Why plastic is fantastic

Disfigured in a car crash, Terry Prone embarked on a 14-year love affair with cosmetic surgery. An armlift may have gone awry, but the fix-it addict has no regrets, says Clare Dwyer Hogg
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Indy Lifestyle Online

"The kind of people who have face-lifts or cosmetic surgery are intrinsically shallow, self regarding, have no life, have no relationships, haven't got an interest in jobs, have no depth, don't read, don't think, don't have ideas." If you'd asked Terry Prone what she thought about plastic surgery 14 years ago, that would have been her response. Now the 52-year-old Irish PR consultant and writer is the author of Mirror, Mirror: Confessions of a plastic surgery addict. The title is certainly a little tongue in cheek, but Terry is more than ready to admit that she can live with the implications. "I think it's fun," she laughs (referring to both the title and the pastime), "and it makes no sense not to be a bit addicted to something that can make such a simple and cost-effective difference."

"The kind of people who have face-lifts or cosmetic surgery are intrinsically shallow, self regarding, have no life, have no relationships, haven't got an interest in jobs, have no depth, don't read, don't think, don't have ideas." If you'd asked Terry Prone what she thought about plastic surgery 14 years ago, that would have been her response. Now the 52-year-old Irish PR consultant and writer is the author of Mirror, Mirror: Confessions of a plastic surgery addict. The title is certainly a little tongue in cheek, but Terry is more than ready to admit that she can live with the implications. "I think it's fun," she laughs (referring to both the title and the pastime), "and it makes no sense not to be a bit addicted to something that can make such a simple and cost-effective difference."

"Simple and cost-effective" might seem a rather frightening way of describing adjustments to one's body, but Prone the person doesn't seem frightening at all (which, in a way, is perhaps the most frightening thing). Yet this is a woman who has had dental implants, laser skin peels, liposuction, a face-lift, laser eye surgery, foot operations, an endoscopic brow lift, and Botox.

Her investigation into plastic surgery began after she was badly injured in a car crash in August 1988. The impact of the collision left her with multiple fractures in her left arm, legs that were crushed to pieces, aphasia, a broken jaw, smashed teeth and caved-in cheekbones. The left side of her face was completely dented. It was as if, Terry says, "you had taken an egg and just hit it with a pencil". With this image in mind, you might understand how her interest in plastic surgery started. The teeth came first; instead of dentures, she had dental implants. "I have to travel a lot," she says, "and it is the most fantastic thing to be able to go into an airport bathroom and clean your teeth without any self-consciousness. And to be able to eat an apple? Great."

It would seem churlish to begrudge someone their teeth just because it comes under the label of cosmetic surgery. But Terry didn't stop there. Her list of procedures doesn't only reflect a reconstructive approach to a badly injured body; many are purely cosmetic. Some, like the face-lift operation, are grey areas: while the face-lift helped to get her back to normal (the surgeon evened out her face and put a cheek implant on the side that had the dent), she admits she also used it to halt the appearance of ageing. "I was ovoid again. And in addition, I didn't have all of this loose skin. I'd lost five stone because I had a book of short stories out and I wanted to look good. The problem is that if you lose that amount of weight and you're over 40, the sag factor is fantastic. Instead of having jowls like a bull dog, I just had a jawline again."

Terry describes it as a repair job, rather than a beautifying procedure. Yet there is something about the way she describes the change that suggests an innate dissatisfaction with her appearance: "I still looked the same age but I didn't look as ugly and saggy and wrinkly." It is said that 70 per cent of people who try plastic surgery go back for more, and Terry's disarming appraisal of her experience is perhaps one reason why: "Your skin feels electric for about three or four months. It's like the difference between still water and sparkling. My skin simply felt inside as if it had little bubbles and sparkles – a fantastically alive sensation." There is a great deal in this lifestyle of Terry's that is about feeling alive, and her love of sensation is perhaps a symptom of her appreciation at being alive at all.

Some people, of course, have been callous about the public nature of Terry Prone's penchant for plastic. "Every now and then a gossip columnist will say, 'And of course Terry Prone is still looking surprised', but I think you'll see that I actually don't look surprised. I obviously lead a very dull life," she laughs. Terry Prone laughs a lot. Which serves to offset the gruesome nature of some of the procedures she merrily describes.

Laser resurfacing – definitely cosmetic – is one such instance. When she starts to talk about this, it is in an interested, child-like way. "And I had – what's the word? Laser resurfacing. It's really gross." It is. The anaesthetised patient has postage stamp-sized blasts of laser directed at their skin, which burns off the top layer. "The second layer of skin," explains Terry, "almost goes 'waaa' and contracts so that when you heal from the burning, the layer underneath feels much tighter and firmer and filled with collagen."

The word "filled" is invested with much drama. Terry has a background in theatre. But there is certainly nothing false about the pain this type of procedure evokes. The after-effects are described as "interesting". Why interesting? Because, she says, "it looked as though I had the worst possible burns on my face for about 10 days. You have to wash it with peroxide every two hours because of the possibility of bacterial infection." It seems an extreme measure to achieve more youthful skin, but Terry can't remember it like that. Instead, it's people from the outside who find it alarming. "My husband thought it was spectacular, but I've spent my life trying things out and so it was just like that – trying things out."

She does acknowledge, however, that the pay-off was not so great for all of her "trying out". Which is presumably part of the gamble. The armlift, for instance, does not come highly recommended. The lift, which cuts away any extra skin between elbow and shoulder, wasn't a success in her case. "It left me with a god-awful scar," she frankly admits, "that is not enough under the arm to wear short-sleeved shirts." Ever cheerful, though, she doesn't regret it, despite the £1,200 it cost. "I couldn't wear short sleeves, anyway – now I just can't wear them for different reasons." She's not so much stoic as chirpy, which is perhaps the attitude you need when you're playing such a tricksy game with your appearance. And you get the feeling that it is something of a game. At one point she says, "Oh yes, I did have perfect makeup tattooed on as well. Eyebrows, eyeliner and lips. When I come out of the shower I have red lips." This sounds slightly worrying, especially if your view is that less pain is always better. Getting the lip tattoos hurt, in Terry's words, "like hell" – so much so, in fact, that she had to stop half way through and go to the dentist to be anaesthetised.

There is a kind of logic to the way Terry Prone thinks. When confronted with the notion that she might be conforming to cultural ideals of beauty, she won't have any of it. "The thing is people seem to assume that your authenticity and your self esteem thrives in staying the way you look. When we get a dent in our car, we don't say, 'It was earned by life therefore we'll let it stay there and rust.' No, you say, 'We'll fix it'." So that's what Terry Prone is doing: fixing it. Let's just hope it was broken in the first place.

'Mirror, Mirror: Confessions of a plastic surgery addict' by Terry Prone is published by Sitric Books at £7.99

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