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What do IG accounts like @celebface get out of exposing celebrity surgery?

We meet the anonymous minds behind Instagram’s most ruthless accounts and question the ethics of exposing celebrity surgery

It’s 2019 and the internet is filled with Kardashian simulacra with bodies like an hourglass and faces beat for the gods. We’re all familiar with it – that look, with the Kylie Jenner pout, the contoured nose and fluttery eyes like a Bratz Doll; the oh-so-proportioned figure with the slim waist and the peachy butt that seems to exist almost exclusively online and on red carpets. We know it’s unrealistic yet some of us still strive to achieve it, whether it’s through face filters that coat your face in a digital vaseline, photo editing apps like FaceTune or cosmetic procedures that plump you up and slim down your facial features. Whichever route you go down, it’s a look that takes a lot of work to achieve. Work that is being quickly unpicked by a new wave of eagle-eyed Instagram accounts.

By now, you’ll know the infamous Celeb Face. Dubbed the Diet Prada of celebrity airbrushing, the private (and anonymous) account – which has over 1 million followers – is notorious for its scathing posts, unmasking the cosmetic and photoshopped secrets of the rich and famous. With an opening bio that reads “WELCOME TO REALITY” in all-caps, the account is a wormhole of GIFs and photographs, hellbent on exposing the truth beneath the celebrity aesthetic: faces magnified to reveal skin caked in foundation, before-and-afters of influencers IRL and post-FaceTune, and images of celebrities pre and post non-invasive treatment and cosmetic surgery. Admittedly, it’s fascinating to see the time and money people spend to achieve this level of beauty revealed (one comment on a post of model Eiza Gonzalez reads, “you’re not ugly, you’re just broke”, and looking at it gives you the same sort of macabre delight that you might get reading a tabloid.

But Celeb Face is just the tip of the iceberg. Instagram is packed with dozens of accounts unveiling the inner-workings of celebrity beauty, from accounts like @celebbeforeafter and @igfamousbodies (both sitting at around 50k followers) that show before-and-after transformations of famous people to @celebritydentistry (44.5k followers), which sees images of wonky pre-celebrity teeth juxtaposed with their new and improved Hollywood smiles. Clearly, these accounts are popular; but just who are the anonymous vigilantes behind them? What really motivates them? And more importantly, what are the consequences?

“The internet has so many lies. Some people tell me on the daily that my account boosts their self-esteem because now they know that influencers are not perfect and that they have flaws or insecurities,” says the anonymous user behind Exposingallcelebs, an Instagram that chronicles the visual transformations of celebrities. It’s a sentiment that’s echoed by Celebface who told The Daily Mail last year: “This is not a page for hate. This is the page for people who use Instagram every day and think celebrities are perfect. But nobody is perfect. Celebrities are ordinary people.”

In an ideal world, no-one should have to disclose information about themselves that they don’t want to disclose, but it’s understandable that people are keen to bust the lid on a beauty industry that profits from our insecurities. The issue boils down to this: When role models try to pass off their enhanced looks as au naturel, it has serious implications for the thousands of followers who believe that they were born like this. As long as there are people whose edited looks secure million-dollar sponsorship deals, these pages and the interest surrounding them is inevitable.

But it’s not all about myth busting for the sake of our self-esteem. IG Famous Bodies merely wants to normalise the idea of cosmetic surgery by showing just how many celebrities have had something done, and in turn educate users on what options are out there should they want to try something out. With an opening bio that reads, “Celeb transformations. Learn about procedures”, and story highlights divided into handy sections such as cheek fillers, age reversal and botox, IG Famous Bodies tries to find a balance between the standard celebrity transformation pics and info. One story highlight is even dedicated to the founder’s own cosmetic before-and-afters.

“The stigma surrounding cosmetic procedures means that no-one really talks about it and celebrities deny it, or worse, attribute the results to something like exercise or eating clean,” Famous Bodies explains. “If someone is adamant they’re natural when it’s very obvious they’ve had work done or photoshopped the image, it’s deception.This results in lots of misinformation and ignorance, which is something I want to help resolve, so I’ll call them out for it. I want people to learn what procedures are out there, what the expected results are, the downtime, pain and price. I think reducing ignorance about cosmetic procedures makes it more likely for everyone to have a healthy concept of what they are, what they can achieve, and how to have a safe and legal procedure.”

But no matter the reason, whether you’re reporting on celebrity surgery as a way of reassuring the public that as a general rule most people don't just #wakeuplikethis, or merely trying to normalise plastic surgery, it’s still an incredibly mean – and potentially emotionally harmful – way to out someone’s insecurities, especially on a pubic platform like Instagram. Khloe Kardashian famously blocked Celeb Face for posting about her, while Dubai sisters and make-up artists Sonia and Fyza Ali even threatened the account with lawsuits. “Yes, it hurts some Instagram models’ feelings,” admits IG Famous Bodies. “I’ve had requests and even been threatened by some to remove their pictures. I get a lot of hate mail when I post someone really loved like Taylor Swift or Bella Hadid. I try to tell them it’s nothing personal.”

Exposingallcelebs has also had its fair share of criticism. “Some people think I have no life and that I’m a hater,” she confesses. Aside from people blocking her (which is apparently commonplace), it’s not rare to receive threatening DMs from influencers and fans alike, warning for posts to be taken down. Since starting this article, the account has been blocked twice and reemerged on different accounts, but this isn’t anything out of the ordinary: in fact lots of accounts supply backup profiles in their bios. So given the amount of hate surrounding these profiles, and the fact that much of this content is obviously harmful or offensive, how do these users justify their accounts?

For IG Famous Bodies, the dangers of denying surgery outweighs the ethics of calling someone out for deception. She mentions the example of @Krotchy (real name Sarah McDaniel), an influencer with over one million followers, who was known for having heterochromia or mismatched irises – that is, until Celeb Face posted a childhood photo of the model with matching brown eyes, with the words: “Expectation: A poor girl with different coloured eyes” “Reality: An ordinary liar who had eye colour surgery and tells everyone about her ‘real’ heterochromia now”. The caption references a 2016 interview with the then-newly rebranded Playboy, where McDaniel recounts her struggles with the genetic condition, which includes getting bullied for it at school. “It is disturbing to me that she would lie,” IG Famous Bodies tells us. “My biggest issue with it is that now she became the face of heterochromia, just like Winnie Harlow is the face of vitiligo.

While this shows that not all examples are as clear cut as we might have originally anticipated, it raises an important question: was it really up to Celeb Face (who has recently been revealed as a 24 year old girl called Anna) to decide it was in the public’s interest that McDaniel was lying? Indeed, in the months following the incident the model reported experiencing panic attacks and depression as a direct consequence of the attacks. Like many people on Instagram who alter their looks via surgery, make-up contouring, Photoshop or otherwise, the model had no obligation to reveal the secret behind her eyes, just as you don’t have to disclose airbrushing a spot from your own Insta profile. It’s simply no-one’s business but your own – until perhaps it is.

Famous Bodies goes on to give another example, influencer Demi Rose Mawby, who has a fanbase of over nine million. A recent post by the model attributes her current figure to regular exercise and clean eating, which she goes onto explain helped her overcome an eating disorder. “I have been working with a personal trainer or by myself in the gym 3-4 times a week. God bless those who have suffered with an eating disorder,” reads the post that juxtaposes two images of Mawby next to one another (in one, she is noticeably skinny with minimal curves, and in the other, a curvalicious hourglass shape with a tiny waist, large breasts and a peachy ass. Famous Bodies says: “Her arms are the same size, her stomach is still flat, but miraculously she gained a lot of weight only in her boobs, butt and hips? Yeah, bodies don’t work like that.”

The problem with this, Famous Bodies goes onto explain, is the comments on Mawby’s posts, usually by young girls. Comments like, “I need this body” and “I need your workout routine” highlight the disturbing consequences that touched-up photographs might have on impressionable teens. Because, as Famous Bodies intimates, no workout routine will be able to produce these results. To suggest so sets up unrealistic expectations for young girls hoping to emulate Mawby’s figure, so much so that they might feel like failures when they are unable to yield these specific results. The only real way to achieve this is via cosmetic surgery. To Famous Bodies, examples like this are part of the reason why a report by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery cites social media as the lead motivator for millennials opting for cosmetic procedures. It’s also the reason her account exists: to combat the real-life effects of social media on a person’s body image and mental health.

While their actions remain morally dubious, it becomes clear that from speaking to the users behind these accounts, they present a good case for why they do what they do. Sure, they don’t really have the authority to out people’s touch-ups, and trashing people is harsh af, but their hearts seem to be in a good place. Admittedly, in the process of writing this article, I only managed to speak to a handful of accounts (many ignored my messages or refused to comment), so to say this applies to everyone would be a generalisation. Yet even within this Instagram courtroom-of-sorts, IG Famous Bodies tries to keep the tone light and complimentary. “I try my best to stick with compliments by keeping captions to simply speculating what work I think each person has had done.” A recent post on Patrick Dempsey even celebrates his nose job.

Still, beyond actually meaning well, and debunking myths for a generation built on social media (Stars! They’re Just Like Us!) there's no shame to be had in getting something done, and it’s important – both for celebrities and their followers – to encourage each other to engage in an open dialogue surrounding cosmetic procedures. After all, these accounts are symptoms of a wider problem: a systematically rigged Catch 22 model of beauty that punishes you if you comply, and punishes you if you don’t. In a recent interview with Dazed Beauty, Love Island’s Megan Barton-Hanson highlights the problem: “You’re getting bullied on how you look. Then you get all these companies running averts saying ‘Get your new body today’. Then when you do it, you’re penalised for being fake or plastic.” So as long as these discrepancies exist, the pressure to look and feel a certain way is inevitable, as is the judgy onslaught that follows, like these ruthless Instagram accounts.