These days every teen on YouTube with a Too Faced palette thinks they're a makeup artist. There are armies of terrifying 12-year-olds sashaying about the town with perfectly cultivated Linda Evangelista eyebrows. Gone are the days when you experimented with a set of tweezers in the bathroom mirror and ended up with one eyebrow like a dead slug and the other a patchy "tribute" to Shane Lynch. There are no tell-tale tide-marks of orange ringing around the necks of these youths – even fake tan has been replaced by the more complexion-appropriate moonbeams of a good highlighter.
In an online world that is crammed full of Kylie Jenner's sofa-sized lips, face-tuning filters and radioactive Hollywood smiles, it feels as though even we plebs have had to collectively up our game in the beauty stakes. A hastily applied blob of foundation and a slick of Vaseline running out the door won't cut it any more. With most of us having gone mad from scribbling on our teeth with whitening markers, overdosing on Pu'er Tea or being unable to sleep due to nightmares about spiders mistakenly trying to romance our spindly lash extensions, the beauty market has intensified and nowhere is this more evident than in the home of looking lux: Liverpool.
Liverpudlians take the notion of beautification deadly seriously. On any given day, women patrol the city streets with such giant, bountiful barnets it's like a never-ending intro to Charlie's Angels. They live for a classy do and if you haven't mangled yourself into the tightest bodycon slip before popping to Tesco, you're just not trying. Liverpool will always be top of the ChampiHuns League.
Their dedication to extreme makeovers and reputation for gold-standard glamour is the basis for BBC3's Beauty Blowout, a reality show that follows the events in a typical salon on one of their busiest days of the year: Grand National Ladies' Day. In this treatment venue the salon assistants are not just waxers and tanners, they are phlebotomists and laser-wielding superheroes ready to whack a layer of skin right off your upper arms as if they're tackling a stubborn pebble-dash wall on DIY SOS. This is the sacred space for hardcore beauty junkies for whom nonsurgical procedures are as common and routine as a curly blow-dry.
Scene from Barbarella
Mother and daughter duo Ell and Mel lie side by side for their boob and bum "upgrades" chatting idly while Mam, Ell, has two vacuum suction cups attached to her breasts like a missing scene from Barbarella, "You have such a nice bum!" she coos at her daughter, who is getting her behind plumped up for race day. Single mother Carly is also treating herself to a boob uplift to replace the dubious bubblegum pink "electronic bra" she bought on the internet, divulging her nightly regime to amused assistant Jules. "I sit there with a glass of Prosecco watching the telly with egg on me face and me bra going zzz!"
As the girls gather together, there is a sweetness and camaraderie to them that is far removed from the classist Daily Mail articles that bemoan the vulgarity of the event, printing lurid photos of young working-class women enjoying themselves as if it signals the end of civilisation. These women share stories of feeling insecure or lacking confidence and it is not only the lip fillers and face sculpting that raises their spirits but the salon staff and fellow clients as they shower each other with compliments.
The procedures may be temporary but the makeover on their self-esteem that is achieved is lasting, as many return to thank the staff after their day out. The military preparation for Ladies’ Day is not a quest for unobtainable perfection but a way to inject some happiness into the mundanity of life.
These girls just wanna have fun and if that means having their bums sandblasted or two plastic tea cups attached to themselves to improve their cleavage, why not? What is often dismissed as shallow vanity is really self-care – applying necessary armour for the harshness of life. It’s women together, united in being kind to themselves and each other, released from the shame of celebrating themselves – which is infinitely more aspirational than the glossy photo finish.