Virginia Ironside: Yes, I've had a facelift. And so should you

I didn't want to look in the mirror and see a gloomy old person

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It appears that I was a bit of a pioneer of cosmetic surgery, at least in the circles I move in. I had my last bit of surgery around six years ago when I was 56 - a facelift - and two years before that I had an eyelid job. So it's no surprise to me that the increase in cosmetic surgery among people in their sixties rose last year by 8 per cent.

But why is it only now that more and more mature men and women are going under the knife? Partly it's because those of us who are now in our sixties are of a different mind-set from the oldies who went before us. We were young in the Sixties. We weren't born to be old. Not for us the silvery bun of hair, the idea that sex is over for ever.

Not only were we born to try to remain cool and stylish to the very end, we were also born to accept change very easily. We'd lived through the discovery of the Pill, the arrival of television, the introduction of the internet, mobile phones ... So why not have a go at cosmetic surgery?

Top of the list of procedures for the over-sixties is eyelid surgery. And when you can hardly see for the overhanging cliffs of flesh above, it's understandable.

Next 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, can 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 had her breasts reduced because, she says, "suddenly my vast breasts, which I could just cope with when I was young, became agonisingly heavy, 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 people are opting to have cosmetic surgery is that they're starting to trust it. When I'd first mooted having surgery, all my friends gave dire warnings. "You'll look like Joan Rivers!" 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 so much younger than my years.

Yet I didn't have it done to look young. And although there have been reports that older women are having more cosmetic surgery because they fear competition at work from younger colleagues, I believe it's an excuse. I don't think women have it done to attract a man, either.

In my case, the reason for having cosmetic surgery was two-fold. It was partly simply to look better. But mainly I had it done because I wanted to look happier. Most of my older friends look fantastically 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 era, an era of pain and misery, uncertainly and lack of self-confidence.

Without angry and miserable lines on 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 loop of perpetual sunshine.

I didn't want to look in the mirror and see a gloomy old person with horrible little pouches developing round her mouth and a lizardy neck known as a "wattle" as in a turkey. I now look into mirrors and see a happier woman. And knowing it's me, makes me even happier, and makes the people around me feel less threatened, too.

As an agony aunt who tries to spot the inner goodness of people and not judge them by appearances, I felt guilty. But there's another part of me that believes that looking as good as you can is actually a moral virtue.

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