Former model Alicia Douvall has had more than 350 cosmetic surgery procedures at a cost of more than £1 million. She’s one of more than 50,000 people in the UK who had some form of cosmetic surgery last year - a 17 per cent rise from 2012. Despite undergoing so many procedures, with the last operation only eight months ago, Alicia now has deep regrets about having any surgery at all. Here she speaks about how her obsession has affected her life.
Alicia Douvall lost the ability to speak normally after undergoing hundreds of cosmetic operations – many on her face. Nerve damage caused by one procedure left her unable to move her jaw properly, causing problems with speaking and eating. She underwent reconstructive surgery to try to get it working again but the damage couldn’t be rectified.
“I went to see a speech therapist because I can only use part of my mouth now, so I had to re-train myself to use the other muscles of my face” she explains. “Sometimes when I’m talking it feels weird. My bottom lip has been suspended with clips. It doesn’t actually work. If I didn’t have the clips in I’d look like I'd had a stroke. Sometimes I find it hard to eat and I can’t feel half my lip either, so I have to be careful with hot drinks.”
The 34-year-old mother of two daughters, aged 18 and two, has had more than 350 procedures at a cost of more than £1 million. Alicia herself has lost count of the exact number of cosmetic operations she’s undergone but they include: nose jobs; face implants; 16 breast enhancements; a bone shaved in her brow; a toe shortened and her ribs shaved. She’s also had further procedures to have surgery corrected and implants removed and confesses that her nose has been removed and stitched back on four times as one facial feature or another has been altered in her quest for perfection.
She says: “I begged the surgeon to remove my ribs so I could have a really small waist. He said to wear a corset all the time so I wore a corset for six months continuously and it didn’t do anything. I kept begging him and begging him and kept going back to ask him to remove my ribs. Eventually he shaved the ribs but it wasn’t enough. I had my toe shortened because I wanted perfect toes. Those are the kind of extreme lengths I went to.”
Alicia’s obsession with surgery began when she was 19 after she had her first breast augmentation and one thing led to another. She says: “As a teenager I didn’t feel like the most beautiful but looking back I didn’t feel like I was ugly. I just believed that surgery had no consequences and I could simply pay £3,000 or £5,000 and I could have perfect boobs or a perfect nose and I thought 'why would I not do that?'"
“If you’re not happy (with the results) you have to keep going back and having more operations and then you correct one thing and something else doesn’t look right. Because before even though your nose might be big, it kind of fitted your face. Then you take your nose down but your chin looks too big and it carries on like that.
“In the end I was like a crack addict. I’d do anything literally anything to get the surgery. I funded it through my modelling; I wasted a trust fund; I took all the savings that were for my daughter’s private education. I worked 24/7 just so I could pay for the next surgery. I chose my boyfriends and made sure they would pay for the next surgery. My life revolved around surgery. If you’re a perfectionist it’s a very dangerous game to be in.”
Alicia, who was eventually diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder - which causes sufferers to focus on their appearance and have a disorted view of how they look - says sometimes she’d visit cosmetic surgeons not really knowing what procedures she wanted and would be provided with a list of things that could potentially improve her looks. She says: “If you’ve got an ounce of insecurity and a surgeon in a white jacket is telling you your chin’s really weak and you need a chin implant, you believe them.”
It was only when her eldest daughter Georgia threatened to move out of the family home unless her mother stopped having surgery that some perspective began to return for Alicia.
She says: “My family means everything to me. I went into rehab three times. But at the end of the day if you haven’t got anyone there to come home to, you’re going to lose your family. That puts it into perspective and that’s what made me stop. I think how stupid and misinformed I was.”
Alicia has now vowed only to have corrective operations. She had her latest procedure eight months ago having some face implants removed. She says that surgery is a lifelong commitment.
“Obviously now I’m getting older and I realise that my body is man-made and nothing’s built for permanence,” she says. “Implants have to be renewed every 10 years so I have a financial burden over my head for the rest of my life. I don’t know what happens after 10 years. The advice is you have to get them out or renew them. It’s worse than living in an old mansion house which needs repairing all the time. I really don’t want to have to have any more operations. I find it depressing.”
Alicia says she has “deep regrets” about having had any surgery at all. The only procedure she was completely happy with was the shortening of her toe. But now she’s learnt to accept her appearance through adopting a healthier lifestyle with a good diet and exercise.
“They’ve repaired the damage to the best of their ability so I’m never going to be back to how I was originally,” she says. “If I’d never had any procedures, I would have just been natural. I’d be a lot more confident and I’d be better looking. I look back at photos of me and think 'why did I ever start that?'”
Following her own experiences Alicia has concerns about the rise in the number of people undergoing cosmetic procedures in the UK.
The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons reported a 17 per cent increase in operations last year compared to 2012 with 50,122 procedures being performed. 2013 also recorded a 41 per cent increase in the number of liposuction operations. 90.5 per cent of all operations took place on women with breast augmentation being the most popular. The most popular surgery for men was rhinoplasty - aesthetically enhancing the nose.
Plastic surgeon Bryan Mayou says the rise in surgery could be due to technical advances in the way procedures are performed. He said: “You can now have the procedure performed as a day case. This means you recover quickly and return to your normal routine much faster.”
He says it’s rare for people to get addicted to plastic surgery and advises anyone thinking about undergoing a procedure to research the surgeon thoroughly to make sure they are reputable. “True addiction is rare,” he states. “There are some perfectionists who may come back numerous times, but the vast majority opt for one or possibly two procedures. The minimum requirement is the surgeon must be on the General Medical Council as a specialist plastic surgeon, ideally also a member of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons.”
Says Alicia: “I’d say if you’re thinking of having surgery, really think about the consequences, think twice, explore every other option.”