Losing Face

18th October 2008

Clare Finney observes the pursuit of perfection…

I don’t profess to be a cosmetic surgery expert, but when a friend requested to spend some time at my place recovering from her face-lift, I thought I pretty much knew the score…

It’s not as if personal enhancement is short of publicity; thanks to Kylie’s collagen and Posh’s pout, the number of unseemly body parts jumping on the cosmetic surgery bandwagon and sending the snaps to OK! seems endless, and faces, not surprisingly, are top of the list when it comes to these ‘real life’ magazine features.

Indeed, so numerous have these exposés become, they have practically created a new genre. A typical feature will be split into two sections: ‘Before’, and ‘After’, with the former, invariably sub-titled ‘I hated myself’, containing two paragraphs of self-loathing, accompanied by something that at first resembles a dried prune, but proves upon closer inspection to be a dimly lit portrait of a manic depressive. Over the page, the word ‘After’ is sky-blue, triply exclamation-marked and followed by a young lady – bright eyed and brilliant. You don’t need to read the caption to know how happy she is; her smile says it all. It seems that, when your face is lifted, your hopes, happiness and confidence all follow suit.

It’s a lot to pay for a dewy complexion – but throw a new life in the basket and £5,000 is starting to look like a bargain.
Thus we reasoned the night before the operation; and it wasn’t until halfway through the following week that we realised just how deceived we had been.

It’s not just that the supposed ‘After’ picture is contrasted with a badly shot photo of a woman with no make-up, no dress sense and the sort of expression that makes Eeyore look high – although this is misleading enough. It’s that, throughout the whole article, barely any reference is made to the swelling, the humiliation and the sheer pain that made up the transition.
From the moment we learn to write we’re taught that every story, no matter how sophisticated, must have a beginning, a middle, and an end; if you thought that the only thing separating a dismal ‘Before’ from a happy ever ‘After’ was four rhapsodic paragraphs and a clever photo shoot, then you were wrong. The middle, boys and girls, is where everything happens.
It’s where the last thing you remember is a suspicious looking man who introduces himself as Barry before plunging something sharp into your intravenous. It’s where you spend a week cooped up in the spare room, masked, miserable and snarling at all who approach – like Bertha in Jane Eyre, except that family members investigating your midnight wanderings are more likely to find a masked marauder foraging for frozen peas than a madwoman intent on burning down the manor; disturbing, certainly, but far less of a drain on the insurance.

Just as when you deliver your car for an MOT and come out of the garage wondering which is worse, the astronomical bill you’re likely to receive, or the hideous courtesy car you are currently struggling to drive, the ‘courtesy visage’ that manifested itself in the intervening stages was woefully inferior – a Fiat Multipla of the face world. Swollen to a shape more commonly found in the ballgames section of larger department stores, the face that my friend presented post-surgery was raw, sore and only just solaced by said bags of frozen peas – the contents of which we invariably found strewn all over the staircase because, as we eventually deciphered from her various pained mutterings, not only did our poor invalid now possess frankfurters for lips, bit the crème-puffs that were assuming the function of eyes were almost entirely incapable of vision.

Of course, given a week or two, any cocoon will become a butterfly; but, in the meantime, as someone tactfully put it to her, ‘You look like a chipmunk. Not chipmunk as in a really fat person with a really thin body. I mean you don’t look like you – not that it’s bad or anything, it’s just like someone has stolen your head… anyway, I’m sure the swelling will go down. Eventually.’

In a journey that has seen feet broken and bound in China, faces smothered with poisonous lead in Rome, and enemas administered in ancient Egypt, it was a significant moment: one that recognised that for all those 21st century notions of ‘smooth surgery’ and ‘quick fixes’, in the age-old fight to be beautiful, the mantra ‘no pain, no gain’ still rings true.

It’s high time that men (and women in) the media and beauty industries acknowledge, even celebrate, the hard work and extreme perseverance that women put into looking so damn good, instead of pretending we just wake up that way.

Find Your Local