For the past week I’ve heard and read a great deal about the problems concerning breast implants, and each time my anger increases. In fact anything to do with plastic or cosmetic surgery for the sole purpose of enhancing your looks, fills me with rage. Why have it in the first place? Why have your body sliced open and filled with saline, silicone, and a variety of composite materials? Why have botox, collagen lip injections or many of the other treatments available, because you honestly believe what it says on the packet, that they will make you look younger or more attractive? I totally understand having plastic surgery for needs which include congenital defects and deformities, for people undergoing gender reassignment, or for reconstruction for post breast cancer mastectomies. But just to allow a surgeon to cut and pin back and remove and fill and enhance because you want to look better, isn’t a good enough reason, IMO. When I read about a young woman in Florida whose buttocks were injected with a mixture of cement and tyre inflater, I was horrified, and the pictures were jaw dropping. It’s even been suggested that her incisions were held together with superglue. I hope this is a one off case, but I felt sad for the woman, because I cannot imagine that her treatment is reversible, or that she was so desperate, she would go to any lengths to create the ‘perfect’ body. Yes, I would rather be a stone lighter, but I know how to achieve it – eat less and exercise more, that’s my new year’s resolution, again! I think this time I might just do it. But I would never consider surgery to make my body or face look different.
I have watched my wife deal with the aftermath of surgery after breast cancer, witnessed my late sister’s blemish free stomach become extremely scarred after two major operations for bowel cancer and a liver resection. I have seen countless members of my family and friends cope with the repercussions of surgery for various illnesses, and I believe that every single one of them would rather not have been sick, would rather not have been cut into. The choice they had was surgery and treatment, or remaining unscarred and unwell. And yes, they all had choices, but choosing to live with scars, as opposed to remaining whole and die, was not a choice most of them made.
Then there’s my brilliant mum. She’s eighty-three and looks exactly what a mum at her age is supposed to look like, and I love and respect her for it. She has shrunk in height, as we all do when we grow older, she has never coloured her hair (she asked my sister and I whether she should and we both said we loved her as she was, though my dad has always joked about turning her into a blonde). She is now losing a little hair, (I fully expect this to happen to me and many of my friends), and I know it bothers her, of course it does, no one says you have to like it, but she grows older with such grace and her natural beauty increases. She has lost sight in one eye, the other is on the decline, and there is nothing that can be done to save her sight. She is an ardent reader, losing her sight will mean not being able to continue with her great passion, and it is a passion, and this makes me sad. I am already pondering audio books, not the same experience, I know and her hearing is not great. We have become accustomed to raising our voices. Then again, she has just come round to wearing hearing aids, and they do help, although she wasn’t too keen on them at first. She isn’t used to handling fiddly objects or anything high tech, the closest she gets to e-mail is typing letters and then my dad sends them. He, at the age of eighty-four, is a genius on his PC. Mum used her electric typewriter up until she and my dad properly retired last year. Sometimes she is a little unsteady on her feet, but she walks as much as she can, occasionally with the help of a stick, or my dad, and she never complains. She says there are people younger than her with worse problems, and she just has to get on with it. My mum. She’s never worn tons of make up, she doesn’t need to, she is beautiful. She isn’t one for designer labels, or any labels, she isn’t a great shopper (sadly I didn’t inherit the latter trait!). She is warm and generous and kind and stands on her feet for hours baking. She tells me to make the most of everything while I can. Everyone loves my mum, because a mum is exactly what she is and what she resembles. I cannot imagine what she would have looked like if she had any amount of cosmetic or plastic surgery or treatment, I’m just glad that she didn’t (not that it was ever in her mind), because her beauty goes deeper than her skin, and that is something that cosmetic or plastic surgery can never alter. It cannot make you a nicer person, a more successful person, a healthier person. It cannot make you younger, it cannot halt the ageing process, and even though those who have had cosmetic surgery or their teeth whitened so extremely that they resemble a badly touched-up photo, do not look younger or, in many cases, any better, they just look different and mostly they look odd. When I see men and women of all ages with distorted faces (the Duchess of Alba is a good example), due to unsuccessful (or too much) surgery, I feel sorry for them, because for some reason they thought they could do better, look better, look younger. I shudder every time I see botched surgery, irreversible botched surgery, surgery which people think makes them looks great, but which the rest of us know makes them look like extras in a horror film. We all talk about it, the lip jobs that have gone horrendously wrong and ended careers, the eye tucks which make people look strange, the face lifts which have rendered skin unable to take its natural course, to the point of no movement at all. I wonder if that’s why the current trend in all things nostalgic on television (Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire and any amount of classical adaptations) is so high, because the characters (mostly) look like us, not cosmetically enhanced versions of us.
I love my mum’s wrinkles, not that she has many. My grandmother and then my mother always taught us to wash our faces with water, no soap, and to dry our skin by moving the towel upwards in one direction only, to keep the skin firm. My grandmother had the most amazing skin, and so does my mother. My sister had wonderful skin, mine is not bad, but then I used to sunbathe as a teenager and young adult in sweltering heat and not think anything of it. But when my mum’s wrinkles show, so does her life, her eighty-three years of work and pleasure and sorrow and joy. I can see my sister and myself reflected in her wrinkles and in her face, and when people see me, they immediately see my mother. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I blame it on a culture, which shuns maturity and applauds youth, so those of us who are maturing, perhaps feel that in order to keep up with the young (which by the way, we don’t have to do by having surgery), we must pay heaps to look like the young. It doesn’t work.
I do colour my hair, probably because of the ageist world we live in, and the ageism that exists in my profession, but that’s about all I do, and anyway, I don’t think it’s the same as surgery. To many, grey hair = old = out of date = out of touch = unfashionable = we don’t want you, you can’t do the job. There is nothing attractive about an older person trying to look ‘younger’ from the chin up, the women with wrinkled necks and foreheads that don’t move, the men with ill-fitting toupées, granted I don’t know much about the latter but I doubt it requires surgery (unless you go for hair implants I suppose). You don’t look like a young person, you look like an older person trying to look young, which is not the same thing at all. Wrinkles and liver spots on necks and hands give the game away, so get wise, live for the now, be proud of who you are and stop trying to fool yourself, because you don’t fool me. When I look at you I don’t see the person you are, but the person you are trying to recreate and it doesn’t work. I’d rather live in a world where people look individual, where people grow older as they used to, than live in a world of Stepford men and women. I’m not suggesting we all walk around looking our worst (I have enough times, often in Sainsburys, and always meeting someone I know), but save your thousands of pounds for a real problem, which I hope none of us ever have. Enjoy being the person you are, rather than loosing sight of that for a false sense of appearance. As my energetic dad says, you’re as young as you feel, and he mostly feels sixty-five! He goes to the gym every week, he is constantly rushing around and living his life, being the person he is rather than the person he tries to be. I hope I am as energetic when I am sixty. I know what I want to look like if I reach his age and I know who I want to look like, two people I can see myself in and not parents I don’t recognise anymore. And I plan on doing it naturally, without faking it with surgery and injections. And I will let my hair go grey. Right now I am deciding when might be the right time. Perhaps when I am sixty.