Oliver Cromwell instructed his portrait painter, "Warts and all." But then he was never subjected to the same level of facial scrutiny as Sarah Jessica Parker. The removal of a mole from the actress's chin has provoked internet concern. The website Sarah Jessica Parker Looks Like a Horse, which monitors her appearance carefully, was on to it fast.
I am writing this column in the middle of the Mediterranean, yet the large group of teenage girls by the pool – all intelligent and highly educated – know about the mole removal through the kind of internet osmosis which passes for knowledge these days.
The story of the mole raises two points. First, that we are still as puritanical as Cromwell about displays of vanity. Second, the strangeness of SJP's role as girlfriend/martyr. The removal of the mole is portrayed as both frivolous and a betrayal of other women. SJP had promised to grow old gracefully, and here she is yielding to the surgeon's scalpel.
A clinical nurse is quoted in one newspaper saying (with a slight note of censure) that SJP's mole did not appear cancerous. "It is more likely she had it removed for cosmetic reasons."
Cosmetic surgery –or plastic surgery as it is still called – is regarded as a branch of voodoo by the popular papers. Any woman in the public eye attempting Botox will find herself pictured next to the Bride of Wildenstein. In the media's, view women who have liposuction die and those who interfere with their faces keep portraits of Leslie Ash in their attics. The term "cosmetic surgery" is used to cover anything from waxing to the fully blown Farrah Fawcett's head wrapped in bandages as she leaves hospital in a wheelchair shot.
I believe what SJP had was a dinky form of laser electrolysis which can shrink moles to nothing. I have seen it done and there is nothing in the least Sweeney Todd about the process. It takes minutes. I wonder if it is primitive ignorance or anxiety among male newspaper executives that makes them talk of tiny procedures in a beautician's studio as if they were back-street abortions. Beauty science has come along in leaps and bounds in recent years. Look at the difference between Madonna, with her invisible, incremental facial maintenance, and the generation of Hollywood actresses before her who are pure Madame Tussaud. Is it because it benefits women that it is regarded as shameful?
Moles, or "signature moles" as they become when attached to the famous, take on a mystical fascination when associated with Sarah Jessica Parker. This is because she is so liked by women for her fashion sense and friendliness and so disliked by a section of men and internet nutters for having a long face. It is interesting that some men feel the same repulsion for the novels of Virginia Woolf, who also had long features and aggravated her crime by wearing shapeless cardigans.
The problem with the late Virginia Woolf and, in her different way, Sarah Jessica Parker, is that neither woman dressed to please men and this can be regarded as an affront. If they had stuck to wet T-shirts, the history of literature and light television entertainment might have been different. Instead, Sarah Jessica Parker has the worst of all worlds. Her accessibility – which is why she appeals to women – also means people feel free to say whatever they like about her. Her internet fans were becoming restive about the mole. Among the kinder postings was this one: "She should have the mole removed. It is not becoming and if anything it is detracting from her acting."
Her expressive, intelligent face, so far from the glamour model ideal, also makes her a victim of astonishingly virulent abuse. This is boiling misogyny under the anonymity of the internet.
Sarah Sands is editor in chief of British 'Reader's Digest'