Beach body Babylon: Cosmetic surgery on the Queensland coast
Australians are flocking to the Queensland coast – not for the surf, but cosmetic surgery. Kathy Marks gets under the skin of the country's nip and tuck capital
Monday 02 November 2009
Breast implants are arrayed in neat rows on top of a cabinet in Pamela Noon's sun-drenched office on Australia's Gold Coast. She picks up two and weighs them, one in each hand, like a market trader showing off a couple of ripe melons. One, now obsolete, contains saline liquid; the other, a contemporary model, is filled with silicone gel.
Breasts are big business on the Gold Coast, a 21-mile beach strip in southern Queensland where sun worshippers and hedonists live out the Australian dream. Here, appearances are everything, and perfection has a price tag. Want a sculpted physique? Book yourself in for a "workout waistline" – liposuction and an abdominal tuck, costing about £7,000.
Noon, who is based near the holiday mecca of Surfers Paradise, is an enthusiastic proponent of the body beautiful; in fact, it is in no small measure thanks to her efforts that the Gold Coast has become Australia's nip and tuck capital. A walking advertisement for the industry, having gone under the knife no fewer than 31 times, she has spent the past two decades promoting cosmetic surgery. A few weeks ago the 63-year-old underwent her 150th procedure: botox injections to eradicate lines around her mouth and eyes.
She laughs at the idea that some might judge this excessive. "I suppose it's a bit addictive," says Noon, a trim figure in a bright yellow suit, high heels and lashings of make-up.
The seeds of the addiction were sown when, aged 38, Noon invited a cosmetic surgeon onto a commercial TV programme she was presenting. "He said to me: 'Why don't you have your eyes done? You'd look better on camera'." She followed his advice.
In her late 40s, "when I was getting very tubby", Noon underwent liposuction to remove three litres of fat from thighs, hips, back and buttocks. Soon afterwards, she had a mini face-lift, followed by two neck-lifts, one "temporal lift" (the skin is pulled sideways at the temples) and, in 1999, a heavy-duty "four-dimensional" face-lift.
In between came scores of surgical and 'maintenance' procedures, including six transfers of fat from thighs to cheeks; 41 collagen treatments; upper and lower eyelid reshaping; 15 skin peels; a brow suspension (the skin is lifted at the forehead); liposuction on knees and chin; a lip-flip (the inside of the mouth is turned outside, creating fuller lips); a nose job; belly-button reshaping; and 28 botox treatments.
Noon had found her vocation: marketing an industry that has always suffered from what can only be described as an image problem. She set up an advisory and referral service, becoming a first port of call for people considering treatments. She produced videos and advertisements, becoming Australia's best- known cosmetic surgery advocate.
Now, thanks to reality TV programmes such as Extreme Makeover, the idea of surgically improving what nature gave you has become almost respectable. On the Gold Coast, the recession has brought no fall in demand. Young girls, mothers in quest of their pre-baby figures and older women make up the bulk of her clients. Men account for 10 per cent.
The increasing popularity of cosmetic surgery among teenagers and young women has been well documented, but some of the stories Noon recounts make your hair curl.
One 17-year-old was brought in by her parents, who felt she was too introverted and bigger breasts might help. Another was promised a "breast augmentation", as it is politely called, by her mother for her 18th birthday. When the pair learnt that new laws had outlawed surgery for under-18s, they were furious. "She wanted them done in time for the party," says Noon. Not surprisingly, Noon declines to pass judgement. She shrugs, saying: "It's such an appearance-conscious society here. That's just the way it is."
For breast enhancements – the most common operation – the trend is towards ever bigger cup sizes. As Noon explains: "The girls here spend a lot of time in bikinis. It's about the perceived body shape, and certainly in Queensland that means larger breasts." Sitting opposite Noon, it is difficult to resist scrutinising her appearance. While she doesn't have that tell-tale stretched look, the total absence of facial lines is unnerving and her cheeks seem unnaturally plump. It's hard to say how old she looks, but the years show in the usual places, such as hands and cleavage. The overall impression is of an attractive older woman.
Noon, who recently divorced her second husband, opens a scrapbook and flicks through photos of herself before and after surgery. "People always say: 'Why not grow old gracefully?'" she remarks. "But there's nothing graceful about looking aged. I'm a very positive, happy person, and I'm very confident with my appearance. Most people want to look good, whether in their grooming or make-up or hair-do. Cosmetic surgery is just taking it a little bit further."
What about the cost, which in her case adds up to nearly £100,000? (That is based on past prices; the figure in real terms today would be much higher.) Another shrug. "I get my hair done twice a week, and coloured every third week. I've spent more on my hair over the same period of time."
Not much shocks Noon, but she admits to being "floored" recently when a woman came to see her about a breast job, accompanied by her husband. On realising that the surgery would cost more than they had budgeted for, the man turned to his wife and said: "Don't worry, we'll send you out stripping." Noon laughed, but at the end of their meeting the woman declared: "You're right, you know. Once I've had the surgery, I'll be able to make up the money in no time."
For older women, cosmetic surgery is not just about regaining lost youth. Carmel Shortland, a media strategist in her early 60s, had a face-lift 10 years ago. Without it, she believes, she could not have carried on working. "In the marketing and advertising world, when you're going into meetings with young, trendy graduates and you look old enough to be their mother, they think you don't know what you're talking about. My face-lift has probably given me another 15 years in the workforce."
Noon is disarmingly frank about the industry. "We're in 'appearance medicine'," she says. "No one goes into this business to save lives. They go into it for the money."
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