This week, the 41-year-old former Tory MP Louise Mensch admitted to having cosmetic surgery – or, as she put it, “I had a little tightening in my face.”
At much the same time, the cosmetic surgery industry, worth around £2.3bn, was told it faces tougher regulation. Both these developments prompt the question: “Why on earth do women have cosmetic surgery? It’s expensive, it’s painful – and what’s wrong with looking just the way you are?”
Fifteen years ago I had a facelift. Not only have I always been upfront about it (I couldn’t bear to think of people whispering behind my back while I lied my youthful-looking head off) but I realise it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I didn’t have it to look younger. I didn’t have it done to attract blokes. I had it done, as I think almost all women do, for myself. Here I was, older and happier than I’d ever been in my life, and yet my face didn’t reflect my mood at all. While as a young thing, wracked with gloom on the inside, I looked tight-skinned and fresh on the outside, now, perky and contented inside, I looked like a miserable old basset hound on the outside. I got fed up with staring in the mirror and seeing a gloomy Cassandra staring back.
Many of my older friends look miserable. Yet as you get older, in my experience, you feel happier, and so it’s particularly galling to be condemned to live with the lines of another, previous, era, an era of uncertainty and lack of self-confidence. And indeed, even if you’re a chirpy sort of person, with a face bursting with laughter lines, those laughter lines, in repose, signal gloom and despondency.
Research has shown that an injection of Botox actually alleviates depression in many women – and it seems that if you eliminate the angry and miserable lines from your face, people respond to you in a more positive way, which makes you react more positively, and before you know where you are, you’re in a kind of loop of perpetual sunshine.
I didn’t have much angst about taking the plunge, except the usual guilt about thinking that I should give the money to Romanian orphans rather than spend it on what was basically a vanity project. And part of the reason was that I’d grown up with cosmetic surgery. My mother had been a ground-breaker in the facelift department. She had two lifts done in the early 1970s – and she looked terrific.
But why are more and more women going under the knife? Mainly because we can. If it had been available to the Ancient Greeks, they’d have been queuing up to have cosmetic procedures. Women throughout the ages have striven to look younger and prettier. And those of us now in our sixties are of a different mindset to those oldies who went before us. We’re the baby boomers, the people who were young during the 1960s. We weren’t born to be old.
But instead of lying back and accepting the inevitability of age, like our forebears, we do something about it. Not for us the slow decline into the rocking chair, knitting spewing from our fingers like drool. We were not only born to try to remain cool and stylish to the very end, we were also, unlike our parents, born to accept change very easily. We’d lived through the discovery of the contraceptive pill, the arrival of television, the internet, mobile phones …. So why not have a go at cosmetic surgery?
Top of the list of procedures is eyelid surgery. If you can hardly see for the overhanging cliffs of flesh above, it’s understandable. (I had eyelid surgery because at a party someone asked if I was a Burmese princess – he thought the remark was a compliment. It would have been had I been a Burmese princess, but not so complimentary when the remark was made because my eyelids were hanging around my ankles.)
Next most popular is a tummy tuck. Even if you only eat a carrot a day and do press-ups till you faint, tummy muscles, according to my cosmetic surgeon, never quite regain their youthful vigour after a certain point in life. Nose-reshaping is number three, followed by breast reduction. An old showbiz friend of mine had hers reduced because her vast breasts, which she could just cope with when she was young, became agonisingly heavy, her bra cutting deep grooves into her arthritic shoulders, making it really painful to walk around. When she showed me a pre-op picture of herself in the bath, I could well understand why she begged for the knife.
The other reason that people generally are opting more and more to have cosmetic surgery is that they’re starting to trust it. When I first mooted having surgery all those years ago, all my friends gave dire warnings. “You’ll look permanently like a character in a Japanese Noh play!” “You’ll look like Joan Rivers!” One friend told me a gruesome story of an actress she had interviewed in the States who’d had so much cosmetic surgery done on her face that the skin was starting to split down the middle of her nose.
But cosmetic surgery is incredibly subtle these days. Even when I tell people I’ve had it done, many simply can’t believe it – though they do realise I must have had something done because I look younger than my years. Oddly, looking so much younger is the only drawback to surgery. The last person I told about it, a man in his early forties, was clearly rather appalled to discover the youthful-looking woman he was taking out to dinner, apparently in her early fifties, was in fact a creature more like She in Rider Haggard. (Not, of course, that at his age he would have known who She or Rider Haggard actually were.)
And the other drawback is that after the gasps of astonishment that come from female friends when I tell them that I’ve had “work” done on my face, the next question is always: “Could you email me the number of your plastic surgeon? I’m not thinking of it right now, but in the future, you never know.”