Recovering in her hospital bed after a £6,000 breast augmentation, Saffron Grey slowly propped herself up and switched on the TV.
“I’d never missed an episode of Love Island and being in hospital wasn’t going to change that,” says the 22-year-old nursing student from London. “As my screen filled with gorgeous girls strutting around in their bikinis, I looked down at my new boobs and smiled. I was finally a step closer to looking like them.”
Saffron isn’t the only person to resort to cosmetic surgery to look like her reality show idols. Dubbed the “Love Island effect” by Harley Street cosmetic surgeon Dr Julian de Silva, the average age of women going under the knife for the first time has dropped from 42 in 2012 to 37 in 2018 – making it the youngest it’s ever been.
Figures also show that non-surgical treatments favoured by villa contestants, such as Botox and fillers, now account for nine out of 10 procedures and are worth a staggering £2.75billion.
On top of that, research from BBC Radio 5 Live discovered that after watching just a couple of episodes, 11% of 18-34 year olds were more likely to consider lip fillers, while nearly a third wanted to lose weight.
In Manchester, one aesthetic clinic reported a 200% increase in demand for a plumper pout following Megan Barton-Hanson’s entrance into the villa last summer. It even put together a Love Island package consisting of Botox, lip fillers and an optional non-surgical rhinoplasty to cater for the demand.
Dr Tijion Esho, founder of Harley Street’s The Esho Clinic, says that the show has had a massive impact on young women’s desire to get the Love Island look.
“I’ve seen a huge rise in the number of 18-25 year olds seeking lip fillers since the show began,” he explains. “Many young women are coming to my clinic with pictures of the show’s contestants and asking how they can achieve that appearance.”
Since Love Island’s relaunch in 2015 after a nine-year hiatus, it now attracts more than 85,000 applications from wannabe Islanders each year and averages 2.95 million viewers per series, peaking at 3.6 million during last year’s finale.
The majority of the participants are fairly open about the work they’ve had done. Most famous is Megan, 25, who has reportedly spent £25,000 on a nose job, veneers, lip fillers and breast augmentation. Even last year’s winner, girl next door Dani Dyer, confessed to having lip fillers prior to hitting our screens.
But what has sparked our obsession with emulating these women? “Evolution has hard-wired humans to be fascinated by beautiful people,” explains Harley Street therapist Adam Cox.
“We also come with a need for validation and desire, so when something becomes a socially accepted form of beauty for a certain generation – for example, white teeth, pert boobs and big lips – it also becomes the new benchmark. If you don’t match up to it, you can either decide to accept it or try to fix it.
Because most of the contestants have had surgery before they go on the show, it’s clear that the aesthetic can’t be achieved by gym and diet alone, which is why so many young people are opting for cosmetic enhancements. These days, surgery is also less taboo than it used to be, plus more accessible and affordable.”
It was during the first series of Love Island in 2015 that Saffron was first inspired to get a boob job. She wanted to look like contestant Hannah Elizabeth, a glamour model who admitted to splashing out £15,000 on two boob jobs, lip fillers and Botox.
“I’d always been unhappy with my boobs because they were asymmetrical – one was a big B cup, while the other was a little B,” explains Saffron. “When I watched Love Island I’d feel so jealous of the women’s figures, especially Hannah’s, because they didn’t have a single flaw. After the show, I’d spend hours scrolling through Instagram, studying their bodies and researching how I could make mine like theirs.”
Eventually, in April 2017, Saffron confessed to her mum that she was thinking about having cosmetic surgery. “Thankfully, she understood that I was unhappy, so she agreed to help me pay for a £6,000 boob job,” says Saffron. “Some friends told me I didn’t need it, but they always supported my decision. It was a lot of money, but I felt so self-conscious that I knew it would be worth it.”
In July 2017, Saffron underwent the procedure, which took her up five cup sizes to a 30G. “It was a big leap in size, but I love the hourglass look,” she says. Luckily, the recovery was much quicker than expected and when the bandages came off two weeks later, it instantly boosted my self-esteem. I started wearing low-cut tops, which I’d previously shied away from, and my friends and family noticed I was much more confident.”
Despite loving her new boobs, though, Saffron still wasn’t completely happy with how she looked. “When I compared myself to the girls on the show and social media, I felt I still had problem areas, such as my stomach and hips,” she says.
“It was annoying because I ate healthily and went to the gym, but I just wasn’t getting the toned, slim physique I was aiming for. As my initial surgery helped me feel so much better about myself, I didn’t see the problem in having more procedures.”
In September 2017, Saffron paid £300 for lip fillers and spent a further £8,000 of her savings and money from her mum on vaser liposuction – a body-sculpting procedure that uses ultrasound technology to break down fat cells – to suck out three litres of fat from her hips and stomach. The liposuction made her drop from a size 8 to a size 6.
“I was a little apprehensive beforehand and the recovery was difficult,” she admits. “I had to wear a body stocking for eight weeks following the procedure to ensure the smooth retraction of skin. Three months later, I was finally ready to put my bikini on and I was thrilled with my new figure. I still didn’t think I had the perfect body, but I was closer to my ideal than I’d ever been.”
Next on Saffron’s list is another boob job. “I’d like to go up a size because I’ve got used to them, but I’m not sure if it’s possible with my small figure,” she explains.
“Of course, I’ve had strangers criticise me on social media for having fillers and large implants, but as long as I’m happy, that’s all that matters. I might even consider applying to be on the show after I finish uni next summer, as I’m unlucky in love and I certainly look the part now.”
Saffron isn’t alone in comparing herself to the Love Island girls. Feminist campaign group Level Up conducted a survey last year that found that 40% of women who watched the show felt more self-conscious about their body image.
Meanwhile, after an ad for cosmetic surgery clinic MYA aired – showing young women laughing around a pool, with a voice-over saying: “These girls had breast enlargements with MYA and feel amazing” – it prompted 17 complaints, including one from the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), and was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority.
“There’s a premise that if you aren’t as attractive as the people on reality shows and social media, you’re not good enough,” explains Adam Cox. “It’s a huge issue that our self-worth hangs on a snapshot of what is deemed to be attractive. We’ve now got a generation of people for whom the barrier to cosmetic surgery is getting lower and lower.”
Worryingly, with surgery now in such high demand, the number of unlicensed practitioners is also on the rise. According to Save Face, official complaints about non-surgical procedures have more than doubled to over 600 cases in the last three years.
“The reality is it’s near impossible to regulate our industry,” says Caroline Payne, plastic surgery consultant and member of the British Association of Aesthetic and Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS).
“All it takes is a four-hour course to be qualified to inject fillers and Botox, but does that really make someone a medical practitioner? What’s scary is that people take more time to research their plumber than a cosmetic surgeon, as they believe that if the local hairdresser is qualified to put Botox in their face, then it can’t be that dangerous.
“There’s a definite link between supply and demand, when it comes to providers – regulated or not – thanks to the surge of young women going for surgery to emulate the look of influencers and stars of reality shows. At the end of the day, fillers are far cheaper than a facelift and are available practically anywhere you go. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future we find airports offering it before someone goes on holiday, which is a worry.”
However, action is about to be taken, with the government launching a campaign later this month to raise awareness surrounding the dangers of unregulated cosmetic surgery.
Rubey Lailia, 29, spent nearly £14,000 on surgery to get the Love Island look. She first went under the knife in 2015, spending £6,000 of her savings on a boob job to increase her cup size from B to D, and has since had lip fillers, lip and cheek augmentations and a non-surgical nose job.
“My generation is full of women who are acutely aware of their look, thanks to social media and reality shows, and we have the means to change things we don’t like,” says Rubey, from Newcastle.
“When I first had my lips filled in 2015, it didn’t feel like a big deal. I’d switch on the TV and see the girls on Love Island with gorgeous pouts and amazing boobs, while my Insta feed was filled with pictures of perfect women – it was a lot to live up to.
“The work I had was so subtle that my parents didn’t even notice. Friends could see I’d had something done, and complimented me on how great I looked. After that, I was hooked.”
Over the next five years, make-up artist Rubey used her earnings to have her lip fillers topped up every nine months, costing £6,000 in total, and in January 2018 she had a non-surgical nose job – where a dermal filler injection changes the shape of the nose – followed by fillers in her cheeks and Botox around her jaw to alter the structure of her face.
“Afterwards, I felt like a different person,” she remembers. “That summer, people started commenting that I looked like Kaz Crossley from series four. I’ve always been a big fan of the show, so it was a massive confidence boost – who doesn’t want to look like a Love Island girl?”
Rubey says she’ll continue to have cosmetic procedures in the future, too. “There are always trends when it comes to what is beautiful, and the current one involves surgery,” she says. “Of course, we should all be happy with how we look naturally, but fillers have become the new normal.”
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According to Adam, however, having surgery to achieve a certain look is a slippery slope.
“Many young women see it as a magic wand that will make them much happier,” he says. “But these feelings are often temporary, so when someone feels unhappy or depressed, it’s possible that they’ll look for the next thing that isn’t ‘perfect’ to give them that high again.”
However, Saffron disagrees: “I don’t see a problem in having plastic surgery if there’s something you don’t like about yourself. If you have the money to do it safely, then where’s the harm in that?”