The internet has given rise to a slew of weird beauty products: eyelid trainers straight out of A Clockwork Orange. Face-slimming masks that look like torture devices. Suction lip plumpers that recall dentistry tools, rather than Kylie Jenner’s smoochers.
The Latvian photographer Evija Laivina captures these grotesque devices in a new series called Beauty Warriors. The photographs, staged like conventional portraits, show women peacefully enduring different horrors that will supposedly make them more beautiful. One woman wears a peculiar pink device that resembles a clip for a chip bag–it’s supposed to reshape her nose. Other women wear a variety of face masks meant to smooth, plump, slim, and tighten; their bound faces are a not-so-subtle metaphor for restrictive beauty standards.
The women in the series are mostly Laivina’s friends, family, and people recruited from the internet. One of the most excruciating photos shows a woman in a red dress staring into the distance, her mouth stretched by plastic pink lips. “Nobody wanted to be in that role, to look like a sex doll,” Laivina says. “I got a very brave girl.”
Laivina had the idea for the series after stumbling upon some of the strange devices on eBay. Her distaste for the alarming products informed the style of the portraits, which are meant to highlight the natural beauty of her models. “I want to show how ridiculous it is, to all the time try to beautify yourself,” she says. “People are willing to spend a lot of money for a facade, creating outer beauty not inner beauty.”
And yet, she also acknowledges that beauty and success are related. The women in Laivina’s photographs gaze at the camera with a tinge of melancholy–in donning these devices, they’re submitting to a system that rewards an external feature over which we have limited control. But they’re also defiant in bringing to light the hidden contortions women undergo to make themselves more attractive (at least in the eyes of society).
After all, eyelash curlers and mascara wands are only a few steps removed from extreme anti-wrinkle face slimming masks.