ourselves with the quest for superficial perfection--fear of not being worthy as we are: the false idea that physical perfection exists and we must have it to be acceptable. Want to “feel like yourself”? Allow yourself to grow and change on your own terms. Be real.
Super happy you posted this! I don’t think removing filler or “filler fatigue” is actually a move in the right direction of deconstructing beauty trends/industry. I honestly see it as another trend, like buccal fat removal. In 3-4 years, I can imagine a discussion just like this one, except we will read that individuals miss their cheek fat and are turning to fillers for help.
should beauty standards be reclassified as extreme beauty standards? there’s no middle ground! (super skinny/super thick or BBL), and of course like you always point out so beautifully in your posts, there’s absolutely no room for aging. It’s the enemy.
I listened to the Maybe Baby podcast episode you were on when you mentioned Tressie Cotton (love her), and how she wrote about beauty standards being a proximity to whiteness (absolutely true). But now, I feel like in addition to being a proximity to whiteness, the beauty standard is so extreme, it becomes unreachable by the masses. And when more and more people participate in extremity, the standard is ultimately replaced by a new extreme— one that is still exclusive, expensive, and exploitative (looking at you beauty industry!).
Why is an unattainable standard chased and admired and desired if it will be replaced by another new trend/standard?
I’m very passionate about this, obviously, and I have you to thank Jessica. Thank you for all your writing and analysis. I hope to pitch and write an article soon about this❤️
Just another unattainable trend. The trend was bigger lips, now it’s unfilled lips, and at the end of the day millions of dollars have been spent to achieve one standard and are being converted to another, but large lips are still desired - and obtaining them unnaturally is further stigmatized. Great piece!
I don't think fillers are going anywhere.... noticeable fillers are out. Obvious, Instagram fillers are out. But fillers in general? Nah. I highly doubt Courtney Cox had "all" her fillers dissolved. She just went to a better provider who can make micro changes so she looks like herself, but better! This, plus skin treatments like lasers and microneedling and thermage, has been the go-to of the non-kardashian wealth class for some time. It's called rich girl skin, and it looks like she was born with it.
Oh for sure it’s the Sisyphean cycle. I wonder, too, though if the (alarming!!!) revelations about risks, unknowns, disfiguration, etc has also affected people? That possibly, maybe, even a small bit, the pandemic forced us to think about our one precious life and realise these are risks not worth taking in the pursuit of beauty?
Mostly the cycle, though. Mostly the cycle.
Ps I love this newsletter so much. One of the most compelling things I read, every time.
Off topic but think you for linking that article about tradwives, I really enjoyed it and am going to go through that writers backlog now.
I am skeptical that capitalist standards of beauty are being undermined. I am confident that I am going to get okd, wrinkly, and then die. It's gonna be grand.
I agree with you and the other comments about the trend cycle, motivated by the industry's pursuit of capitalism. I'm wondering if there is another facet of the filler fatigue that is, to some extent genuine. I mean that in the sense that people arrive at a point where they realise having bigger lips hasn't made them any happier, and that it was potentially masking some other discontentment that we are trying to mitigate. However, even where there is a genuine realisation that this particular procedure (fillers/injectibles etc.) was superficial, we're still left with the feeling of deficit, and the way we have been conditioned to correct it or address that feeling is through consumerism/a beauty solution. The industry capitalises on those feelings of deficit, sure, but also more deeply has taught us that when we feel it - the answer is in a product, so if you tried fillers and you're still feeling a deficit it's not that the beauty industry solution is unfulfilling period, but that you just landed on the wrong product. Therefore, driving a search for the new beauty "solution".
"THEY'RE" gonna milk it to the end and then we are going to see the back of them!
for sure there's something about the trend shifting back, capitalism making wealthy people distance themselves from looking "cheap" now that filler's more affordable but. for me, there's also something to do with credibility and society's view of women who do a lot of procedures? in the examples i've seen in brazil, were i live, most of the women dissolving their fillers, removing implants etc are influencers who were previously Very ridicularised in more "serious" cycles for being airheaded, vapid, empty, etc. so i think there's also something about how patriarchy expects women to care too much about their appearance but not "look" like they do.
I noticed since awards season began that many big stars (Courtney Cox was one I can think of) were looking (facially) so much better than they had over the previous 5-10 years! Like exponentially better! Healthy. Normal. You know that look fillers can give-the stretch, the bumpiness in the nasal-labial folds, the puffiness beneath the eyes and that odd way the eyes & brows tilt as a result of the combo of fillers & botox. I assumed, wrongly, that some new method or non clumping/non inflammatory filler had been discovered. Something so revolutionary EVERYONE had done it pre SAGs, Globes, & Emmys. Literally every star I saw (I see them on late night-Colbert, Kimmel, Seth, Daily Show) looked AMAZING. Even the men!Only to find out it’s more likely the reversal of or lack of more poisons injected into their faces revealing an actual face! Fluffed and all but not with injectables (tho I imagine botox is still about as popular as ever). Still, I am now just a teeny tad less cynical about Hollywood.
It kinda feels to me like the 'old money aesthetic' for fashion, just (unsurprisingly) applied to the face? In connection with the tradwives and 'natural' thing as well.
I’m so glad I stopped getting Botox and halted fillers after one session with my former derm about a year ago. I came to Jess’ work around the same time. I can’t imagine going back to thinking that I am not just fine The way I am. I’ve embraced aging (in my face and body) and I’m actually now really angry about how my derm (who I initially went to for skin cancer screenings) eased me into the whole cosmetic derm cycle by suggesting that I might want Botox... then Kybella.... then filler... arghhh! I’ve forgiven myself for falling for it but the way derms upsell cosmetic procedures is downright unethical. I’m so happy to see Justine Bateman making the rounds standing up for just letting women be!
Yeah, beauty trends go in and out. It's never special or interesting or 'subversive'. Maybe soon women will start going under the knife to wrinkle their skin. It all comes from a dissatisfaction with your life and body and a lack of critical thinking. What's that quote about how if women woke up and liked their bodies millions of businesses would go under?
Filler reversal is now a thing? Thank goodness!
Jessica, one of my very favorite things is that you close your newsletters with "You’re Gonna Die Someday No Matter How Young You Look" - I mean, talk about perspective. Beauty culture, diet culture, wellness culture all are built on the illusion that aging and death (at the very least, their appearance) can be controlled if you put enough time and money into grasping beauty and health.
Face fillers and fat removal are two sides of the same coin. Both are expensive procedures that are driven by beauty standards that come and go. Both might give someone a temporary satisfaction but aren't likely to hold up with time.
I don't know... I am 61 with grey hair and my actual skin doesn't seem all that terrible to me. In my 20s and 30s, I washed my face with regular soap and didn't use moisturizers - "skin care" wasn't a thing like it is now. So I tend to think that genetics plays a bigger role than all the products out there. (Not that I don't use any products, I just don't think any of them are miraculous.)
I've only just realised that it's illegal to advertise botox in the UK... is it legal in America?
Given the parallels between people dissolving their filler and having their buccal fat removed, plus the reprise of "heroin chic", it looks like we've exited the era of the plump and rounded and re-entered the toxic 90s gaunt and bony phase. Wealth is the power to change your body to whatever standard on the cycle. The ability to use drugs (like ozempic), surgery, diet, etc to alter your physical form on trend to meet the standard is always going to give a certain subset of people power, as long as we cling to beauty standards.
When I first read the title 'The Great Deflation' I immediately thought of the increase in breast implant removals the past several years. Many removals are due to breast implant illness, problems with the implants, no longer wanting something foreign in the body, etc. And of course, others do it because big boobs are no longer on trend, the culture's changed, etc. Several parallels with filler removal— deflate it all I guess!
Just came here to say that a) I’m loving the discussion thread and b) Aesthetica is one of the best books I have read this year
I think its linked to the swing back to extreme thinness - no longer wanting cheeks looking plump and 'youthful' but having fat removed to appear thinner.
It’s scary to think that our actual body parts can become a product that goes in or out of style. I think that’s what’s going on. Fat faces are out. Thin faces are in. And you can buy either one. All the more reason to be happy with what you got regardless of whether it’s in or out according to society?
No more!! The incomparable Edwina Monsoon aka Jennifer Saunders on liposuction and fillers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGN94vMid9M
“It conditions you to prioritize the imagined self — a self that not only doesn’t exist, but will never exist — over your present self. It encourages you to pursue living in the past (“I want to feel like myself again”) or the future (“I’ll go to the beach when I finally lose weight”) in lieu of living in the now. It keeps you from being in the present moment (which, to my limited knowledge, is kind of the point of life).”
A few years ago, I realized I’d gained weight and had a moment of anxiety about it, until I realized that to be anxious about weight gain was to live outside the present moment. In the present, my body is what it is, and obsessing about changing it just ruins the moment.
Y'all, off topic, but I've been reading The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh, all about the Hollywood funeral biz in the 1940's. There's quite a bit about mortuary makeup and, phew, "Here pickled in formaldehyde and painted like a whore, shrimp-pink incorruptible, not lost nor gone before." And then I looked up mortuary makeup in a search engine and the first thing that popped up was an Allure beauty article about the PRODUCTS they use in mortuary makeup WITH AFFILIATE LINKS, what the FUCK
GREAT points here, both in the piece and the comments! I defer to the great Val Monroe, but I also wonder if there is some kind of culture-wide reexamination of femininity going on related to the lack of safety that arises when women's rights are being slowly but surely legislated away. Maybe looking hyperfem doesn't feel so safe anymore? Or maybe it's part of Gen Z moving the needle toward genderlessness? In any case, thanks for all your hard work on this and other subjects, it's good to know there are still intelligent critical voices out there :)
It's def because of the social pressures of fitting into the regressive, tired ideas about femininity and beauty that have been re-surging. I think it's crazy that they're still not expected to age lol.