Earlier this month, a seemingly deranged woman made headlines.
Claire Leeson, you see, had spent more than $30,000 on plastic surgery in a quest to look more like Kim Kardashian. Armed with a body-positive story about how the procedures she underwent in order to transform into Kim K’s doppelganger helped build her confidence and erase memories of being bullied for her looks, Leeson hit the publicity circuit, revealing her new look and the debt she’s undertaken along the way.
Now that she looks vaguely like Kardashian—it’s more convincing if you squint—Leeson claims that she’s happier than ever. That’s fine. But it hasn’t stopped the Internet’s collective response to her stunt: Who in their goddamned mind would spend that much money to look like Kim Kardashian?
As it turns out, more people than you think.
The plastic surgery community website RealSelf.com—think Trip Advisor for cosmetic treatments—recently compiled data about the celebrities whose looks are most requested by prospective patients. The most popular celebrity requested? Yep, it was Kim Kardashian.
Specifically, it was Kardashian’s rear end that was most cited as a makeover inspiration on the site’s forums, reviews, and message boards, hinting that, though most of us go wide-eyed at the idea of spending $30,000 to get the total Kim Kardashian look, we seem to be at peace with forking over the $6,750 needed (on average) to have her ass.
We called up Real Self’s vice president of community, Alicia Nakamoto, to get a sense of how the site collected the data for its list of most popular celebrity-inspired procedures. “It’s not super scientific,” she admitted (they did a word search for mentions of the celebrities in certain areas of the site), but it is a pretty solid read on the rampant—and not always healthy—trend of using celebrities’ looks as reference points in plastic surgery.
Anyone who saw Jolie’s pointy-cheeked appearance as the Disney villainess in this year’s blockbuster and said, “I want to look like that,” is begging to be disappointed. Jolie wore prosthetics.
Here’s the list, broken down by the celebrity and the corresponding procedure requested:
Kim Kardashian / Brazilian butt lift
Beyoncé / Brazilian butt lift
Madonna / fillers, anti-aging procedures for the face and hands
Angelina Jolie / cheek augmentation, lip injections
Rihanna / skin lightening
Jennifer Lawrence / rhinoplasty
It’s easy to take to Twitter and lob harsh 140-character judgments on people like Leeson, whose desire to look like a celebrity is so great that she put herself in debt in order to achieve it. But as someone who has marched into a hair salon with a photo of Jake Gyllenhaal and demanded that the stylist replicate his haircut on my head, I can’t help but wonder if we’re being a little unfair.
Albeit in a much, much more measured scale, we all are guilty of aspiring to look like the celebrities whose looks we admire—and spending money to do so. Have we already forgotten the ubiquity of “The Rachel” in the late ’90s, or the unfortunate legion of men strutting around with Justin Timberlake-imitating frosted tips at the turn of the century?
Admittedly, this argument verges on comparing apples to oranges. Or, in this case, comparing apples to spending an entire year’s salary on slicing your body open and undergoing majorly invasive surgery. As Nakamato puts it, “Your hair grows back. The risk is much lower.”
But the reality is that plastic surgery is becoming increasingly common. (My favorite explanation for this is that the rise of selfies has led to a rise in nipping and tucking. We’re all the worst.) And because of our obsession with looking like celebrities, that has led to an increase in severe plastic surgery makeovers, like the one Leeson underwent.
To wit, Lawrence finds herself on Real Self’s list of most popular celebrity procedure requests for the first time this year. Her inclusion on the list is just as interesting as the presence of Kardashian at the top of it. Kardashian is, after all, one half of the Vogue-minted #worldsmostfamouscouple—for better or worse—and Lawrence is America’s fart-talking, stair-tripping Sweetheart.
“The most popular celebrities and procedures almost always correspond to whoever is most popular in the media at the time,” says Nakamoto. “They’re who are on our minds. Kim had her wedding, was on Vogue. She’s everywhere.”
You see that notion reflected when you look at the popular celebrity procedures from years past—Pippa Middleton’s butt was in demand last year, Megan Fox was popular in 2009, and Ashley Tisdale, whose nose job made headlines, was a big mention in 2008. Even when you look at the procedures that correspond with the popular celebrities, you see the influence of fleeting pop culture on plastic surgery.
“The people who want to look like Angelina Jolie are having cheek augmentations, which makes me think that the release of Maleficent was significant,” Nakamoto says. Of course, anyone who saw Jolie’s pointy-cheeked appearance as the Disney villainess in this year’s blockbuster and said, “I want to look like that,” is begging to be disappointed. Jolie wore prosthetics. Obviously.
To that end, when users go to Real Self to get advice on the cost of plastic surgery to look like a specific celebrity and advice on what procedures to get, board-certified surgeons are quick to respond, discouraging the prospective patient from continuing in their fruitless quest, going so far as to suggest that performing surgery on someone who hopes to look like a celebrity is unethical—because it can almost never be accomplished.
Case in point: After one man posted, “How much is a celebrity make over plastic surgery? I am interested in looking like Robin Thicke’s face,” [Editor’s note: dear god, why?] four plastic surgeons quickly responded to talk him off the ledge.
After correctly assessing that the user could benefit from several facial procedures, Dr. Richard Galitz cautions, “However…and this is very important to understand…you will simply look like an improved version of yourself. You will not look like Robin Thicke. I steer away from doing surgery on individuals who have a specific copy in mind because I will ultimately disappoint them and they will be very unhappy.”
Beverly Hills surgeon Dr. Richard W. Fleming cut more directly to the point: “I hope you are kidding, because there is not a plastic surgeon in the world that can make you look like Robin Thicke. Only an experienced make-up artist can do that.”
It’s obvious why people would get plastic surgery to boost their self-confidence or improve their looks. But these celebrity aspirations can be dangerous. “My aunt who was a hairdresser used to tell people, ‘I’m a beautician, not a magician,’” Nakamoto says.
At first I giggled when she said that—it’s a cute phrase—but then I sighed with sadness. The reason I don’t look like Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t that my hairdresser was a hack who couldn’t even cut my hair like the GODDAMNED PHOTO I showed him. It’s because there’s not enough magic in the world to pull off such complicated wizardry on me.
And, as many hopeful Kardashian- and Bieber-look-alikes are also finding out, there might not be enough money or surgical procedures, either.