Tanya Sweeney: Getting cosmetic surgery isn't a big deal, so why do women hide it?
Published 08/09/2016 | 10:04
Bridget Jones' Baby is looming on the horizon, and as sure as night follows day, we can expect Renee Zellweger overdrive in the next while.
Yet, the chattering classes won't be referring to her perfect British accent, her likeability or her acting chops. I'd be willing to put my house on the fact that several film reviews, by critic and cinema-goer alike, will focus instead on Zellweger's complexion.
'Suspiciously fresh-faced', 'taut', 'line-free forehead', 'puffy'… they're all sure to feature. You could even create a drinking game around it, if that indeed is your wont. It's not the first time Zellweger has faced scrutiny over her appearance.
In a classic damned-if-you-do scenario, Zellweger has been accused of growing old disgracefully, by interfering with the natural ageing process. Some people are mourning pre-Hollywood, ingénue Renee a little too hard.
She went a 'transgression' further by denying it: in a Huffington Post essay, Renee wrote: "I'm writing because to be fair to myself, I must make some claim on the truths of my life… Not that it's anyone's business, but I did not make a decision to alter my face and have surgery on my eyes."
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Arguing the toss about who has or hasn't had surgery has become a weird sort of sport for celebrity watchers, and we are filled to the brim with mirth when we see 'before' and 'after' shots of celebrities who have reportedly gone under the knife.
Some people love this supposed admission of vulnerability; the idea that the celeb in question isn't all that special without a bit of help. And in turn, some A-listers, like the Kardashians, have beaten the public to the punch by being fiercely unapologetic about what they do to their complexions.
Frankly though, folks love it more when celebrities express buyer's remorse. Courteney Cox admitted that she regretted some of the surgical and non-surgical procedures she has undergone. Cameron Diaz swore off Botox after admitting that it changed her face 'in such a weird way'.
Once upon a time, I had pretty definite ideas about cosmetic surgery. It seemed at the time like a hatred of the ageing process. A sure-fire sign of personal insecurity. I figured that growing old is a privilege, that laughter lines were a sign of character and a life lived to the full.
That people should embrace the age they are, and not try to be a different one. That one cosmetic surgery procedure - a nip here, a tuck there - would invariably become the gateway to an entire Frankenstein-styley overhaul.
Granted, all of these notions were fuelled by a media narrative urging us to be suspicious of surgery and wary of its fans. One that told us, time and time again, that it was for the stupendously vain. You can see it in the slightly disbelieving, what-is-the-world-coming-to tone of media reports about increased rates of labiaplasty (vaginal) surgery. Whatever about it giving a woman confidence or even a restored sex life, having surgery on your bits was seen as the last word in madness.
There has been a culture of condescension around all kinds of plastic surgery, and it's formed our initial impressions of it. Little wonder people were moved to lie about it.
But then I began to have other ideas.
I realised how simplistic and inaccurate my initial presumptions were. Besides, it's one thing having opinions on cosmetic surgery while you're in the full bloom of youth; quite another when you start to see room for improvement in your own reflection.
Some women moisturise, exfoliate, or stay out of the sun. A woman getting Botox or fillers, when you think about it, has the same objective in mind - to look like the best version of themselves. Is there really that much of a difference between someone buying Crème De La Mer, and someone who opts for a session of lunchtime Botox?
In an ideal world, women would have as much control over their bodies as they like. But there's no point in going gaga for repealing the Eighth Amendment or the burkini ban in the name of feminism if you're going to slate a woman for an eye-lift. Surely this 'bodily autonomy' extends to controlling what procedures they do or don't do on their own foreheads?
If I stand up for a woman's right to rail against the pressure to look youthful, surely women have the right to embrace the idea, too? Society has offered us so very few versions of the feminine ideal - young, dewy, lithe, looking for all the world like a very willing sex slave. For that reason alone, I don't blame anyone for aspiring to look a few years younger one bit.
I look in the mirror and see a nose too big for my face. There are lines, jowls and eyelids that have started to sag. As for those extra pounds, I'd gladly wish them away while still being allowed to eat cake, given half the chance.
Happily for my bank account, I don't care too much about it, but I don't see anyone who does as a moral failure. If surgery offers someone a self-esteem boost, or gives them back the brain energy that sees them fret over a droopy eyelid, who are we to comment?
More often than not, a person's decision to get plastic surgery is multi-layered. Sometimes it has nothing to do with looks, vanity or even ageing. And much as we think we're fully informed about cosmetic surgery, we don't have all the facts on anyone sitting in a cosmetic surgeon's office.
It's all very well loving people just as they are, like Bridget Jones herself, but the reality is much more than skin deep.