How self-inflicted plastic surgery turned Italy's It girl into a 'monster'

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The Independent Online

She is famous for being famous. The Italian blonde first came to public attention because she was the girlfriend of a popular singer, and had given him two children.

She is famous for being famous. The Italian blonde first came to public attention because she was the girlfriend of a popular singer, and had given him two children.

But now Loredana Lucciso, girlfriend of Al Bano Carrisi, has a more credible, if uneviable, claim to fame. In the nation that loves cosmetic surgery more than any other, Italy's "It Girl" has become a pin up for what happens when it all goes disturbingly wrong.

For Ms Lucciso has appeared on the cover of Panorama, a news weekly in Silvio Berlusconi's Mondadori stable, with a horribly swollen upper lip, over the garish headline "The new monsters", offering herself as a terrible warning against dabbling with your looks.

The woman whose titillating dance act with her brunette sister Raffaella shocked Italy last month, has in the past described her unsightly lip as a case of herpes. Media gossips speculated that it might have been the result of a sideswipe from the boyfriend because relations between the two have chilled and a custody battle over their two small children is looming. But this week she came clean.

"The story of a case of herpes was invented," she told the magazine. "Unfortunately, the swelling was brought about by me. And I feel remorseful about it. For some days I was in a state of anguish; it was awful. I injected my lips to give them more volume ... I injected them with some chemical substance. It was a folly I will not repeat. I should have had it done by a doctor. I'll remember that in future."

Cosmetic surgery was always likely to become popular in Italy, where beautiful grooming and immaculate dressing are national obsessions. And the boom has arrived. The Italian Plastic Surgery Society records close to one million operations a year - business which is worth more than an annual €1bn (£680m). And the figures are rising rapidly. Italy is number one in the world for anti-wrinkle injections.

A year ago, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi disappeared from view for weeks. After an avalanche of media speculation he came clean in mid-January, admitting he had had a face-lift. It coincided with the 10th anniversary of his political party Forza Italia. He gave his new face its first public outing at the party's birthday rally.

His fans roared their approval. " Silvio, sei bellissimo!" they screamed. In the summer, at his Sardinian villa, he again ducked out of sight for a spell, re-emerging to greet the Blairs wearing his famous bandanna. Journalists were sure he had hair implants, and during his recent appearances in London and Washington he showed off a brave new crop of scalp fuzz.

The new permissiveness was underlined in March with the launch of a reality TV programme on a Berlusconi-owned Mediaset channel entitled "Scalpel! Nobody is perfect!" Volunteers with prominent noses, large rumps or insignificant bosoms came on the show to have their wrongs put right by a top-flight plastic surgeon.

The lure was that they did not have to pay. The downside (or not) was that the process was relayed liveand friends and relatives had a video monitor. The programme's host, a former politician called Irene Pivetti who had herself benefited from a dramatic make-over, said her programme was for the aid of people wishing to "remove a physical defect". And now the dam gates have opened, with results, like Loredana's lips, that are not always beguiling. A mischievous journalist, Roberto D'Agostino, coined the word labbrosaur to describe the bee-stung lip look that has blossomed up and down the country. The word Labbra means lip in Italian.

Now he says: "In the 1980s it was only showbusiness stars who got on front pages thanks to their face-lifts, successful or otherwise. But from the 1990s everybody from starlets to the lady next door had started to think of the body as a machine that could be repaired. And it was then that the abuses began: the monsters whose parents can only recognise them by their voices, others who, to show expression, have to resort to their hands."

The surgeons themselves reject this impression of an industry running out of control. A leading plastic surgeon, Luigi De Sisto, who practises in Milan, home to 60 per cent of the Italian market, reckons only 2 per cent of treatments lead to patients filing complaints, compared to 16 per cent for gynaecology and 13.7 per cent for general surgery.

But there may be a simple explanation for this disparity between the perception of "monstrosity" and the rarity of complaints.

Fiorella Donati, a plastic surgeon with clients in London as well as Milan, says: "The truth is that cosmetic surgery has created new canons of beauty. Whoever looks in the mirror almost never recalls how they looked before. They find their new face normal."

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