Joanna Briscoe: At the Sharp End

Cosmetic surgery is the new bling. It costs to look like a weirdo. Just ask Posh Spice
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The Independent Online

Now that we live on planet freak, perhaps we must all adjust to the dominant lasers-and-scalpels aesthetic. As a die-hard feminist covered in lipstick, I still shoutily object, believe the current beauty ideal to be a viciously misogynistic control technique, and would rather touch a slug covered in poo than a needle full of botulinum toxin or collagen harvested from a dead Chinese prisoner.

But I'm beginning to see that even though I'll maintain my political stance until I'm a wrinkly corpse, I can no longer thrash around like a dinosaur in pebble glasses being surprised and outraged when even people I know are now prepared to have their teeth filed down to points and then built up again with slabs of porcelain.

I realised the true absurdity of all this when I saw the new John Turturro film Romance & Cigarettes. It stars the great Susan Sarandon playing one of her working-class heroines to full twitching, pausing effect. She was utterly convincing in all ways. Except one. Every time she drawled and sighed in her stained kitchen, a dazzling Hollywood dental gleam screamed through the gloom, inducing snow blindness and a fixated stare in the audience. Sarandon's whitened smile will clearly require a bit of a touch-up - in tannin, nicotine, or simply nature-coloured shade - next time she decides to go blue collar. It's like Keira Knightley jaw-acting her way through Pride and Prej with 2005 eyebrows and fashionably full upper lip.

I suppose we have to get our bemused heads around the fact that professional self-publicists like Paris Hilton, and those six-stoners with tit jobs from manufactured bands, and even serious artistes like Nicole Kidman, are no longer even attempting to look normal. "Natural" is not the required aesthetic. There's a new accepted artifice, one that showcases affluence, tribal identity, and fearsome self-control. If you look skinny, bleached and chopped up, you've paid money for the privilege. It costs to look like a weirdo. Ask Posh Spice. The original Spice Girl line-up would appear interestingly clumpy and chunky to our eyes now, all stray hair strands and wonky teeth. Whereas a decade on, young women starve, suction, laser, cut, break and lift weights to look like the undernourished and airbrushed humanoid a female in the public eye is supposed to resemble.

Weird science

It's changed in a matter of nano-years. The stars of Desperate Housewives inhabit a stretched and emaciated, mask-eyed universe that makes Sex and the City look almost naturalistic, while Jordan, still in her twenties, has botox for her wedding. Er, what for, exactly? And enormous-breasted Kerry Katona has a boob job. Why? Cos she's a celebrity innit, and that's what you do if you're a celebrity, right? It's a rite of passage, like ear piercing once was. Except it's not. It's a major, bloody, dangerous operation involving anaesthetic, drains, bandages, scarring, risk of rupture, infection, hardening and possible autoimmune diseases.

But as ever the lunacy is filtering down, if not quite to the masses, then to the fashion and magazine worlds in which veneers, lunchbreak botox and light starvation are perfectly standard. You'd be hard pressed to find an NHS dentist now, but anyone can pay to have their smile destroyed, rebuilt or stripped until it resembles a set of dentures.

I too merrily whinge and mildly obsess over any new wrinkle, any fresh pound of flesh suddenly gluing itself to me, but I wouldn't dream of suctioning or blow-torching it all to oblivion. One, I'm a feminist. Two, I think it's tragic to go into hospital for your looks. I was once sent to report on a new jet-setting dental clinic offering a variety of cosmetic procedures. Part of the commission was to experience a treatment, but I spurned the prospect of hundreds of quids' worth of free Hollywood-style tombstones in favour of a simple clean, which I kept interrupting, wild-eyed with suspicion, in case bleach or lasers had been sneaked into the treatment. Friends clearly thought I was a madwoman. Well, I've got a perfectly fine set of gnashers due to a Seventies brace and a good thrice-daily brushing, thanks tremendously.

I'm remaining a scalpel virgin. But I can't be arsed to sound off about the beauty myth for much longer when all around me loom eerie bleached grins and immobile brows. Even Naomi's taken to building treehouses.

Up with the Joneses

Every dinner party I go to involves a discussion about Liz Jones and her feckless husband. At some point, the subject of Liz Jones, said hub's book, and her newspaper relationship columns will emerge as surely as a confection from Carluccio's. Rousseau's Confessions were as nothing to Jones's. Everyone wants to gasp, scream, analyse, and brand her a fruitcase, but the thing is, I actually think she seems rather nice. I feel I understand Liz. Just like I always firmly believed that that Lady Di and I could be mates: I'd take the piss and have a cackle when she popped over for pasta and pesto in her armed guard's car. Jones's exposure has reached a level where people must stop her in the street, convinced they're at one with her psyche. We should crown Liz Jones the water cooler queen of the third millennium.

'Sleep With Me' by Joanna Briscoe is published by Bloomsbury

Deborah Ross is away