I spent £10,000 on beauty treatments and I still felt ugly

When Phoebe started buying beauty treatments she had no idea the effect it would have on her self-esteem or her bank account. She tells The Mix how her obsession with the beauty industry drove her into massive debt.

True Stories

girl looks in the mirror and applies makeup.

Phoebe felt the pressure to look beautiful from a young age.

As I stood in front of the mirror, I could feel my heart sink. I had just maxed out my fourth credit card on a spray tan and extensions, but I still felt ugly and fat. I pouted, I sucked my stomach in and for a second a felt alright. But as soon as I let go I fell to my feet and started sobbing. No matter how much money I spent, I was always going to feel ugly. When would it end?

Pressure from a young age

Growing up as a girl in the UK, beauty was always in the forefront of my mind. For my tenth birthday party my mum bought me a pink dress and took me to get a makeover. I felt so excited and grown up but when my friends started arriving I felt instantly disappointed. Most of the girls had copied the same style, but they seemed to look better than me. Why couldn’t I be perfect?

Over the next few years I bought Shout magazine religiously and my friends and I used to fawn over the beautiful women with their long legs, smoky eyes and red lips. Our parents weren’t really worried; after all, most young teens around the country were no different.

Never enough

By the time I got to university, my self-esteem had plummeted. Following a rough break-up from a two year relationship, I started to worry whether anyone would find me attractive again. Despite my size 10, svelte figure, I thought that I looked fat and bloated.

One weekend I set up two mirrors in my room and spent hours just looking at myself, trying to find a satisfying angle. But I never found one. This practice soon became a ritual and it was an exhausting one, twisting and contorting my body whilst crying into the mirror.

At this point reality TV shows such as The Only Way Is Essex and Geordie Shore had become popular and I wished that I could look the same as them. They were so glamorous but there was no way that I could afford all of the beauty treatments on my student loan.

New life, new money

After I finished uni I fell into a job as a marketing assistant and pretty soon I was earning decent wages with commission on top. I finally had money to splurge on the treatments I wanted.

Any beauty fad, I would follow. I got monthly lip fillers and hair extensions, weekly fake tans, manicures and pedicures. I got my eyebrows shaped regularly, as well as all over body waxing, laser liposuction and a personal trainer.

And yet, the more I spent on beauty treatments, the worse I felt about myself. I was no way near as beautiful as the models in advertisements. It took over my whole being. I even stopped dating, as I was so fearful of rejection.

Getting into financial trouble

My beauty addiction grew and grew. While I was earning a good wage at work, it wasn’t enough and I managed to max out three £2,500 limit credit cards. In addition to my regular treatments and expensive gym membership, I would spend hundreds on expensive clothes; I only needed to wear an outfit once before I hated how I looked in it.

One day I handed my fourth card over to the salon owner, my hand shaking with worry. As she shook her head to say no, my stomach sank. I knew I was in trouble. I put the money on another card, ran home and cried.

This was it; I had hit rock bottom. And the ironic thing was, £10,000 in debt and I felt uglier than when I had started all the beauty treatments. I was locked in a prison of my own making and there was no way out.

Seeking help

I knew I had to tell someone about my problems, but I was terrified. It took me a while to find the courage, but I eventually called my dad. While my parents were disappointed at my actions, they could see that my lack of confidence had driven me to it. They decided I needed help.

I booked the Monday off from work and went to my doctor, who said I needed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is a talking therapy that gives you strategies and techniques to change the way you think and behave. After a few sessions I realised that from a very young age I had been affected by the beauty industry and the way women are presented in the media.

I began to appreciate that this was not a realistic depiction of how women look in real life and I also started to learn to love aspects about myself that weren’t to do with my exterior, such as my generosity and hardworking nature.

But what about the debt? I was lucky enough to have a wealthy dad who paid off my credit cards but I still have to make monthly payments to him until I have paid half the amount in full.

A real perspective

It’s been a long road with the therapy and I still struggle sometimes. But I can see now with clear eyes the effect the beauty industry has on young girls and how it shapes their confidence as they grow up.

I now feel so much more comfortable in my own skin and can appreciate my unique features such as my big eyes and long legs. I understand now that I don’t need to look a certain way to be beautiful.

I am looking into becoming a therapist in the future, as I would like to help girls like myself who have been affected by a negative body image. I want others to know, as I have learned, that beauty is not skin deep.

Next Steps

  • The Self-Esteem Team (SET) run workshops in schools across the UK to help tackle young people's issues with body image, self-worth and mental health.
  • Through the arts and education Body Gossip, a positive body image charity, aims to empower everyone to fulfil their potential.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


body image| debt

By Daisy Phillipson

Updated on 01-Jun-2016

Image courtesy of Mustafa Sayed