When I was thirteen, I had some photographs taken at the orthodontist before getting fixed braces. The photographs were taken from a range of angles to capture a true representation of the changes due in the event that the dental work altered my jaw shape. Instead of feeling excited about the prospect of finally having straight teeth instead of those reminiscent of Ripley’s foe in Alien, upon seeing the images, I honed in on my nose. It was the first time I remember seeing it from the side since prepubescent photos and something awful had happened in those few short years. A sizeable bump had formed on my bridge. I was, and remain, obsessed with it. All of my friends and family tell me I’m being completely ridiculous and vain and insist that there’s no bump there. They say I’d be a fool to change it. Yet, if I were to come into a decent amount of money, a nose job would be number two on my list of purchases right after a house, and immediately followed by a dog. (Yep, I’m basic) Then, during my recovery in a swanky hotel, I’d dish out some dosh to my nearest and dearest, emerging weeks later as a generous benefactor with an adorable little nose. This may be why Alexis Stone’s social experiment resonated so deeply with me. And, regardless of your views on plastic surgery and its place in society, this explosive gag should resonate with every single one of us.
Elliot Rentz, a Manchester born makeup master, is better known by his drag alter-ego Alexis Stone. He shot to fame showcasing his truly mind blowing ability to transform himself into any celebrity imaginable with makeup. Just makeup. With over 700K followers on his Instagram account, Alexis was well accustomed to battling trolls and a plethora of stranger’s opinions on his makeup-free face. After undergoing a rhinoplasty and experimenting with fillers, he said he was called “botched”, “a monster” and “plastic surgery obsessed”. He questioned why people are only “allowed” to get surgery if it seems they need it in the minds of the general public. Stone argued that if enough people call you a monster, then that’s exactly what you become to society.
In August, Stone announced he was going under the knife again for a dramatic new look. I remember watching the video, captivated, as he explained that he’s “always been attracted to a different aesthetic” and wanted how he looked on the outside to match how he felt on the inside. The comments on this post were generally supportive – until he unveiled his new look. Sharing a photo of himself in “hospital”, Stone appeared bruised and the shape of his new face was evident. Weeks later, he shared another photo of himself made-up and sporting a sassy Jane Fonda-esque wig, declaring he hadn’t felt “this confident or happy in years”. The hate rolled in.
Some of the comments were truly vitriolic, they said he’d “ruined” his face, “destroyed” himself and the major consensus seemed to be that he shouldn’t have had the surgery. “You were such a handsome, normal and cute guy”, “wtf has he done to his face”, “you had a very beautiful face, it’s sad you couldn’t see it”, “GET YOUR MONEY BACK AND SUE THAT DOCTOR FOR EVERYTHING HE’S GOT”; the acerbic commentary was intense. Yet, all Alexis told us was that he felt happy and confident with his new look and it was helping him find some inner peace. Shouldn’t that have been enough to stop the malignant comments? I myself was shocked by his new appearance, I was constantly checking my Instagram feed for updates on his recovery and had fallen hook, line and sinker for his performance. I told all of my friends about him, I followed his secondary Instagram page in case he would provide any more insight into how he was feeling and healing; I was obsessed. Did I like his new look? Not at first, but as I got used to it and saw the dazzling array of makeup looks he created on his new canvas, I fell in love with it. Would it matter if I never liked his new look? No, because it’s not my face or choice and Alexis was clear in his declarations of personal happiness. Sadly, too many people felt their right to express a negative opinion trumped a human being’s right to make their own choices about their own appearance. It seems that no matter what we do, or how we try to live, if we have an online presence, then we open ourselves up to be picked apart and critiqued over anything and everything. Alexis changed his outer appearance and it exposed the inner appearance of an alarming amount of his followers.
Then, the mother of all plot-twists occurred. In a brand reveal video, Alexis showed himself glammed up to the nines, rocking his new face and a golden makeup look, before literally ripping his “new” face off to reveal that he hadn’t gone under the knife at all. I’m still shook. For three months, he subjected himself to persistent scrutiny, anger, hostility and downright cruelty – all while dealing with his sobriety journey. This was a project that was undoubtedly deeply personal to Elliot, as he sought to reinvent his Alexis Stone persona, but it became much, much bigger and alarmingly relatable.
Alexis/Elliot presented himself as Frankenstein’s monster; a botched surgery horror story that we should cower from and lament, but really, he was the mastermind Dr Frankenstein and we, the “concerned” observers and keyboard warriors, became his monsters.
This entire project was an illuminating piece of performance art that held a mirror up to societal expectations of beauty. It also proved just how far we have to go before we can consider ourselves an accepting community – especially online. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next…
Thank you for reading! Apologies for the delay in posts, it’s one of my goals for this year to be more consistent. Hope your 2019 is off to a magical start!