Julia Molony: Attacks on appearance just got personal
Actress Frances Barber admitted she is saving for a facelift, after vile Twitter comments about her looks, writes Julia Molony
HOW depressing to hear that the actress Frances Barber is saving up for a facelift. Worse still to hear that she's been essentially bullied into it.
It's tough enough, as an actress, to be self-assured enough to reject the conventions of an industry which demands that women must been seen to always have perfectly unlined faces and fresh complexions. But if that didn't get to her in the end, unsurprisingly the face-and-body fascists on Twitter did.
Barber, for those who don't already know her, is the 54-year-old star of the BBC series Silk. With an Olivier under her belt, an impressive list of television credits and extensive experience on stage, she's at just about the right age to be entering her era as a 'grand dame'.
She's got a raunchy kind of beauty that is just a little bit gothic, brimming with dark sexuality. It has made her such a hit in roles like Lady Macbeth and Madame de Sade and is just as compelling and sizzling now as it was when she first became famous as the hot young thing from Red Dwarf back in 1989.
But though there are endless numbers of roles for nubile 25-year-olds, the window of opportunities to play the grand dame narrows dramatically. In Britain, at least, there's room for just three. Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Dame Maggie Smith are about the only ones tolerated. You can be an older woman on telly apparently, but only if you're already a national treasure.
"I don't care about getting older," Barber said in a recent interview with the Radio Times, "I'm 54, I feel 26, I act 12." But in the same breath, she admitted: "I'd be a hypocrite if I said I'd never get a facelift -- I'm saving up for one -- but it'll be tiny adjustments, the kind of thing that makes you look less tired."
Clearly, there's a profound conflict behind her position. It's not surprising. Like most of us, Barber clearly wants to be the kind of woman who can get older and still feel good.
After all, accepting the departure of youth's first bloom is one of life's universal tests and handling it well is a mark of character. But in today's world, doing so becomes harder and harder, as Barber knows. She admitted to the Radio Times that she "went to bed for a month" after a string of "vile" comments on Twitter criticising her appearance.
Barber may have had a better shot at defying a media culture that treats women over 50 as if they don't exist, had the vindictive mob not tracked her down and brought their unkind appraisal directly into her home. There's barely a woman alive robust enough to survive that sort of onslaught with self-esteem intact.
I'd bet that even Samantha Brick, the journalist who became a global pariah after declaring herself beautiful in print, must have wobbled when she sat down to read the criticism of her appearance online.
In Barber's case, it sounds as if showing her age has become professionally and personally untenable. She can't even turn up at a work event without drawing upon herself the most unsparing sort of judgement, calculated to destruct self-esteem. And all for daring to be in the public eye while looking her age.
To be honest, it's brave of her to admit that she's planning a facelift.
Where surgery is concerned, the 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' paradox is more powerful than ever.
The taboo of going under the knife remains so strong, and women in the entertainment industry are regularly pilloried for choosing vanity over professionalism, and accused of letting down the side, often in the same breath as being slated for looking old.
This explains why almost all famous actresses opt to have work done and then, foreheads rigid, plead "a healthy diet and good genes".
To be honest, I don't blame them. Faced with the rather unappealing choice between disapproval and utter invisibility after the age of 45, I'd probably do the same.