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Oh dear, Liz, what HAVE you done?

I despair of women, I really do.

Liz BeforeI really fear for women's sanity sometimes, you know. I've always enjoyed reading Liz Jones' column in the Daily Mail - although I disagree with virtually everything she says. But her latest 'reveal' is that she's had a facelift. At 52.

Well, it's her money, many might say. And it's her body - she can abuse it whatever way she wishes. But ye gods, what madness. 

Prior to her facelift, Liz looked like a pretty normal woman of her age - a bit tired, maybe, but nothing that 'a good shag and a sleep' wouldn't fix (along with switching from the dead-black hair colour and eyebrow pencil, love - no-one over 35 can carry that off).

Liz afterNow, she looks like a Stepford Wife - her face a creepy, espressionless mask that reveals nothing of the life she's lived.

The standfirst rightly says: "Liz Jones, 51, has always hated the way she looks, particularly as she got older..."

"Always hated the way she looks"? Well, that says it all, really. Because no woman who truly valued herself would willingly go under the surgeon's knife without some horrible, over-riding reason. 

I find it particularly shocking that the article's intro is so positive about what she has done (all the more so because this woman has outlined in terrifying detail her absurd spendthriffery and the colossal amount of debt she's in etc). Phrases like: "line-free glory", "impressive results" and "brave" are very much telling the reader what to think. 

Well, I beg to differ. Being line-free is not glorious - God knows, we EARN our bloody lines. If Liz Jones looks tired at 52, well, DOH. Maybe she should cut down on her hours and do without the IT bag and the IT shoes. Cut out the booze. Do more exercise. If she wants to be brave, maybe she should help someone worse off than herself rather than spending money she hasn't got on beautifying herself, which is anyway only shoring up an old building that will eventually sink on its foundations, as we all do. Brave is a word we should use for the armed forces, not for this.

I know, I know - at root it's insecurity, not vanity. Liz Jones' main problem, I always feel, is that she's a woman who hasn't come to terms with looking normal when she's surrounded by women who are abnormally beautiful and paid to be so (bearing in mind that beauty, of course, is a cultural phenomenon and part of the zeitgeist - many of today's models would have been considered positively ugly in any other time but our own). 

Being surrounded by the 'beautiful' people would make anyone feel insecure, and quite likely short, fat and ugly. But this is where you have work to gain some perspective and build your inner character. I feel Liz Jones has never done this. What she's done instead is buy into every cliché that is thrown at women, and that women seem to fall for, as if we hadn't had 100 years of free education.Go abroad, for heaven's sake; learn a language; learn a skill; expand your mind - the thing that makes you a human being.

Women need to resist this pressure to look constantly YOUNG - it is, after all, a hiding to nothing. And there really is pressure to come up to some standard ideal. OF COURSE Liz's surgeon suggested a facelift - what on earth does she think he makes the most money out of?

My friend H visited a Harley Street surgeon in order to have a mole removed, and the bastard had the cheek to say: "Oh, I think we should fix that nose first...". H, btw, is a slender 29-year-old with the porcelain beauty of a Dresden shepherdess, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with her nose. But even, despite her  she was rattled - no woman retains total confidence about her looks. 

I notice, too, that Liz Jones mentions that she didn't tell her boyfriend what she was about to do in case he dissuaded her. Another Gawd 'elp us, because men, bless 'em, do often actually love us for who we are and don't want to see us go through the kind of pain and blood loss that a serious assault from a mugger might involve just so we can live up to some imaginary standard of beauty. 

Oh well, I could rant on, but will stop here. What now for Liz? Further in debt and still ageing (like the rest of us). When it all catches up with her again, what will she do?

Lauren HuttonAnd just to remind us all that you can look fantastic over 50, WITH your wrinkles, here's Lauren Hutton: happy, smiling, engaged, vibrant...



Bums, boobs and botox

TV programme showed distasteful hard-sell tactics of a UK cosmetic surgery company.

I watched a programme last night that I found very disturbing - Bums, boobs and botox - about the cosmetic surgery company Transform.

Transform is apparently a large, well-known company in the UK, which offers surgical and non-surgical procedures, including tummy tucks, botox, restylane and all the rest of the modern paraphenalia without which people seem unable to live. 

What I found most distasteful about this company was its hard-sell tactics both on the phone and in introductory evenings, where - like a revivalist meeting - people are pulled along by the group atmosphere. There was also the fact that it offers procedures to its own staff at half price. The end result of this was that they all looked like aliens - immobile mouths, immobile foreheads, weird, staring eyes where blepharoplasty had been performed, huge plump cheeks like hamsters that hadn't swallowed their food.

The man administering the botox - an Australian former dentist - looked the most freakish of all those involved, with his wild eyes and terrifying frozen expression. Why on earth do people DO this? They all look like they've had a stroke. And one of his patients, Magoo, very worryingly did not realise that botox was a recurring procedure until just before the needle went in. Surely he should have been given a cooling-off period?

The saddest thing of all was that most patients were very pleased with the result of their procedures. It is frightening that this look is becoming 'normal' in the UK and that people are so willing to pump themselves full of drugs and chemical compounds whose long-term effects remain unknown, in the name of beauty, which - surely to God - really comes primarily from other things: vivacity, engagement, kindness...

I fully admit that there are some procedures that looked useful - particularly the tummy tuck on the man who had lost 10 stone in weight and found himself hanging and saggy. Wanting the removal of this loose skin when you have made so much effort to lose weight strikes me as understandable, though I do also know women who've opted to just hold it in with a light control garment. And microdermbrasion is a surface procedure that can scarcely do any harm - though a word to the young man who was having it: change your fucking job if you want to look less tired!

It was particularly striking that patients themselves were insecure rather than vain, and I feel that companies like this prey on this insecurity. You could see it most clearly in the men, especially a young Polish man who couldn't find a girlfriend - he imagined - because of his premature baldness (believe me, baldness never held back a confident man), and one older man who had made the mistake of marrying a woman half his age and now felt the need to have a hair transplant. He is, I imagine, also in the market for other nonsense such as Viagra. 

Seventy per cent (yes, sisters, count it!) of the company's money comes from breast augmentation. How sick are women if we feel our attractiveness is seated in our breasts? And how terrible that we are willing to have our tender flesh cut about with a surgeon's scalpel and plastic inserted inside our bodies to come up to some fake idea of what a woman should be? I find this whole business unspeakable. 

Anyway - a frightening programme that is well worth watching if it's ever repeated or you can catch it online.


Lip plumpers are a pain in the neck

The latest technique for pouty lips involves surgery on your neck muscles.

Just as you thought it couldn't get any grosser, plastic surgery has taken yet another step to the dark side: using your neck muscles to provide implants for your lips.

I mean, ye gods...

The technique has been devised at the Aesthetic Surgery Centre in Naples, Florida, and uses grafts from the sternocleidomastoid muscle running along the side of the neck, and the connective tissue that overlies it.

Judging by the pix on the BBC site, the technique is effective and your lips look plumper and smoother but Jeezy-Creezy. Don't people NEED their neck muscles? These are muscles that actually help you do important stuff like - you know - turn your head from side to side. 

Also, after all the attendant pain and discomfort, I couldn't help noticing, the effects last about two years. All very well if you have a great deal more money than sense.





A real-life blepharoplasty

If you ever wanted to know what a blepharoplasty really involves, look no further

blog imageblog imageMy sister Carole underwent one of these a few weeks ago - a kind of 60th birthday present to herself. She'd developed the hooded eyes that our mother had, and the eyelid skin was actually beginning to drop onto her eyelashes.

To tell the truth, this might be one op that I also face in the future, because it's happening already on my right eye (the left eye was damaged in an accident and isn't drooping). Currently, I do eye exercises to bring the lid back up, but I feel this is only a holding pattern and won't last forever.

After she'd already booked the op privately, Carole found that in fact she would have been entitled to the operation on the NHS because it was actually beginning to impede her vision.

She opted for a local anaesthetic, partly for cost reasons (it was £1300 as opposed to £2500 for a general) and partly because she felt that general anaesthetics are something that should be avoided. Therefore she was awake for the procedure - not something she was looking forward to. Each eye took about 30 minutes, with pressure, but no pain.

blog imageAblog imagefter post-op recovery (she was discharged the same day), she was sent home with instructions to keep the stitches dry, which entailed having a messy face for a few days. But it all looks a great deal worse than it felt, she tells me - despite all this bruising, there was no pain to speak of. The picture left shows her at day one, with nice purple eyelids and the stitching very visible.

blog imageThese pictures show her at about days three and five, as the bruising was beginning to spread. Her left eye swelled dramatically even during the operation, while the right eye showed much less trauma.

blog imageThe third picture, with the yellow bruising (ultimately, it reached her top lip), is about a week after the op - the first day she felt able to leave the house, suitably masked with makeup. However, she still noticed she got some second glances in the street.

After only five days Carole went back to have her stitches removed. This was an inexpressible agony, as each eye had one long stitch, so they cut at one side and pulled at the other, at which point, she says, it was the worst pain she's ever endured in her life - like having 'hot barbed wire dragged out of my eyelids'. Fortunately, it was over quickly.

Afterwards, of course, she was itching and desperate to rub her eyes, which can't be done, and her right eye swelled up. After the op, this was the eye that had swollen least, so she was a tad surprised. Three weeks after the op, she is still having trouble with this eye because she can't blink fully. The surgeon says that this is because everything is tightening after the operation and the problem should ease within two months. In the meantime, she has a cream for night-time to prevent dry eye during the night, as well as a cream for the scars. In a month's time, she will go back for her 12-week checkup.

blog imageblog imageAs you can see in these before and after shots, the op does indeed take years off you, making you look happier and more alert. Whether it is worth the pain and the money, however, has to be a personal decision. I balk at the idea, but my sister is certainly glad that she's done it.


Stay away from the knife

Cosmetic surgery gives me the creeps, and here's why

Let me say straight away that I am not against plastic surgery per se. Surgery that restores a face or body to normalcy after a tumour, or a car crash, or severe burns. Surgery for people who are sick of heads turning as they walk down the street because their appearance is so abnormal. Though I wish we were more accepting of deformity and disfigurement in our culture, we are what we are, and I am not against the kind of surgery that enables a sufferer to live a reasonably normal life.

blog imageBut I really do believe that vanity cosmetic surgery is wrong. Just look at the breast implants on this woman - who on earth does she think she's kidding? And this Brazilian bikini revealing a body that is - shall we say? - well past its prime. It is so terribly undignified.

Imagine this lady instead in, say, a salmon-coloured long-sleeve poloneck sweater and good black pants, with a fabulous necklace - she could look like the wife of the ex-president. Or, if we're still at the beach, how about a well-shaped one-piece black swimsuit with a sarong skirt and overshirt in a bright chiffon print? Still vibrant, still contemporary, still fun - but no longer screamingly inappropriate.

She's a classic victim, of course.

Our Western preoccupation with looking younger has morphed, over this past 20 years, into an acute, obsessive terror of ageing. We are a culture that cannot cope with the idea of death, but in that we are being completely unrealistic because the one thing in all of our lives that is entirely certain is that we will die. To be born is to die. If we are lucky, we will age beforehand - why do we not celebrate our ageing as an achievement?

But the opposite is the case: because we live in a culture that fears death, we fear ageing in consequence. After all, to age is to step nearer to the grave. Nor do we do value our elderly for their skills and wisdom and life experience, as pre-industrial societies do. To be old in the west is to be redundant, worthless, disrespected. "We think of older people as disposable," says Berkeley Kaite, associate professor of cultural studies at McGill University. "You dispose of the old and replace it with the new. I can't see that it's not connected to our consumer culture."

No wonder women (and some men) in the West are crazy to stay looking as young as possible. And frankly, if that desire takes the shape of exercising regularly and eating properly, a degree of vanity can be a healthy thing - being younger on the inside is good for your health. But when the wish to look younger on the outside reaches the level of cutting yourself about it is another matter entirely.

Popping on a bit of concealer or lipstick is one thing, but I truly believe that when you step under the knife, you have crossed a psychological barrier - showing a willingness to physically harm and disrespect your body for an idea, to make yourself forcibly into something you are not. This is a long way from making the best of yourself as you are, which I feel is a worthwhile goal. It is letting someone else turn you into what society thinks you should be. That something else is more culturally 'acceptable', but we forget that our culture is bankrupt.

How can fake breasts and fake lips and fake cheeks be 'better' than the real thing? In what way better, exactly? More suitable for their function? - breasts like footballs, lips like a trout? How the hell can anything fake be better than anything real, even if the surgery's been well done?

I'm sure every woman thinks she's undertaking her surgery for herself alone, but if culture plays no part, why do all the contestants on The Swan come out with the exact same nose? That tiny, weeny tip-tilt excuse for a proboscis. You never see someone opt for a gorgeous aquiline number like Capucine's, do you? Something bigger than they were born with. The purpose of cosmetic surgery seems to be that we should all look the same, like Stepford Wives - safe, desirable and above all unthreatening. It is nauseating.

blog imageWe can all fall victim to this kind of claptrap. I grew up with an enormous nose. Oh boy, how I wanted this thing off - it was all I thought about as a teenager. And here, in my mid-40s, I still have the same nose. It doesn't seem so large now that I am less self-obsessed, and I'm also aware that with my tiny chin and pointy face, it lends me at least one distinctive feature. But you and I both know that if I worked as an actress, say, the pressure from the get-go would have been to chop off this one feature that makes me unique. It is very hard for people in the public eye to resist that kind of pressure, particularly if it translates into lower earnings. Cindy Crawford had to fight to keep her mole, but who thinks she's 'ugly' with it? Lauren Hutton fought to keep the gap between her teeth.

However, perhaps the saddest thing for anyone who really buys into this rubbish is that the effects don't even last. You can get yourself a new nose, or even fish lips if you want to, but you cannot endlessly stop the sands of time. Facelifts fall after five or ten years, and then you have to start again - or learn to live with what you've got. Botox leaches its way out (oh, and let's not ask where to, shall we, if we're daft enough to go around injecting NEUROTOXINS into our own bodies, the long-term effects of which remain unknown). Anyone lazy enough to get liposuction rather than exercising off their fat arse will doubtless put it back on again.

The whole thing is the Emperor's New Clothes and the only people making money from it are the cosmeticians and the dentists and the dermatologists. But then their jobs depend upon our being constantly dissatisfied with the people we are, don't they? The patients - well, they still get old, still get 'ugly' and they still die. Nothing can prevent this - you only have to live long enough.

It strikes me that if women came to terms with themselves, with their imperfections and with their ageing process, and invested their money in something that would build their character instead of wasting it on their faces and bodies, at the end of the day they might be left with something substantial. Instead of changing your nose, why not take professional makeup lessons? Instead of having cheek implants, why not learn a new language or visit a culture outside your own? Instead of eyelid surgery, why not donate that money to restore sight to the blind in the third world?

Then your brief time on this planet would really have made a difference.

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