‘Pretty’ photo that haunts reality star
Proudly positioned on a wall in Amy Childs' living room is a photograph of her as a pouting, scarlet-haired 20-year-old at the height of her fame in TOWIE.
Just eight years on Amy, now 29 and a mum-of-two, would be the first to admit that she wished she could wind the clock back to then.
"I look at that picture now and I think, 'Amy, you were so naturally pretty - what did you mess with your lips for?'" she says.
Because not long after that picture was taken, Amy started having regular fillers and was later left disfigured and lying on a hospital bed with a botched breast implant while a doctor told her she might not wake up.
"I wish I'd never had it done," she says now.
It's a huge admission from a girl who, as one of the original The Only Way Is Essex cast, brought the term "vajazzle" to the world and who, via her featured beauty salon, became synonymous with the noughties boom in beauty treatments and cosmetic enhancements in the UK.
'SURGERY UNDER 25 SHOULD BE BANNED'
"Even today I'm still contacted all the time with offers from beauticians offering to give me fillers - and I don't think many of them are qualified," Amy said.
"When I read up on it, you can literally do a course on injecting people's faces in a day. It's frightening that pretty much anyone can let themselves loose on people's faces in this way."
Today Amy believes laws should be changed to ensure that no one is allowed to undergo invasive cosmetic surgery before the age of 25.
"It may sound extreme but anything before that and I believe you are really still too young to properly understand what you are doing and the possible consequences," she says.
'RUPTURED BOOB IMPLANTS LANDED ME IN HOSPITAL'
Amy is speaking as someone who also had her first boob job at the age of just 18.
Self-conscious about her flat chest since she was a young teenager, her first op took her from a size 32A to 32D.
Five years on, and now starring in her own reality series, It's All About Amy, she had a further op, taking her to an F cup.
It was a disaster almost from the start. "After about six months, they literally just dropped. I had constant pain and backache," she reveals.
It got worse. Three years ago, she was hospitalised for a week when one of the implants ruptured.
"I was in hospital for a week while they drained the fluid out. I was in so much pain and saying, 'What have I done, Mum? What have I done?' I couldn't believe I had put myself in this position," Amy said.
Four weeks later, one of her implants "flipped over".
"It was the most horrific time and I was so young," Amy said.
By then she had also become addicted to lip filler - offered to her for free by practitioners keen to cash in on her fame.
"I'd get these messages on my Instagram saying 'the salon will do it for you, for free'. I was vulnerable to it because basically I'd had overnight fame. You're getting pictures taken and you start looking at yourself critically," Amy said.
'FILLERS MAKE YOU LOOK OLD, NOT PERFECT'
The irony is, as TOWIE fans know, Amy also ran her own beauty salon where she was no stranger to seeing botched lip jobs.
She worked in salons from the age of 13, and after leaving school she took a four-month beauty therapy course, although she never administered Botox or fillers herself.
"I employed a qualified cosmetic nurse to do fillers in my salon - and he spent a lot of time correcting other people's dodgy lip jobs," Amy revealed. "I saw a lot of that."
It didn't stop her accepting "freebies" from other salons.
"I got offered loads of free treatments," she said. "I didn't even need Botox - but I had it done once because it was free.
"It didn't do anything for me, and I look back now and think I didn't need any of it. But it was so easy just to go and get it done. With filler, especially, you think it's going to make you look perfect, it actually doesn't. It makes you look old."
'MY PARENTS SAID I LOOKED LIKE A FREAK'
Eventually, after around eight different lots of lip filler, Amy's parents told her she had to stop.
"They told me I was looking like a freak," she said. "Then I looked in the mirror and thought, 'I don't like this anymore - I don't want these big lips'. Sadly, it wasn't that simple."
Still aged only 26, Amy went to a practitioner to have the filler removed only to find that her repeated use of filler had led to a burst blood vessel in her upper lip.
"I went to an amazing doctor and he gave me some corrective treatment, but he told me that basically I still had filler in my lips which he couldn't get out," she said.
"It means that even though I haven't had filler for three years it still looks like I have it in, and my lips are unlikely ever to go back to their natural shape."
'DOCTORS SAID I MIGHT NOT WAKE UP FROM SURGERY'
Her decision to have her breast implants removed took on more urgency when she fell pregnant in quick succession with Polly, now two, and Ritchie, one.
"When I had Polly and Ritchie, they were massive - they were an absolute catastrophe," she said. "I knew I wanted them out."
And so last summer, Amy went under the knife again. "It was really hard for me. I had two kids and the anaesthetist saying to me you might not wake up, and it's all down to me having surgery done," she revealed.
Amy also discovered that her skin had stretched so much from having implants so young that she would need to retain two small implants to keep a natural shape.
"That was pretty devastating," she said.
'I TELL GIRLS MY HORROR STORIES AND THEY CHANGE THEIR MINDS'
Today she feels saddened by the pressure she knows other young girls are under.
"Social media is huge - you have all these people saying they've had filler or implants and for us girls now they think that is the way to look," Amy said.
That image, of course, was fuelled in part by Towie stars. "I met some girls the other day and they said, 'We want to look like you'," she said.
"Then when I tell them what happened to me and what went wrong, they changed their minds. I put a picture up the other day from literally four weeks after I'd had the baby. My belly was hanging out - that's real.
"Now I'm more honest. I love my life, I've got two great kids who are my everything. But my life's not perfect - and surgery isn't the answer."
'I'D BE DEVASTATED IF POLLY WANTED SURGERY'
It's a message Amy will be reinforcing to two-year-old Polly.
"I'll be so devastated if she ever wanted to have cosmetic surgery," she said. "In a way I'm glad that I've been through this, so I can tell her - and show her."
She only wishes someone could have sat her younger self down and warned her of the risks she was taking.
"If I could speak to 20-year-old Amy I would spell it out - because if she knew what was going to happen she wouldn't have had anything done at all," Amy said.
This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission