Terence Blacker: The bland face of modern Britain

The less individual you are , the fewer your distinguishing features, the more likely you are to fit in and get on
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The Independent Online

Later, perhaps in a slightly drunken moment, you imagine all these successful men together. Half-close your eyes, and suddenly a rather bizarre and chilling thought will occur. They look pretty much identical. One or two may be slightly greyer than the others, or have a hint of fleshiness around the jowls but, apart from that, each could morph easily into the same man - smooth-skinned, sleek, good-looking in a rather dull way, neither too young nor too old, carrying just the right amount of weight, neither bald nor unnecessarily hairy. This is the face and the figure which we have come to trust and associate with success.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out also to be the face to which today's upwardly thrusting young man aspires. This week, the Harley Medical Group has reported that there has been a surge of male professionals working in the City who have elected to spend less of their large wads of cash on a ridiculous gas-guzzling car or a second home in the Cotswolds, and more on themselves. Apparently an increasing number of brokers, bankers and dealmongers have taken to spending their bonuses - the best for nine years, you'll be glad to hear - on having their faces lifted and their bodies "tailored".

Demand for liposuction, rhinoplasty, Botox injections and other forms of physical enhancement has risen by 40 per cent over the past month. The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons has revealed a rise of 64 per cent of men paying for intimate aesthetic improvement between 2003 and 2004.

Sadly, the motive behind the City's body-tailoring is largely professional. Men are not getting the fat sucked off their waistlines and bottoms, or having unwanted jowls or chins removed to make themselves more sexually attractive. They are concerned that the wrong face or shape will give their colleagues the terrible idea that they have reached an age (45? 40? 35?) when they are no longer able to move or to shake in the marketplace.

Of course, people can spend their salaries how they like and self-esteem is one of the great unquestioned goods of contemporary life, but surely there is something pathetic about working all day to makes lots of money and then to have the weight you put on in the office sucked off. The idea that maturity is something to be feared suggests a work culture that is both childish and brutal.

With every facelift, a person looks less like themselves; in the end, personality can disappear with those unwanted bits of skin and body.

But what the bonussed-up City lads are doing is entirely consistent with the standards of the wider world. They have realised that the less individual you are, the fewer your distinguishing features, the more likely you are to fit in and get on. The exceptional, in looks as in temperament, has become suspect.

There is no mystery as to why we are moving towards an android homogeneity. Those who have succeeded in film and TV have tended to be youthful and of acceptable looks. Now that the values and priorities of the world of entertainment have filtered outwards, news correspondents and presenters are becoming prettier all the time, while those with knobbly, unusual or plain ugly features are quietly being disappeared by broadcasting executives.

In politics, the time when a face and a voice meant little belongs to a lost age. Now if an Attlee or a Wilson, a Macmillan or a Heath appeared upon the scene, they would be unlikely to reach the top. Political life has become like a solid family film with a conventionally-minded casting director; the drearily good-looking will be considered for the lead roles while those whose features are more distinctive are allowed to play character roles.

The Labour Party's character politician was, for many years, Robin Cook. Now Charles Clarke and John Prescott share the honour. Among the Tories, one of the reasons why David Davis's leadership campaign is deemed to be a dead duck is that, while Cameron's face fits, Davis's, which looks like that of a melting snowman, does not.

The Liberal Democrats naively voted a character politician to be their leader and are now paying the price - because he does not look the part, as decreed by our culture, Charles Kennedy is never taken entirely seriously.

The looks game has crept up on us almost without our noticing it. On television commercials, on clever-dick satirical quiz shows, it has become commonplace to associate difference of looks with difference of character - amusing enough but not quite to be depended upon. The assumption is that blandness of looks, a smooth, nothingy sort of face, denotes a reliable kind of dynamism.

The idea is hardly borne out by the facts of recent history, and is leading to a sad waste of talent in public and perhaps professional life. If your looks don't fit, you might as well not bother.