Kevin Myers: What is going on amongst the female sex that so many of its members are prepared to undergo cosmetic surgery?
It's odd how quite random events give one an unexpected insight into the world we live in. A Sunday colour supplement last week showed a terrifying photograph of Brooke Shields, Daryl Hannah and Melanie Griffiths, so botoxed and collagened that they resembled the sewn-on faces of blow-up sex-dolls.
It took the scare about leaking silicon from French-made breast implants to reveal to me just how widespread breast enlargement now is. And it was when I was surrounded at Southampton airport by passengers for a charter flight to Costa del Chav that I made another discovery. The women were all young, with bright orange skin, blonde hair and dark eyebrows; I would have said collars and cuffs didn't match, except these were the kind of girls who don't have cuffs any more. And the heart-breaking thing for a writer of unsuccessful books (such as myself) was that every single woman was reading the memoirs of one Katy Price, aka Jordan, the celebrity non-writer who outsells almost all of us "professional" writers.
Now, Jordan appears more of a barrage-balloon than a human, a showcase of the seamstress's art, though to be sure, her epidermal tapestry is mostly done by men. Her torso looks as if it has been tucked and sucked and nipped and clipped; while every hair has been lasered or razored, shaved, waved or waxed. She is the she-Dalek of our times, a manmade creature bawling "exfoliate, exfoliate" at every turn. And -- grrrr -- she is a best-selling writer, whose books vanish from the supermarket-shelves as if they are being removed by forklifts.
Why? Because she clearly speaks for a vast section of the female sex, who are not merely dissatisfied with the body that their DNA gave them, but are completely unashamed about getting whatever surgery they need to reshape their shapes. Now, I know that many women have had breast implants following mastectomies. These are clearly necessary, and are completely unrelated to this column. But I am lost in astonishment at the many thousands of other women who have had voluntary plastic surgery for purely cosmetic reasons -- usually breast enlargement. And these women wouldn't spend all this money on themselves to undergo painful and intrusive surgery, with the risks to health and life that inevitably follow from any such surgery, unless they really felt they had to.
So, what on earth is going on amongst the female sex that so many of its members are prepared to undergo such radical physical editing? Moreover, the aesthetics of this are entirely female: women's magazines produced entirely by women promote the values of outward appearance, setting the visual standards by which women are expected to live, and even extolling the virtues of cosmetic surgery. Men have nothing to do with it until it comes to the scalpel and the laughing gas, and from then on it's a largely male affair, and a very profitable one too. Nonetheless, the driving cultural impetus comes almost entirely from women.
How did this happen? No-one ever said at the outset of the feminist movement that decades on, notwithstanding the self-confidence that feminism was meant to generate, many women would be so unhappy with their body-shape that they would have vast amounts of material scooped out, and vast amounts sewn in, and their skin tautened and tightened, and their eyes broadened and brightened, and follicles on girl-bollicles bombarded with electrons so that a smoothly lunar landscape resulted.
Moreover, the massive growth of elective cosmetic surgery and the epidemic of eating disorders, were roughly contemporaneous with the emergence of feminism. So too was the emergence of the pink-clad chick-lit books, which also defy all the predictive norms of the early feminist pioneers, not least because they -- with Katy Price as a New Boudicca -- vastly outsell all the worthy tomes of feminism. I'm not saying that one phenomenon caused the others; but I am merely observing that they all ran roughly parallel.
So to what degree does the huge cosmetic surgery industry actually reflect a perverse self-hatred by women, a kind of mirror-based misogyny, which is actually encouraged by the books and magazines that other mirror-owning women edit, write and read? And this brings me to uncomfortable territory -- for is this surgery-fetish in any way comparable with Female Genital Mutilation, which is usually imposed and performed by women on helpless little girls?
It is not necessary to dwell on the incomprehensible evil of this practice; that is a given. But why is it the case that in both the most backward countries in the world, and in the most advanced, women's bodies are seriously and irreversibly mutilated in ways that simply do not happen to men? (Baby-boy circumcision, though gratuitous and wrong, is minor in comparison). These mutilations, far from being taboo, meet broad cultural approval. We know that modern society generally would never esteem the surgeon-made man: hence poor Burt Reynolds, figure of fun. But in the developed world, the goddesses of such mutilation, Katy Price and Joan Rivers, and even the absurd Jocelyn Wildenstein, are almost inspirational heroines for millions of women. Why?