Pucker Plumping: A Tell-All Report of an Editor’s Lip Injection Journey

You might not see Allison Hatfield’s name when you’re reading our most recent magazine issue, but she’s behind much of it. Allison is our tireless copy editor, responsible for removing grammatical snafus, swapping out punctuation, overseeing spelling, and helping keep our writers sounding smart, witty, and entertaining. But she is all those things, too, which you’ll see below in a personal essay of her first cosmetic procedure. (Before and after photos included.)

by Allison Hatfield

Lips don’t run in my family. We have thick hair. We have light eyes. Some of us have olive skin. But lips? We don’t have those. Our bottom lips are pitifully thin and our top lips go from nearly nonexistent to completely nonexistent with age. Family photos reveal faces full of straight, white teeth—their top lips slipping right into their mouths, as if made of butter.

This bothers me. Angelina Jolie has lips. Scarlett Johansson has lips. Lots of people have lips. But I fall short of the glory of Hollywood. I also have lines around my mouth like an 85-year-old smoker. I feel embarrassed.

And that seems dumb, so I fixed it. I purchased a pucker. Restylane to the rescue.

Though my lame little lips have been a concern for me for years, I was spurred into action after a particularly bad couple of months dating a man who picked me apart. He started with my writing, telling me he didn’t “agree” with my style. But I would not be shaken because he thought my sentences were too short or my commas too few, no matter how many times he brought it up at dinner parties. And when he announced that a story about my ex-boyfriend was “good, but not that good” because he found it uncomfortably revealing, that said more about him than it did about me. I suggested he try again.

And he did. He moved on to what he thought would be an easier target: my breasts. On more than one occasion he told me that I must think they are droopy. The way he said it suggested he’d asked 1,000 women before me if their boobs made them sad, assuming, I guess, that all women over a certain age feel shitty about their chests. But I don’t. My 41-year-old boobs are well-shaped, proportionate for my body, and have benefited from childlessness and WonderBras. Seeing that my breasts (if not my self-esteem—I did keep saying yes to dates with this jerkface) were firmly in place, he went for my lips.

As in: You don’t really have any, do you?

I don’t.

And my lips, it would seem, are my Achilles heel. That guy’s comment stuck to me like poo on a shoe. And that’s how I found myself at a medispa off Central early one Tuesday morning in June.

Restylane (and a similar product called Juvederm) is FDA-approved injectible hyaluronic acid, which is a normal component of skin. It’s used to fill hollows around the mouth and eyes and plump lips. It lasts six to nine months, and if you don’t like the results, there is another injection that quickly reverses it. Knowing that if I ended up looking like a Real Housewife I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of 2012 with my head in a sack comforted me.

I spent the night before my appointment psyching myself out. Reading posts on plastic surgery boards about lip injections gone wrong sent me into a terror spin that was calmed only by approximately two hours of watching videos of the procedure itself. Though unhappy commenters warned of excruciating pain and lumpy results, none of the people in videos with soothing music suffered. And they were all pretty pleased with their procedures. I opted to believe the videos, thinking 4,960 YouTube selections can’t be wrong.

So off I went to get a face full of filler.

Once I was in a treatment room at the medispa, the nurse (who does not like to be told she looks like Priscilla Presley) covered the lower third of my face with an industrial-strength numbing cream. I was terrified the procedure would hurt until my face went numb. Really, really numb. Dentist office numb. And there was the added assurance that Restylane contains a tiny bit of lidocaine, so it numbs even more as it goes in.

Holding the hand of my friend who went with me out of curiosity and for moral support, I lay back on a paper-covered table and closed my eyes.

It didn’t hurt. But what I didn’t realize until the treatment was underway was that it isn’t just a couple of injections and—boom!—you’re done. It is many injections in which the needle seems to go crossways into the lip and then is pulled out very slowly as the Restylane is released. And though this wasn’t painful, it was freaky. I could feel the pressure of the needle entering my lip and then leaving. Again and again and again. I had to force myself not to think about it.

Injecting the full 1-milliliter syringe into my top and bottom lips took about a half hour (and cost me $450). And then the nurse gave me a pair of little ice pillows no bigger than matchbooks and sent me on my way with the instructions to “ice as much as possible.”

Before I went in, I’d done a lot of research. I was surprised that I hadn’t been given any pre-op instructions by the nurse, so here’s what I dug up on my own (these tips are to prevent excessive bruising):

  1. Stop drinking alcohol a week before the procedure.
  2. Stop taking aspirin or ibuprofen for two weeks before.
  3. Stop taking fish oil or vitamin E two weeks before.
  4. Eat lots of pineapple before and after.

With regard to that last one, they should just make that before. What I didn’t find out about lip plumping from a nurse or from the internet is that I would be too sore to eat after the procedure. And in a matter of hours, I wasn’t able to drink anything either. My lips began to swell before I got home and continued to do so throughout the day despite continuous icing. By bedtime they’d reached a comical size. My mouth was stiff and too tender to touch with so much as a straw (and I’d begun to document the hilarity with my iPhone). Hungry and dehydrated, I swallowed two Tylenol without water and went to sleep. Things were much better the next day.

And the next. And the next. By the weekend, I’d experienced the full range of emotions—from “Oh, my god! I have ruined my face!” to “Oh, wow. I love it.”—and had taken my new pout on a test drive around town.

Reaction was good—but not what I expected. Once the swelling and bruising subsided, the results were subtle. So subtle that although people sensed a change, they could not pinpoint what exactly it was. Quite a few people guessed that I’d lost weight. It seems that bigger lips make your waist look smaller. My father asked if I’d done something to my teeth. At least he was in the ballpark. But exactly no one said, “Gee, your lips look terrific.” At least no one who didn’t know beforehand what I’d done.

But, of course, the only opinion that matters is mine. And I absolutely adore my barely fuller lips.

Jerkface will never know what he’s missing.