Anti-ageing: Is everyone giving their face a little lift?
Cosmetic surgery is on the rise despite the cost and pain of having a major operation.
Going under the knife for a facelift – or a rhytidectomy, as it is officially known – requires a general anaesthetic, but it is worth knowing what will happen while you are out for the count. Be warned: you may want to take a deep breath and put your breakfast to the side. This is not a procedure for the faint of heart, or weak of stomach.
First, your surgeon will take a scalpel and make an incision above your hairline. This incision will curve to the front of the ear, behind the earlobe and into the lower scalp. Another, smaller one can be made beneath the chin to tighten the neck.
Once this is done, the surgeon is ready to lift up the skin that covers your face, revealing the muscle underneath. He or she will then remove fat and tighten the muscle before repositioning it. If needed, liposuction can be carried out on the neck, with your fat injected back into your cheeks to make you look more youthful.
Approaching the end of the two- to three-hour operation – which can cost up to £12,000 (€13,800) – your surgeon will pull your skin back up over your newly tightened face, removing any excess skin and then closing the incisions. It is, some say, a bit like straightening a rug to get rid of any unsightly bulges. Indeed, the procedure is often talked about in terms that make it sound more like redecorating the spare room than a major operation. One surgeon talks to me about the “redraping of the neck”, as if describing a pair of curtains.
Reading this, you might wonder why anyone other than a vain Hollywood star would put themselves through such an ordeal. Chuck in the rise of Botox, fillers, and the introduction this year of a £999 (€1,150) “non-surgical” facelift, not to mention the scores of plumping, rejuvenating anti-wrinkle creams that line the shelves of everywhere from high-end department stores to branches of Boots, and one struggles to work out why anyone would opt for a facelift. They are just so tacky, so reminiscent of the Bride of Wildenstein.
Or are they? The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons reports that after a decline in facelifts during 2009, the number of procedures being carried out increased by 12 per cent last year, despite the recession. And with this, the question “has she had a facelift?” – often asked in the early Nineties but replaced in popularity by “has she had Botox?” – seems to have made a comeback.
This weekend it was rumoured that Louise Mensch, the 40-year-old Tory MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire, had undergone a “Chicago Facelift” – one popular with young women which also has a minimal recovery time – after a journalist interviewing her noticed “incisions in the creases where her ears and cheeks meet that look so fresh, they still have tiny lines of a scab”. When asked outright by the interviewer if this was the case, Mensch replied that “without denying it, I’m going to refuse to answer your question, because as soon as I do that you become the minister for mascara”.
She had a point, but she is not the only politician to have the accusation of plastic surgery levelled at her. Vladimir Putin caused a stir last month when he appeared at the United Russia congress looking as if he had had work done. The bags under his eyes, heavy after many years of sleepless nights in frontline politics, had vanished. In their place was skin so smooth and light that he looked a little like a model from a Touche Eclat advert. Others pointed out that the contours which once appeared on his face had filled out, making him look remarkably youthful for his 59 years. As one Twitter user put it: “Putin looks like he’s had a facelift. Scary!”
General Sir Mike Jackson has admitted to having the bags beneath his eyes removed – while Anne Robinson has admitted to a facelift. “Anything that allows women to feel better about themselves is worth the money,” she said. “I did look like a car crash for a couple of weeks. But it was soon over and I feel much better for it.”
The formidable Kay Burley treated herself to a facelift for her 50th birthday last December, and isn’t afraid to admit it. “I did it because I wanted to look a little better than I was looking when I woke up in the morning,” she said. “I’m on television, which is a visual medium.” Jane Asher refuses to talk about surgery (“I’ve always said that beauty secrets should remain secret because I’m sure there will be a time, like anybody, when I would consider it”) but one doctor, an expert in medical aesthetics, thinks she may have had some work done.
“There are signs that Jane could have had a facelift purely on the look of how the skin is being pulled,” says Dr Bob Khanna. “It also looks as if she has had Botox.”
Part of the reason for the rise of the facelift during an economic downturn is that the demographic who usually has them – the over 50s – are the ones with the most disposable income. But it is more than that.
The designer Nicky Haslam, who had his facelift 12 years ago, tells me: “They are essential. There are so many people out there who have had them, you wouldn’t believe it.”
Really? Are there seriously hordes of people wandering the streets with faces that have been peeled back and then stitched back on, as if in some ghastly episode of Doctor Who? “Yes,” says Norman Waterhouse, a plastic surgeon so popular he has had a facelift named after him. (“Well, I mean, there are hundreds of different facelift techniques so it’s not that big,” he says bashfully). “I have operated on household names, some of them internationally famous, and you wouldn’t know they had undergone facelifts.”
Waterhouse believes that bad surgery – as seen with Jocelyn Wildenstein – used to be considered normal surgery “but that has changed and there is now a realisation that with most facelifts, it doesn’t actually look as if you have had a facelift.” The key – as well as finding a good surgeon – is recovery time. “Most of my clients are busy people, but I tell them they can’t go back to work for two and a half weeks,” says Waterhouse.
“You will look bruised and swollen. After five days, you can go shopping without frightening the greengrocer. After 10 days, you can wave at the neighbour over the fence. And after two and a half weeks, you can go to a dinner party, but the real improvements are seen between four and six weeks.”
He makes it sound so simple. And then you remember what is involved. As Sharon Osbourne once commented: “If anybody says their facelift doesn’t hurt, they’re lying. It was like spending the night with an axe murderer.”