portraits of women wearing amazon’s strangest beauty devices
Evija Laivina doesn’t believe that mail-order nose shapers and cheek slimmers work. She does think they’re a fascinating sign of our times.
For $1.92, you can buy a pair of “generic” nose-lifting and bridge-straightening clips on Amazon. The plastic devices come together in a set and each one looks like a cross between a gynecological instrument and a Barbie accessory.
“The pink one is so painful. I don't recommend [it to] any one. You cannot breath [sic] properly,” an unsatisfied customer has written beneath the product listing. They recommend instead a different model, which “makes me a nice nose for special occasions.”
“Will this work for a senior citizen's nose?” asks an undeterred shopper. “I have a crooked nose will this fix it?” wonders another. A third: “Does this make a slumped down nose go up?”
I remember the pain of a sibling putting a laundry peg on my nose as a child and am concerned about the societal forces that would compel someone to submit themselves voluntarily to this bone-crushing discomfort. I want these would-be shoppers to save themselves the headache and $1.92.
Photographer Evija Laivina bought one of these nose-lifting devices last year, for her project “Beauty Warriors.” It was shipped from China to her home in Inverness, Scotland.
“I was working on a project about beauty and identity for college,” she explains, “I wasn’t sure what exactly it was about but then I started to collect these devices.” She is referring to the profusion of cheap gadgets sold online that promise to uplift eyes, eliminate double-chins, and amplify smiles.
The long shipping time, often from China or Korea, to Scotland, gave Evija time to plan her portraits. She enlisted friends, family members, and Facebook acquaintances to sit for her. Her subjects appear against mottled backdrops, often at a three-quarter turn. The compositions would recall yearbook photos, if it weren’t for the utterly insane plastic, latex, and rubber contraptions protruding from their faces (oddities that do not seem to register in their serene facial expressions).
Among the products Evija has photographed: a lime-green plastic “smile maker” that keeps your lips in a permanent manic grin with tiny curved crutches (made in Korea, $8.99 through Amazon Prime). A chin-shaping “head belt” made from soft pink neoprene that the listing assures will fit even “soft chin” (made in China, $2.45 on Amazon). And an “eyelid trainer,” a funky-looking pair of inverted spectacles that promises to “refine the eyelid without plastic surgery” ($7.99 through Amazon Prime, where the product’s one review reads just, “crap”).
“I like combining classical photography with the devices, to make very strange looking photos,” says Evija, who first picked up photography as a hobby in 2007, not long after moving to the UK from Latvia. “I wanted something sophisticated and interesting, but at the same time disturbing.” We are speaking on Halloween and she jokes that the contraptions “are like Halloween masks!”
But her work’s purpose is serious. “There is a huge problem now,” she says. “We are living in this fear that ‘If I do not perfectly fit society’s standards, I am not enough.’” Evija’s project is an attempt to show both the funny and sad effects of our attempts to conform to arbitrary, often unattainable, ideals of beauty.
“I feel the pressure as well,” says Evija. She tells me that she was bullied in school because of her nose. “I know how women feel if you don’t fit those rules. Everyone is supposed to have a classical-shaped nose. But it’s stupid. If you don’t fit, you get depressed, you do silly things. We need to talk about this more.”
Evija’s images, which she hopes to publish as a book, don’t depict women as victims of these pressures, though. As the series’ title, “Beauty Warriors,” suggests, Evija sees her subjects as empowered. By participating in the project, they are (sometimes literally) turning their noses up at the beauty industry.