Deborah Orr: The impossibly beautiful have no problems condemning plastic surgery

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The Independent Online

Naomi Campbell appears to be an unlikely champion of the naturally ageing woman, what with her continuing unmistakability as one of the most preternaturally gorgeous Amazonians of her generation. Nevertheless, the supermodel (right) has chosen to stand against Botox, and is suing brow-smoother to the stars, Dr Jean-Louis Sebagh, for saying that she endorses his procedures.

It's an interesting move - as are most of Ms Campbell's visits to the courts - because the use of plastic surgery is now so widespread and accepted that, in the business that is actress/model, being accused of having your forehead frozen with poison is a bit like being accused of using conditioner to make your hair shiny, or of waxing your legs to make them smooth.

No doubt, of course, doctors shouldn't use celebrity puffs that don't exist. But, there is an element in this case that is similarly discomforting to the sight of a string of men suing over "allegations" of homosexual activity. It's perfectly fine to be gay, so where's the insult? Likewise, as millions of insecure women embrace plastic surgery, is it helpful to suggest that they are doing something shameful?

The last thing such women need is to feel guilty and fraudulent as well as old and past it, as they lie pathetically about their newly and suspiciously Slavic appearances. And the last thing those of us not succumbing need either, is for women to be dishonest about the lengths they go to to look good. I admire Deborah Harry, Julie Christie, Sharon Osbourne and others for being open about their facelifts, and explaining that they felt they had to do it because of the kind of work that they do.

I'm far more troubled by those women who are not upfront about their resort to intervention, thereby ramping up the insecurity that ageing women are constantly encouraged to feel. Diet, exercise and oxygen facials - this is the stuff we are told can make women look like nymphettes at 50. Sometimes this stuff even comes out of mouths so injected with fillers of various kinds that they look more like muzzles. Sometimes the earnest brow framing these nuggets of wisdom is bulging glassily with oddly expressive veins. Who needs to be confronted with this mad, self-loathing behaviour?

Women don't. Yet Ms Campell's action, despite those oh so deceptive appearances, does just that. She is at pains not to emphasise that she wants to age gracefully, but that she is not ageing at all. What's more she's reported to have brought a jaunty note of racial supremacy into her campaign for justice, by adopting the slogan "Black don't crack".

In fact, at close examination, all hopes that Naomi might have something profound to say about the condition of women today are crushed. She simply wants to remind everyone that she's more effortlessly lovely than anyone else on the planet, and that other pretenders to the throne are faking it. Meanwhile, Teri Hatcher says she's not going to use Botox any more. Perhaps she'll emerge as the Mary Wollstonecraft of her day. Fingers crossed.

Hype over a heist

It already seems like a long time since the nation experienced a shared and guilty thrill at the idea of a huge bank robbery, started using words such as "heist" and "getaway", and blethering on about the good old days before all the criminals moved into drug dealing.

After mere hours of wish-it-was-me euphoria, everyone turned their attention to the family of hostages who had been so frightened and intimidated, remembered that it was our money anyway that had been nicked, and decided that the "masterminds" and "professionals" who had put the "huge operation" together were probably just a bunch of grunting, nasty, swine living out a pathetic fantasy that had somehow wandered into the realms of reality.

The really enjoyable thing, though, has been the fragrance of ineptitude and the garnish of cliché. A woman walks into a building society casually hefting a wad of banknotes marked "Tonbridge". An implicated couple are pictured on their "farm" looking for all the world like a still from one of those EastEnders-goes- to-Spain episodes. A suspect is shown cavorting sweatily with a sex worker who looks like she should have "Desperate, only paying the bills" tattooed on her forehead.

And now, a mother has emerged to offer the surprising comment: "My boy's a good boy. He wouldn't get mixed up in anything like this." All we need now is for Phil Collins to provide a soundtrack, and we'll have learned for good our lesson about glamorising bank robbers.

The story behind the propaganda

I know it it is serious. I know it wrecks lives. But this craze for publishing crystal meth before-and-after shots? Am I the only one who can't take them seriously?

This follows the tradition of anti-drugs propaganda that portrays a worst case scenario instead of charting a recognisable deterioration. The predicted horror isn't recognised by casual users and so loses credibility. And since we're not quite in the grip of the predicted epidemic yet, the pictures tend to serve as pre-publicity. When Alexander Masters was working for a homeless charity, he met Stuart Shorter, a young man classed as "chaotic homeless" with a long list of criminal convictions and a tendency towards violence.

But Shorter also had intelligence, wit and an instinct for genuine social justice. So the encounter must have seemed fortuitous for a young man looking for a subject for his first book. The result, Masters' Stuart: A Life Backwards, was published this week. Only the faintest ghost exists of the conventional narrative, telling the familiar story of childhood abuse, physical disability, bullying, buggering and betrayal, that Shorter derided so comprehensively when Masters showed him the book's first draft. We don't know what he thought of the second draft because Shorter was killed by a train before it was completed. It's part of the biography's understated style that Shorter's tragic end is not dwelt upon.

Would Shorter have recognised the book as the brilliant and funny work it is? It doesn't matter. His own message is contained within this single comment: "Being homeless ain't about not having a home. It's about something being seriously fucking wrong."

* Poor old Tessa Jowell. She's been revealed as something worse than a fraud - a Little Woman who leaves the complicated financial stuff, like mortgages, to her husband. The first may be unethical, but I fear that the second is just as damaging to a politician who champions women's rights. However busy and preoccupied you are, you inquire when your husband keeps on mortgaging the house, then suddenly paying it off again, don't you?

Except I think I can see why Jowell, like so many Labour ministers before her, has proved so inept when it comes to money. No doubt she spent her young idealistic days rather contemptuous of wealth in the way that lefties of that time were required to be. She and her colleagues are converts to the idea that "greed is good". Like many converts, they are rather too zealous and unquestioning in their naive pursuit of their new-found wisdom.

Jowell, Mandelson, Blunkett and the Blairs themselves, all of them have been in thrall to their new-found belief that there's nothing wrong with ardently pursuing large wodges of money. But they have been rather oblivious to the fact that there are clearly defined limits even here. Grumpy old socialists such as myself are rather inclined to think it serves them right.

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