Stay away from the knife – cosmetic surgery gives me the creeps

Cosmetic surgery gives me the creeps, and here’s why.

Let me say straight away that I am not against plastic surgery per se. Surgery that restores a face or body to normalcy after a tumour, or a car crash, or severe burns. Surgery for people who are sick of heads turning as they walk down the street because their appearance is so abnormal. Though I wish we were more accepting of deformity and disfigurement in our culture, we are what we are, and I am not against the kind of surgery that enables a sufferer to live a reasonably normal life.

blog imageBut I really do believe that vanity cosmetic surgery is wrong. Just look at the breast implants on this woman – who on earth does she think she’s kidding? And this Brazilian bikini revealing a body that is – shall we say? – well past its prime. It is so terribly undignified.

Imagine this lady instead in, say, a salmon-coloured long-sleeve poloneck sweater and good black pants, with a fabulous necklace – she could look like the wife of the ex-president. Or, if we’re still at the beach, how about a well-shaped one-piece black swimsuit with a sarong skirt and overshirt in a bright chiffon print? Still vibrant, still contemporary, still fun – but no longer screamingly inappropriate.

She’s a classic victim, of course.

Our Western preoccupation with looking younger has morphed, over this past 20 years, into an acute, obsessive terror of ageing. We are a culture that cannot cope with the idea of death, but in that we are being completely unrealistic because the one thing in all of our lives that is entirely certain is that we will die. To be born is to die. If we are lucky, we will age beforehand – why do we not celebrate our ageing as an achievement?

But the opposite is the case: because we live in a culture that fears death, we fear ageing in consequence. After all, to age is to step nearer to the grave. Nor do we do value our elderly for their skills and wisdom and life experience, as pre-industrial societies do. To be old in the west is to be redundant, worthless, disrespected. "We think of older people as disposable," says Berkeley Kaite, associate professor of cultural studies at McGill University. "You dispose of the old and replace it with the new. I can’t see that it’s not connected to our consumer culture."

No wonder women (and some men) in the West are crazy to stay looking as young as possible. And frankly, if that desire takes the shape of exercising regularly and eating properly, a degree of vanity can be a healthy thing – being younger on the inside is good for your health. But when the wish to look younger on the outside reaches the level of cutting yourself about it is another matter entirely.

Popping on a bit of concealer or lipstick is one thing, but I truly believe that when you step under the knife, you have crossed a psychological barrier – showing a willingness to physically harm and disrespect your body for an idea, to make yourself forcibly into something you are not. This is a long way from making the best of yourself as you are, which I feel is a worthwhile goal. It is letting someone else turn you into what society thinks you should be. That something else is more culturally ‘acceptable’, but we forget that our culture is bankrupt.

How can fake breasts and fake lips and fake cheeks be ‘better’ than the real thing? In what way better, exactly? More suitable for their function? – breasts like footballs, lips like a trout? How the hell can anything fake be better than anything real, even if the surgery’s been well done?

I’m sure every woman thinks she’s undertaking her surgery for herself alone, but if culture plays no part, why do all the contestants on The Swan come out with the exact same nose? That tiny, weeny tip-tilt excuse for a proboscis. You never see someone opt for a gorgeous aquiline number like Capucine’s, do you? Something bigger than they were born with. The purpose of cosmetic surgery seems to be that we should all look the same, like Stepford Wives – safe, desirable and above all unthreatening. It is nauseating.

blog imageWe can all fall victim to this kind of claptrap. I grew up with an enormous nose. Oh boy, how I wanted this thing off – it was all I thought about as a teenager. And here, in my mid-40s, I still have the same nose. It doesn’t seem so large now that I am less self-obsessed, and I’m also aware that with my tiny chin and pointy face, it lends me at least one distinctive feature. But you and I both know that if I worked as an actress, say, the pressure from the get-go would have been to chop off this one feature that makes me unique. It is very hard for people in the public eye to resist that kind of pressure, particularly if it translates into lower earnings. Cindy Crawford had to fight to keep her mole, but who thinks she’s ‘ugly’ with it? Lauren Hutton fought to keep the gap between her teeth.

However, perhaps the saddest thing for anyone who really buys into this rubbish is that the effects don’t even last. You can get yourself a new nose, or even fish lips if you want to, but you cannot endlessly stop the sands of time. Facelifts fall after five or ten years, and then you have to start again – or learn to live with what you’ve got. Botox leaches its way out (oh, and let’s not ask where to, shall we, if we’re daft enough to go around injecting NEUROTOXINS into our own bodies, the long-term effects of which remain unknown). Anyone lazy enough to get liposuction rather than exercising off their fat arse will doubtless put it back on again.

The whole thing is the Emperor’s New Clothes and the only people making money from it are the cosmeticians and the dentists and the dermatologists. But then their jobs depend upon our being constantly dissatisfied with the people we are, don’t they? The patients – well, they still get old, still get ‘ugly’ and they still die. Nothing can prevent this – you only have to live long enough.

It strikes me that if women came to terms with themselves, with their imperfections and with their ageing process, and invested their money in something that would build their character instead of wasting it on their faces and bodies, at the end of the day they might be left with something substantial. Instead of changing your nose, why not take professional makeup lessons? Instead of having cheek implants, why not learn a new language or visit a culture outside your own? Instead of eyelid surgery, why not donate that money to restore sight to the blind in the third world?

Then your brief time on this planet would really have made a difference.

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