Sunday 13 June 1999
Great, says Linda Hanson - you can't start too early. Don't do it, says Karena Callen - this is not the way to find happiness
I had my eye-bags done when I was 35, but I would have had them done when I was in my twenties if I could have done. They were awful and people would comment on them - they'd ask me if I'd been crying, or if I'd been out for a night on the tiles, and that would leave me feeling really hurt and deflated.
When I had both upper and lower lids done I felt quite confident; I knew the risk of infection or complications was low. I was really desperate because they were ruining my life - you can get to a stage where something like that really, really bothers you. When I'd had the operation, it made such a difference. Not only did I look younger, I looked fresher. I had no post-operative discomfort, just two black eyes that lasted about 10 days. I felt absolutely fabulous, better about myself and happier with life, and people stopped passing comments.
Now I think - why wait if you have a real requirement for surgery? Why go through life miserable? Life's difficult enough as it is and if you can tweak anything to make it easier, I think you should.
Cosmetic surgery isn't expensive. The eye-bag operation I had would cost pounds 2,400 today - the equivalent of a car or a holiday. A lot of ladies come in and say their husband wanted to replace their car but they'd rather wait for a new car and have the surgery now. On holiday, you cause sun damage to your skin, your tan fades anyway, you might get food poisoning - cosmetic surgery can do far more good than a holiday for some people.
After my first operation, I had a rhinoplasty to remove a bump on my nose and a breast augmentation. Then I needed a face and neck-lift and had more loose skin removed from round my eyes. More recently I've had my ears corrected. Now I'm going to have liposuction on my stomach and have my face lasered to improve the skin's elasticity and make it look more dewy.
I started have surgery in my 30s and I can understand why more and more women in their thirties are following suit. It's a long-term investment. After all, these days you have a long life ahead of you: a few years ago you'd have been looking at turning your toes up at 50. My patients are nice, sensible, down-to-earth folk who still want to look like themselves, but just a bit better, and what's wrong with that? And a lot of people who come to us go on to start exercising, change their hair, buy new clothes - it gives them a whole new lease of life.
I had a patient last week who'd brought along a friend who was anti-surgery, and this woman said we both needed psychiatric help. I said, "Cosmetic surgery is a quick fix. If you see a psychiatrist it's week in, week out, year in, year out, and they don't make your problem go away, they make you see it as normal. I'd rather spend an hour on the operating table having some skin tightened than have someone mess with my mind."
Linda Hanson is managing director of the National Independent Cosmetic Surgery Organisation, tel: 01772 861133.
Would I undergo the trauma of cosmetic surgery just to cling on to a wrinkle-free appearance or hold down a job? I'd rather stick hot needles in my eyes. Not for one moment would I go under the knife in the name of vanity, even though I work in an industry where superficial beauty is a highly prized asset.
That's not to say that I abhor plastic surgery. For people who are severely disfigured or who have had undergone serious medical procedures such as mastectomy, corrective surgery is a lifesaver. Undergoing surgery in an attempt to turn back the clock, however, is neither comparable nor justifiable. Like the US, we are becoming a society that's increasingly obsessed with cosmetic surgery and my concern is that we are dangerously close to reaching the point of no return.
Have we learnt nothing from the New Age philosophy that beauty is as much about inner self as outer self? What has happened to the notion, hackneyed as it may be, that beauty comes from within? Ageing should neither be looked upon as an inconvenience nor an illness that we can stamp out, cut off and erase. It's our destiny and as much a part of life as being born and dying.
I'm not saying that as soon as we hit 30, we should let ourselves go and forget about our appearance. Far from it. I'm all for keeping the visible signs of ageing at bay by using sun protection, having regular facials, colouring my hair, doing yoga and taking antioxidants, but I draw the line at surgery and refuse to kowtow to the pressure of the "eternal external youth" brigade. What's the point of trying to look like a teenager if you don't feel like one on the inside?
Let's be honest here. I don't believe for one moment that surgery is a panacea for all our problems. As Dr Eileen Bradbury, a psychologist who advises people before they undergo plastic or cosmetic surgery, recently pointed out, surgery often only offers a quick-fix, not a long-term solution. That may keep you in your job for another five years or stop your man from playing the field for the time being. But is that job or man really worth sacrificing your individuality and identity for? What's more important is to sort out the underlying problem and to treat that, not to gloss over the surface.
I'm not saying that I don't have days when I wish I looked like I did 10 years ago. We all do. But you can't just buy youth from a supermarket shelf. It's an attitude, not a commodity. I love the fact that you get the face you deserve and that all your experiences, good and bad, eventually show up on your face. I'd far rather grow old gracefully and look a bit time-ravaged and lived-in like Marianne Faithfull and Chrissie Hynde, or weatherbeaten like Georgia O'Keeffe, than a shiny-skinned parody like the much nipped-and-tucked Jocelyne Wildenstein.
Let's move on from the slavery of "perma-youth" and learn to see the beauty and wisdom of age like other cultures and societies. At the end of the day, you can nip, tuck and liposuction away to your heart's content, but will it really make you happy?
Karena Callen is health and beauty director of 'Red' magazine.
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