If you've ever been online, chances are you're already familiar with London-based drag performer, make-up artist and illusionist extraordinaire, Alexis Stone.
Over the past few years, Stone has built an engaged (and enraged) online following of well over 700k, based mostly on the transformative power of his celebrity makeovers. Not on stars themselves, but using his own face, Stone has transformed into everyone from Anna Wintour and Britney Spears to Kim Kardashian and Jocelyn Wildenstein — a friend and idol of Stone's — all through utilizing the dimensions of makeup.
With each new transformation, Stone has demonstrated a vast range of beauty standards persistent throughout pop culture, whether they are deemed iconic, socially acceptable, or outright reviled.
Despite appearances, Stone's looks — both playful and polarizing — revealed a greater truth about society, as shown by the comments sections and countless critical stories circulating about Stone's artistry. The comments are brutal and speak for themselves: "Kill yourself," "Your ex killed himself because of you," "You've ruined your life," "Your face is fuuuucked." He'd been called botched and ugly online, in the gay community, and in the world at large before ever undergoing a plastic surgery operation, so he took that criticism — and his love of recreating reality through makeup— to the extreme.
This fall, Stone posted photos of himself online post-op, as if he underwent severe procedures. The images, showing Stone as swollen and deformed, uncannily mirrored horror stories under-the-knife, documented through TV shows like E!'s Botched and the real-life cautionary tale of Heidi Montag, who, against doctor's wishes, received 10 procedures in a single day back in 2010. The truth was, he'd had a few minor operations (eye tilt, cheek lift, lip injection), but no one saw what he really looked like for months, until he finally revealed that the entire transformation was fake — a prosthetic mask he could completely remove in private.
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As PAPER learned when catching up with Stone, the human behind the iconic masks is Elliot Joseph Rentz. And that human embraces the art and artifice of plastic surgery, and the freedom in fully embodying another persona as if it were his own, not unlike the famous faces he imitates. The world remains fickle about who gets to be beautiful and how they do so. Some may argue that Rentz, having revealed his transformation as a stunt, gets the last laugh. There is a happy ending, however bittersweet, to Rentz's particular exploration of beauty, but it has not come without eye-opening consequences.
Some of the more graphic images made it seem as though you'd hurt yourself with botched plastic surgery. But it turns out all along you were just aiming to showcase the power of makeup in creating transformations.
Exactly, that is what I've been doing all along. It's subject to different interpretations. Maybe some of you are right, maybe you're wrong. But it has all surpassed anything I could have envisioned.
Is there a message behind all of this?
When I sat down and decided I wanted to show these severe transformations, I was about two weeks into sobriety. I was very angry with the world, and I thought, let me do this as a big fuck you — that is what was really going through my head then. The more I got into it, the more personal the whole project became. This project and my sobriety went hand-in-hand. Before I had any plastic surgery, people called me a "botch monster."
A "botch monster"? That's intense.
When I got Botox, when I got my nose and cheeks done, people called me a botch monster. So I took things that were already there and I ran with it. I said, fuck it, let me take this rumor, this accusation, this comment, and let me give you what you want.
Is there anyone who encouraged you to do this early on?
Jocelyn Wildenstein and I have been in communication for the last two and a half years now. I love Jocelyn. She loves taking the piss out of things, whether it's being Catwoman or the Bride of Frankenstein. It's taking ownership of creativity and perception. That's attractive to me. She loves life. And what's more: I find her to be one of the most beautiful women on planet Earth.
What draws you to her?
For someone to achieve their own standard of beauty and to turn around and stick their middle finger up and say, every day I look in the mirror, I love what I see. Jocelyn Wildenstein loves what she sees. She's not had "surgery gone wrong" [as many think]; it's the opposite, really. She has millions of dollars, and back in the day when she started getting surgery, she saw the best doctors in the world at the time. But when you type in botched surgery, she's the number one reference point. So I thought, let me turn myself into what people perceive to be a monster and live my fantasy. I've always wanted to be Mrs. Doubtfire, I love Jocelyn Wildenstein, and had I not done this project, I would've had plastic surgery to look how I did in the makeup. I had no idea this would be the outcome, and I definitely had no intention of this being a social experiment.
"I love transformation. I love convincing the world of an image. Does that make me a psychopathic liar or just a modern-day drag performer? That's up for the world to decide."
Maybe it was an accidental outcome. What you're doing challenges societal beauty standards.
I was too narcissistic at the time to think that far into it. Only midway through the seven months of doing this did it become clear to me why I did it: I love makeup. I love transformation. I love convincing the world of an image. Does that make me a psychopathic liar or just a modern-day drag performer? That's up for the world to decide.
Can you tell me about the feedback you've gotten over the course of the project?
I've left the comments up so you can see for yourself if you want. I've had people telling me to kill myself, telling me I'm the reason my ex-boyfriend killed himself. My ex-boyfriends are texting me saying how embarrassed they are that they've dated me. That was all real. Five people knew that this project was fake, and I couldn't risk them fucking it up. All it took was a little bit of silicone stuck to my face and a storyline to sell the narrative, and people ran with it and did what they do best: project their insecurities. I was turned into a meme, I became the butt of everyone's joke, until yesterday.
When you pulled the covers back and told the truth about what you were doing, do you feel that you reclaimed the narrative in any way?
It's bizarre. I'm a lot more calm than I thought I would be. Had this happened seven months ago, I would've snorted my body weight in cocaine to celebrate. Now, it's such a relief just to breathe. The things that have happened in the last seven months have been life-changing. Every day I left the house I was masked. Me, as a cisgender white male, being perceived by some as an attractive gay guy, that completely went out of the window as I entered the world [in these looks]. I had to deal with the ugly traits of myself as a person, what was going on inside. It shaped so much of what I think about beauty, inner or outer, and self-worth, particularly in terms of follower count going up or down. It's sad because that external validation is what society focuses on.
"All it took was a little bit of silicone stuck to my face and a storyline to sell the narrative, and people ran with it and did what they do best: project their insecurities."
What happened with your follower count?
Oh, I lost 60,000 followers over the past few months, and got 30,000 crawling back the day I revealed the truth about this project. But I don't care. Instagram isn't going to be here forever. I won't be here forever. If this is the only thing I'm remember for on planet Earth, I'm okay with that. I just wanted to be Mrs. Doubtfire.
It definitely makes a statement about what we value as a society. People on the Internet only seem to care about you if you look a certain way and don't deviate from that.
I agree. I transform into Kim Kardashian, I'm on the cover of Tush magazine. I become Jocelyn Wildenstein, I lose everything. You take two beauty standards and consider that it's likely the same amount of plastic surgery and checkups for both. One is perceived to be a monster and the other isn't. One goes up, one goes down. I'm not angry though. I have no room for hatred in my heart for anyone who wanted to ruin this project for me, or the drag queens who say they clocked it before anyone else. I don't care. I live my fantasy. And this brought is an important light to something that needed to be addressed.
"I've never felt more empowered in my appearance as I did when doing this. Some days I look at the mirror and think, I look feline, I feel powerful. I'm in control."
How do you respond to those who have actually had surgeries gone wrong?
This project wasn't a mockery of plastic surgery gone wrong. I've spoken publicly about a botched nose job I had that I'm still getting fixed. It isn't the end of the road for my surgery. This whole project, I've always said that I feel beautiful. I've never felt more empowered in my appearance as I did when doing this. Some days I look at the mirror and think, I look feline, I feel powerful. I'm in control. It was everyone else telling me no. You've ruined your career. You're not beautiful. The comments are all there for people to see. I've focused enough on the negativity.
It's impossible not to take those comments personally.
People say that you shouldn't, but of course I woke up stressed and upset. Seven months of my life is personal to me. I spent every penny I made on this. When someone says, "You're a fucking freak, kill yourself," that goes beyond the way I looked.
What do you think can change that kind of pile-on culture online?
Nothing. As long as there are vile people in the world who get far in life, who maintain their positions of power and dictating beauty standards to everyone else, then people will always feel empowered to drag people online. Look at America's president and how he bullies people for how they look.
How did you cope?
There was a time when I wanted to give up and peel my face off prematurely on Instagram live. I lost followers. I was removed from PR lists. Certain brands I was set to work with wanted to suddenly put collaborations on hold. I got through it by delusionally believing I held all the cards.
"I turned my narcissism into this project that inspired other people. It's not always a negative thing to be narcissistic if you look at it that way. All I want to do is inspire people."
What about the opposite? Have you gotten positive feedback?
It's been a journey, but I'm getting tens of thousands of messages that are so nice all the time. If I turned my phone on, it would vibrate until the battery died. I'm always a little disconnected from reality. I have my mental health issues. I'm no saint. I turned my narcissism into this project that inspired other people. It's not always a negative thing to be narcissistic if you look at it that way. All I want to do is inspire people. If you don't like your job, quit. If you want to be a botch monster, by all means, go for it. Every day people are trolled online. I know people can be pushed to suicide. I don't have the answers, I just wanted to do this for myself, but it made me lot less selfish.
But the most humbling part of this is the biggest makeup artists and creative people in the world, people who work with Kim [Kardashian] and Lady Gaga telling me their minds are blown by what I've done. I have more interviews, a call with Netflix on the books. The reach it's got over the past 24 hours when I'm crying and picking crumbs out my belly button is insane. I'm running with it. It's only just begun.
The Making Of | Alexis Stone
Photo via Instagram