By Eimear O’hagan
PUBLISHED:21:09 GMT, 18 July 2012| UPDATED:09:37 GMT, 19 July 2012
When Alice Lillie walked up the aisle to marry the love of her life, as tradition dictates she had something old (an antique pouch for the wedding rings); something borrowed (a diamond bracelet); and something blue (her garter).
Her ‘something new’ was, however, rather less orthodox. For Alice was proudly sporting a brand-new nose, after paying more than £4,000 to ensure she looked flawless on her big day.
A bride’s wedding preparations used to be relatively simple. A manicure, perhaps some professional hair and make-up, and she was ready to say ‘I do’.
Nose job: Alice Lillie hated the shape of her nose and had £4,200 of surgery before her wedding
But growing numbers of women such as Alice — often influenced by the vanity of celebrity brides — are by-passing the beauty salon for the operating table in their determination to look nothing less than perfect on their wedding day.
One recent survey revealed that 10 per cent of brides now undergo surgery or injections of Botox and fillers before their weddings.
And clinics across the UK are reporting an increase in requests for pre-nuptial procedures — or ‘bridalplasty’, as the trend has been dubbed.
‘We have seen a 13 per cent rise year-on-year in bookings for pre-wedding surgical treatments,’ says Riccardo Frati, consultant plastic surgeon at the Harley Medical Group, adding that the most popular techniques are liposuction and breast augmentation.
So what causes a woman to spend thousands of pounds on procedures that can be risky, and often cost far more than her gown?
And when the confetti has blown away and the honeymoon tan faded, is the expense really worth it? Especially when it’s never been financially more difficult to set up home.
‘I couldn’t face spending my big day stressing about how the pictures would turn out’
For Alice, feeling confident that her wedding photos would be faultless meant her nose job — or rhinoplasty — was worth every penny.
‘As I posed for photo after photo, feeling relaxed and happy, I knew the surgery had been vital to my confidence,’ she says.
Alice, a lecturer who lives in Edinburgh with husband Neil, a college manager, explains: ‘I was born with a lump in the middle of my nose. Throughout my life, I would go to great lengths to avoid having my picture taken.’
She met Neil in 2005, when he was a student and she was working at a university in Cornwall. He proposed three years ago. The couple immediately began planning a wedding in Tuscany, Italy. But while delighted to be tying the knot, Alice, 30, could not stop fretting about her nose.
‘The problem with a less than perfect nose is there’s nothing you can do to conceal it,’ she says. ‘You can pad out small breasts. You can dress to conceal excess weight, but you just have to live with your nose — or have it fixed. I couldn’t face spending my big day stressing about how the pictures would turn out.’
After making the decision to have the operation, she told Neil, 31, what she was planning.
‘Neil was worried in case the results didn’t live up to my expectations, but he supported my decision,’ she says.
In May 2010, Alice, who has two children — Jade, nine, from an earlier relationship, and Cole, four, with Neil — went ahead with the surgery. ‘It was such a quick decision I didn’t tell anyone else,’ she says.
‘I knew there were risks with any operation so, of course, I was a little worried. I’d read on the internet about operations going wrong. But I talked over my concerns with the surgeon and he assured me I was in good hands.’
At £4,200, the surgery cost significantly more than Alice’s £1,000 wedding dress. She paid for it by plundering her savings account and putting the rest on her credit card. So how did Alice feel after the op?
‘My nose was splinted and strapped up, my eyes swollen and bruised — I looked like I’d been in a car accident,’ she admits. ‘It was a week before I saw my new nose and I was thrilled.’
And she was still delighted last August when she and Neil married in Italy in front of 20 family and friends.
‘Neil was happy because I was happy, and lots of people complimented me,’ she says.
Nazar Kazzazi, consultant surgeon and medical director of MYA Cosmetic Surgery, says a wedding often acts as a catalyst for women who want to address issues that are already blighting their lives.
‘Some of the brides coming in for treatment have been unhappy with some part of their body for years,’ he says. ‘But they want their wedding pictures to present the best possible image of them.’
Understandable. But is the cosmetic surgery industry exploiting women at a vulnerable time in their life?
Alice says she was inspired to have her nose job after an advertisement for one well-known cosmetic surgery group flashed on to her computer screen as she searched for wedding venues a few years ago.
While she doesn’t know if it was generated because she had typed in the word ‘wedding’, the advert succeeded in giving Alice the idea of having surgery with the firm.
‘Having a nose job had crossed my mind in the past, but I’d never felt I could justify the cost,’ Alice says. ‘But seeing that advert made me realise I’d never have a better reason to have it done.’
Breast enlargement: Eneshia Prescott went from a B-cup to a D-cup, left, after she found her perfect wedding gown, but didn’t feel she had the body to match
‘The dress was perfect, but my body wasn’t so I looked flat around the bust’
For Eneshia Prescott, 28, her wedding last year to Andy, a 27-year-old soldier, simply wouldn’t have been as perfect without her new bust. Months earlier, she’d been overjoyed when she’d found her dream dress; ivory with a corseted bodice covered in crystals and a full skirt, it cost £3,200. Just one thing spoiled the effect. ‘The dress was perfect, but my body wasn’t,’ she says. ‘My dress looked flat around the bust.
‘I’d never been happy with my B-cup breasts. They were out of proportion to my size 12 bottom half, and I usually had to wear gel-filled bras to pad them out.
‘I’d longed for a bigger bust since I was a teenager, but surgery wasn’t something I’d given much thought to because of the cost.
‘I couldn’t believe it when Andy offered to pay for it as a wedding gift to me out of his savings. He said he loved me just as I was, but if it would make me happy, he’d help.’
Eneshia, a receptionist from Cambridge, had met Andy in August 2009, two weeks before he flew out for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Even though they’d only had three dates, the couple kept in touch while he was away.
Andy proposed two months after returning in January 2010, and in December that year Eneshia underwent her breast enlargement, opting to go up to a D-cup at the MYA clinic in Manchester. She was all too aware of the risks of having surgery. Three years earlier, a back operation had gone wrong, leaving her in a coma for two weeks and resulting in the loss of a kidney and multiple further surgeries. ‘My mum was worried about me having my breasts enlarged, due to what had happened before,’ she says. ‘But this was something I wanted.
‘As the anesthetic took effect, all I could think of was my dress and how much better I would look in it.’ She adds: ‘For a week afterwards, I was bandaged and bruised. But I forgot all about the pain the moment I saw my new breasts. At my dress fitting a month later, it was really emotional. It’s not often you feel perfect, but standing there looking in the mirror I really did.
‘Walking up the aisle seven months later, I had never felt so confident. We had a military church wedding in North Yorkshire, and it was the best day of my life. It would still have been amazing if I hadn’t had the surgery, but I wouldn’t have felt so good about myself.’
Many would say that feeling you have to be nothing less than perfect on your wedding day misses the point about marriage — with its vows to love each other ‘for better for worse’. And, after all, if your fiancé wants to marry you with all your flaws, why feel the need to change?
‘This is a very sad trend and one we should be concerned about,’ says Dr Baljit Rana, a Chartered Psychologist at BirminghamCityUniversity. ‘However, it’s not surprising. Celebrity culture promotes a message of perfection. It’s little wonder that brides, who face spending a day posing for photos they will keep for ever, are feeling such pressure to look perfect they will go under the knife to achieve it.’
But he adds: ‘You’re about to marry the man you love, in front of your family and friends. That should be enough reassurance that you’re fabulous, not a surgeon’s scalpel.’
Laser lipo: Sharon Wong, who hid her treatment from her fiance, dropped from a size 12, right, to a size 8, left
Accountant Sharon Wong, 32, from North London, admits she certainly felt under pressure to look a certain way when she married 33-year-old Tom, who is in the military, last July.
‘It is sad that we feel so pressured to look good, but if there is something I could do to improve the bits of myself that I don’t like, then why not go for it?’
That’s why she had laser treatment to reduce the fat on her stomach, arms and chin.
‘I wanted everything to be perfect — including me,’ she says. ‘I think the pressure comes from a combination of things, seeing celebrities in magazines who all look slim and really pretty when they get married and bridal magazines always have photos of stunning brides.
‘It’s also the pressure of knowing that for one day everyone will be focused on you. Yes, it is a bit sad that we feel so pressured to look good, but I still feel that if there is something I could do to improve the bits of myself that I don’t like, then why not go for it?’
As a size 12, Sharon wasn’t overweight, but says she hated her ‘bingo wings’, flabby tummy and double chin. ‘No matter how many times I went to the gym, I couldn’t shift them,’ she says. ‘I’d already picked out my wedding dress — a simple, cream gown with delicate straps — and I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing it if I didn’t tone up.’
A friend recommended Laser Lipo, which appealed to Sharon because, unlike traditional liposuction, which removes fat by inserting a tube under the skin and sucking it out, the fat is broken down using laser beams.
‘It’s non-invasive so there’s no scarring and it’s painless,’ she says.
Sharon admits that at a total cost of £3,000 it was a lot of money, significantly more than her wedding dress. She paid for it in instalments and cut back on nights out and new clothes.
‘I had 24 half-hour sessions — eight on each of the areas I wanted targeted — over three months,’ she says. ‘As the weeks went past, I began to notice a visible difference. My stomach and arms were firm, and my double chin disappeared.
‘By the time my wedding day came around, I’d dropped from a size 12 to a size 8. I was amazed. Slipping on my dress on the morning of our wedding, I felt toned and confident. I wasn’t worried about my bingo wings or double chin ruining the photos.’
She adds she didn’t tell her fiancé about the treatment until after their wedding.
‘Tom, who’d noticed my changing shape, presumed I’d lost weight through stress and thought it was hilarious when I confessed on honeymoon what I’d done,’ she says. ‘All that mattered to him was that I’d been a very happy bride.’
Would Sharon have enjoyed her day any less if she’d not had the treatment? After all, surely the important thing was that she was marrying the man she loved?
She concedes: ‘Probably not, but I would have had to wear a different dress.’
Nearly a year on Sharon insists she has no regrets, not least because she has maintained her size eight figure. ‘Having the lipo acted as the boost I needed to change my lifestyle, eat more healthily and exercise regularly,’ she says.
Likewise, Alice says she still loves her nose, and Eneshia, too, remains delighted with her bust. ‘The best thing is that even though the wedding’s over and the dress put away, I still have my breasts,’ she says. ‘They have given me such confidence.’
But implants aren’t intended to last a lifetime, unlike a happy marriage. And, ultimately, it would be very sad if the real meaning of marriage got lost in the desire for physical perfection.