dilemmas

This week: should I spend my legacy on a face-lift? Diana has inherited pounds 4,500 which she wants to spend on a face-lift. Her husband says that she's vain, and she'll look characterless - and anyway, there are other things they need. But her children are all for it. What should she do?
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Although I know some men look in the mirror and despair of the bags they see under their eyes, few blokes can empathise with the utter gloom that a woman feels when she sees drooping eyelids, saggy jowls and a lizardy neck staring back from the dressing-table glass. It doesn't matter how much we're told "But you're still beautiful", it's the word "still" that lingers, not "beautiful". How long is "still"? Will the beauty all collapse tomorrow, or are there a couple of years to play with? It's not all our fault, either, that we're obsessed with youth. One reason is that, like it or not, many more men than women get increasingly attractive as they get older, and in fact men constantly undermine the confidence of middle-aged women by lighting up like beacons when they sit next to pretty young girls, or when they're welcoming their daughters' nubile friends.

We live in a youth culture, as well, and it's easier for women to get jobs if they look younger. If we lived in an age culture, no doubt we'd all be queuing up to have wrinkles etched into our faces when we were in our twenties, humps injected into our backs, and special bobbly bits popped into the veins on our legs; and never go out until we'd applied a sprinkling of crows' feet to our eyes and liver spots to the backs of our hands.

Why is Diana's husband so against her idea? Does he feel under threat? Is he one of those unpleasant men who's so insecure that he'd prefer his wife to be an overweight lump than to be slim and attractive - anything to ensure that the chances of her ever being fancied by anyone else would be drastically reduced? He should feel a lucky bunny to have a wife who's so concerned to keep her looks, rather than someone teamed up with an old heap who's let herself go. Can't he see that, in a curious way, the face-lift is actually something for them both, that will make them a more attractive couple, that will enhance his own status among his friends rather than undermine it?

True, in the States the sight of women with skin stretched across their faces till it shines, their mouths set in skeletal smiles, makes small children scream; but plastic surgeons here are much more restrained. A face-lift is barely noticeable except that it makes women look as if they have had a very long rest. "You look marvellous; have you been on holiday?" is the usual response to a face-lift, not a nervous checking behind the ears for tell-tale scars. Indeed, unless you were her hairdresser, you shouldn't be able to notice any scars on the face of a woman who's had a successful operation.

My mother had two face-lifts 20 years ago and the only result was that she just looked marvellous, not spooky. I recently had my eyes "done" as it's euphemistically called, and if I never go out with another man in my life, or look in another mirror, I'll still be delighted. The operation just made me feel more confident.

If Diana wants to be really unselfish she could have her eyes done only, and spend the rest of the money on a holiday for both of them. Then she could save up to have the lower part of her face done later if she still wanted to. But unless in the past her husband has consistently shared any money he inherited with her, I think Diana should see this little windfall as her own special treat - and she should do with it what she likesn

What readers say

Surgery won't make Diana feel better

Beauty is only skin-deep, it is said, and if Diana's husband truly loves her as she is, how can pounds 4,500 improve her deep sense of imperfection and basic insecurity?

Diana needs counselling more than cosmetic surgery.

Linda Reme-Martin

Folkestone, Kent

This is a frivolous use of money

I have just opened my post and read a circular from one of the international children's charities.

The circular was primarily asking for a donation, but in talking about its work it stated how just 7p a day can save a child's life. I was suddenly very aware of the irony between this and Diana's problem, and it highlighted the difference between the haves and have nots.

I'm not saying that Diana should give away her inheritance, but I do feel that she needs to re-evaluate what the important fundamental issues of life are, as opposed to the decadent whims of a wealthy Western culture.

Lynn Hannawin

Reading

We should learn to age gracefully

My own preference is for naturalism, in all its glory.

There is a word in the Japanese language, shibui. It simply means the beauty of ageing. That there is no equivalent word in the English language leads me to think that we have lost the gift of ageing gracefully. Diana can embrace shibui by not having her face-lift, and by accepting rather than denying herself.

Who's to say that one face-lift won't lead to another, in an ongoing pattern?

Nicholas E Gough

Swindon, Wiltshire

A holiday would be better value

If you spend pounds 4,500 on a face-lift, what have you got to show for it? You can't lift up your hair and show off a scar, or point to a place where wrinkles once were. It just isn't fashionable over here. It's not a talking- point at coffee mornings, as it is in the States. In this country people put money like that towards, cars, houses or a luxury holiday.

Furthermore, when you're looking 35 again, all your friends will be ageing gracefully and enjoying those "character lines". Men don't understand face-lifts. It is, after all, a strange phenomenon. The body and certainly the face weren't meant to be rearranged for the fun of it.

And what happens if it goes wrong? You could end up looking worse, with some plastic surgeon laughing all the way to the bank. Just enjoy the way you are, and go and book that holiday.

Mary Phillips

Bath

I wish I'd taken the chance of a face-lift

Ten years ago I was in a similar situation, except that my husband wasn't against the idea of a face-lift, and it was my own guilty conscience that persuaded me of all the arguments Diana's husband has trotted out. Consequently I missed the chance of a lifetime. My face is now 10 years older and droopier, and I can't even remember where the money went!

My great consolation is that I'd had an eye-lift some years earlier, and I still get a kick every time I look in the mirror and think, "You're not looking too bad, after all" - and know that my husband agrees.

Diana and her children must persuade her husband that the face she isn't happy with is hers, the one she has to live with for the rest of her life. The money she wants to spend is hers, and the thing she needs is a feeling of well-being and self-worth.

Margaret Spivey

Clevedon, N Somerset

Next week's problem: I want to contact my dead mother. Would you advise going to a medium?

Dear Virginia,

I'm very happy, with a husband and children, but I was two years old when my mother died and I've always felt cheated that I missed her love and guidance, and that I have no memories of her. All the adults who could have helped me have now died.

A colleague, whose mother died recently, has visited a medium, and has derived comfort in the belief that they will meet again in an afterlife.

Though I don't dwell on my loss, I feel that it is likely to worsen as I get older, and would welcome your advice about whether I should visit this medium.

Yours sincerely, Louisa

Readers' letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted on this page will be sent a bouquet from Interflora.

Send your personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax 0171-293 2182), by Tuesday morning at the latest.

If you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, please let me know.

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