I was so ugly ...

Diane Coyle was born with a facial growth. Why did she wait so long before having the cosmetic surgery that changed her life?

By the time I was a baby of six weeks old, I was well on the way to being utterly disfigured by a growth above my right eye. This is the tale of how I spent a quarter of a century with my life dominated by having a face that strangers would stare at then turn away from - and a hymn of praise to cosmetic surgery.

Not just cosmetic surgery for "deserving" cases like mine, but for anybody unhappy about how their body looks. Another attractive young woman, the novelist Joanna Briscoe, interviewed recently in this section, has trotted out the myth that women are forced by sexism and ageism to submit to the scalpel just to look better. Wrong: the surgeon is the liberator, not the oppressor.

As shown by the few early photographs of me that exist, the growth on my face was horrific. In one my aunt holds me up to the camera, an otherwise fat and jolly baby in a silly bonnet, her face turned away from me as if she could not bear to look. It was a reaction I grew used to.

I spent most of my first two years in hospital. The tumour was removed, and plastic surgeons repaired what they could. In the early Sixties it was a relatively new discipline, and medical photographers recorded my progress for the posterity of textbooks. My mother tells me that my hands were tied to the crib for much of the time to stop me tearing off my bandages. Each day she would travel to the hospital after work and untie me for a cuddle.

By the time my memories begin, when I was four or five, the surgery was all over, although the quarterly trek to the hospital lasted into my teens. I learned to live with damaged sight and a damaged face. The other kids at my primary school called me Chinky because of the nearly closed and slanted eye. Adolescence was hell; with hindsight, I realise that I grew very depressed, although that wasn't the kind of language we spoke in a sombre Lancashire mill town.

Well-meaning friends always told me that when you got used to how I looked, you would hardly notice anything was wrong. Apart from the occasional bout of throwing myself on the floor and howling about the unfairness of it all, I got used to it myself.

Until, when I was 25, a wonderful optician asked why I had never taken the trouble to have some cosmetic surgery. "Does it not bother you?" he asked. I bowled out of his shop straight to my GP for a letter referring me back to hospital - the place I hate the most in the world.

I don't think anybody who has always been attractive can have any notion about the vacuum that looking abnormal in any way creates at the centre of your being. In her book In the Mind's Eye, Lucy Grealy, part of whose face was destroyed by cancer of the jaw, pins down the essential uncertainty. "Was I lovable, or was I ugly?" she wrote. It is not social pressure but human nature that turns people away from the ugly. If you are the one from whom others turn, it is impossible not to take it personally.

So my extra eyelid tuck at the age of 25, a medically unnecessary procedure, was in fact the one that made all the difference to my life. It is the same operation that some Asians have to make their eyes look more "Western".

For the first time I could face the world without hiding behind a curtain of hair, Gabrielle-style. I had the self-esteem to succeed in a relationship with the man who has been my husband for seven years, and to switch to a career that involved meeting lots of people. The surgery was gruesome and painful, and I would do it again in a trice if I needed to.

Maybe there is something more deserving about people who want cosmetic surgery for medical reasons; the NHS certainly thinks so, because it will pay. But anybody can be psychologically scarred by insecurity about a big nose or a sagging jaw. The technology is there, the good clinics are safe, and I applaud women who think it's worth spending money on cosmetic surgery. It's money spent on themselves and their happiness.

Myself, I think boob jobs are frivolous, and done more for men than for women, but I wouldn't presume to patronise the motives of women who have them. What can any of us know about the depth of other people's insecurities?

In an article in the current issue of Vogue, Ms Briscoe presents her novel as an attack on ageism as much as on sexism. She writes: "Our expectations of what people in old age should actually look like have been transformed in a process as powerfully manipulative as it's subtly slick." Women well into their fifties are now supposed to look like babes of 30, she complains, triggering an "epidemic" of brutal cosmetic surgery.

Is this different from the "epidemic" of hip replacement operations that allow women of 80 to walk like 60-year olds? Nature is not kind to females. Medical technology has made possible all sorts of improvements to human life. We are all technological constructs, from our teeth to the muscles developed on a Nautilus machine, from the food we eat to our lipstick. Cosmetic surgery is no different.

So I say to Joanna Briscoe, as to the glamorous Naomi Wolf and Susan Faludi before her: sister, don't tell me what you will permit me to look like. We make the best judgements about our own livesn

Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

    £60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

    AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

    £600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

    E-Commerce Developer

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial