“You were the most beautiful baby,” my mother once said to me. “But I was worried that your lips were going to be too thin.” Though it must be stated for the record that she now vehemently denies ever having made this declaration, she wasn’t entirely wrong. Even before Zoom enabled us to become freakishly attuned to the idiosyncrasies of our faces, I’ve long bemoaned a lack of volume, and despite having learned how to smile in such a way that my upper lip won’t disappear when I flash my teeth, sometimes I forget, and often wish that I didn’t have to pay it any attention at all.
“There’s a lot of beauty in finer lips,” the stylist Mellany Sanchez told me in between bites of a lemon tart at the Odeon after I voiced my complaints. Sanchez, who was bestowed with a naturally endowed pout, noted that a fuller mouth hasn’t always been the standard, that there was a time before bigger meant better. Another one-time Vogue colleague at the table, however, was quick to chime in: “Dude,” she deadpanned, putting down her fork. “Just get a little filler.”
She had a point: In the age of the Kardashians and medi bars, who, really, is aesthetically virtuous enough not to have had some kind of “tweakment”? And yet, as someone who has long prescribed to a natural façade—once vowing to myself that I would embrace any and all wrinkles with open arms—I was nervous, nay terrified, to go anywhere near a needle, especially if it ran me the risk of ending up with what New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino dubbed “Instagram face.”
Eventually, however, my vanity got the best of me—not to mention that, if it went terribly awry, I could claim that it was all in the name of research. (I was a beauty editor, after all!) And so, after lying awake in bed one night (or, er, several nights) scrolling through countless before-and-after Instagrams, I finally booked myself a slot with Shereene Idriss, whose less-is-more touch has made her the go-to dermatologist among the likes of Paloma Elsesser and Ashley Graham.
“I have turned a lot of people [asking for lip filler] away,” Idriss said reassuringly when she met me in a treatment room in Union Square Laser Dermatology one winter afternoon in early 2020. “You really have to look at a person’s face and proportions, especially when they’re speaking and being dynamic,” she continued before agreeing that my own lips, which she pointed out rounded on one side and extended out into a straight line on the other, made me an ideal candidate for a syringe—or, rather, half of one. “I like to do it slowly,” she said of her measured approach. “I’m telling you it’s so much better that way, even if you don’t notice it as much.” A few (not entirely painless) pokes later, she sent me on my way with a tube of arnica gel (to minimize any swelling and bruising) and a follow-up appointment in two weeks’ time.
Back at Vogue’s office, I stopped in the restroom to examine my new pout. It was smoother, slightly plumper, and in a new twist, entirely balanced. But would anyone call me out? I wondered sheepishly. As if on cue, my boss walked in. “I almost wish you had more,” she said, cocking her head to one side as she looked at me, seemingly underwhelmed. Subtle? Score! I smiled, catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Much to my delight, both of my lips were fully present—and I hadn’t even had to think about it.