Inside the accounts debunking celebrity plastic surgery and filter mishaps
“We’ve always been fascinated with how celebrities look so incredible, and there’s a part of all of us who wants to find out why and how they do it.”
It’s the bio of private Instagram profile, @celebface, that commands the most attention. “WELCOME TO REALITY,” it reads, in all caps, adding a disclaimer: “If you don’t want to see the truth, leave this page.” In reality, we all want to see the truth — especially when it comes to celebrities.
Celebface is one of the many — ironically, faceless — accounts that documents celebrity edits, unfiltered close-ups and, perhaps most voraciously, plastic surgery in a series of before-and-after posts. In each caption, the admin — protected by their anonymity or by the ‘private’ profile setting — casually reveals which stars removed their tags from an image or demanded it be deleted altogether. In the comments? A speculative feeding frenzy: who nipped, who tucked and who lied about it.
“We’ve always been fascinated with how celebrities look so incredible, and there’s a part of all of us who wants to find out why and how they do it,” says Dr. Anthony Youn, a Michigan-based board-certified plastic surgeon, better known as America's Holistic Plastic Surgeon. “With social media increasingly taking the place of traditional media, it’s just a natural progression to go from paper tabloids to online gossip blogs to (now) social media accounts that break it down for us.”
Not only has Dr. Youn become a regular commentator on celebrity ‘work’ for weekly publications like Star and In Touch, he has amassed a millions-strong fan base across multiple social media platforms by debunking both popular beauty myths and ‘au naturel’ A-listers. In one particular Dr. Youn clip, the surgeon references two of young Hollywood’s key players, Selena Gomez and Kylie Jenner, while explaining injectables. “Tony woke up and chose violence,” reads the top comment.
“This kind of content helps give the average person a realistic perspective on what they see on TV and online,” he continues. “These celebs are like you and me, with wrinkles, age spots, cellulite.”
New York City-based Diana — whose full name has been omitted to protect her privacy — caters to an audience of almost 300,000 under the Instagram handle @s0cialmediavsreality. She removes video filters, compares paparazzi pictures to social media uploads and offers years apart side-by-sides of superstars like Bella Hadid and Ariana Grande for evaluation. While Diana notes there are many successful ‘expose’ pages driven by a “love of taking celebrities down,” she considers her account as more of a necessary self-help resource. Earlier this year, researchers drew a correlation between social media and an increased proclivity for disordered eating: for young people, in particular, body image is mostly derived from the images they see online.
“I was pretty self-conscious myself, but posting throughout my account has helped me with my self-esteem issues,” she says. “I have also learned how deeply insecure fame is making celebrities. It is very difficult for them to keep up with this image of ‘perfection.’”
Diana first noticed her account gaining traction via engagement with her subjects themselves. Celebrities frequently block the account, or DM her to take a post down. Sometimes their behavior borders on bullying. Often, she will comply with requests to remove posts because she doesn’t want to “hurt anyone’s feelings,” but she feels it’s important celebrities understand that much of the public perceive them as untouchable celestial beings, fostering an even deeper sense of inferiority.
“[If they allowed] people to just see them in their normal state, walking down the street looking human can save millions of lives from depression, anxiety and even suicide,” Diana explains. “They are our role models and they don’t have to be afraid to look human.”
Sara, a student who runs the account @plasticcelebs from Italy, reveals some of her favorite stars follow her, and that she’s had many positive interactions with celebrities — some even tagging their doctors in the comments. Mostly, aside from the occasional fan account demanding she remove a particular post, her messages are an outpouring of gratitude from followers themselves.
“I think the page has helped a lot of people realize that they don't have to be insecure and compare themselves with what they see on social media,” she explains. “Of course I face a lot of hate… that's the internet, but there's also love.”
@plasticcelebs was born of Sara’s interest in plastic surgery, and quickly garnered tens of thousands of followers after several viral before-after posts. Since, her motivation has changed, largely due to the fact famous figures so readily lie about the work they’ve had done. Sara believes that while cosmetic enhancement is nothing to be ashamed of, selling a “fake image” certainly is.
“People working in the industry have sent me proof that a lot of stuff is fake and fabricated, and I get mad that a lot of people lie on social media about their appearance to sell products — that’s a scam to me,” Sara says. “As much as pages like mine can be seen as controversial, we show the truth, and because the truth hurts, a lot of people don't like our content.”
While the stars themselves may not appreciate the spotlight, the account’s followers certainly do. Engagement goes up when the pages spotlight “trending” celebrities, specifically the likes of the Hadids and Kardashian-Jenner sisters, whose images are often highly mediated by FaceTune, filters and makeup. For that reason, Dr. Youn believes we’re often overestimating the number, or extent, of surgeries stars typically undergo.
“We’d like to think they’ve had more plastic surgery than they really have, but the truth is that Hollywood makeup artists are incredible at what they do. I do believe there is a ton of plastic surgery happening in Hollywood, but maybe not quite as much surgery as we’d like to believe.”
Still, Dr. Youn says, the theorizing of thousands in the comment sections of before-after pictures only further fuels the beauty business. The more we talk about the little, or big, tweaks opted for by stars, the more plastic surgery is normalized — particularly “helpful for a field that traditionally has been considered taboo.”
“Don’t hold yourself up to their standards of beauty,” echoes Dr. Youn, who notes that even with numerous resources at their disposal, stars still have flaws. “A lot of it is fake and manufactured anyway.”
And yet, it’s often too easy to do so. In 2018, 72 percent of surgeons reported a rise in cosmetic surgery or injectables among patients under 30, and plastic surgery only increased over the course of the pandemic. Over the past decade a number of young people died while attempting to boost their metabolisms with Dinitrophenol, an industrial drug that’s commonly used as a pesticide. And in 2019, French pharmaceutical firm Servier went on trial after 2000 deaths were linked to their weight loss drug, Mediator. That same year, it was revealed one in eight adults in the UK ideate suicide due to poor body image. If someone has the capacity to pull back the curtain on the celebrity proportions we spend hours analyzing, shouldn’t they?
“I wish accounts like this existed earlier,” says Diana. “I suffered big time with body image issues and eating disorders. Accounts like these help people learn to love themselves as they are because they see that their role models are just like them — girls literally tell me I saved their lives.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with body image or an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Helpline for support. If you are contemplating suicide and need help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.