Tuesday 10 December 2019

Younger looking or nipping and tucking? No one's telling

Women are flocking to have their faces frozen and lips plumped, writes Sarah Caden, but blessed few are owning up to it

Amanda Brunker is given Botox injections live on 'The Late, Late Show', on which she explained that she has been having the jabs semi-regularly for the past seven years to look 'fresher' - and that she would not pretend she isn't having it because doing so 'would be a bit fake'
Amanda Brunker is given Botox injections live on 'The Late, Late Show', on which she explained that she has been having the jabs semi-regularly for the past seven years to look 'fresher' - and that she would not pretend she isn't having it because doing so 'would be a bit fake'

Sarah Caden

Last week, doing some shopping, I looked at the woman on the checkout and thought: "Oh, somebody got some needles for Christmas." It wasn't a fancy shop, or a chi-chi boutique, it was just a regular shop, with a regular woman working there.

I get shopping there regularly, so I knew she looked different. Not necessarily younger. Not even better, necessarily. Just different. Immobile of forehead. Filled out and slightly waxy of face.

Ten years ago, I might not have been able to put my finger on what exactly was different about her. Ten years ago, though, cosmetic work was the preserve of far-off people, famous people, people in magazines.

You saw the odd Irish person - usually famous - who'd had work, but it was generally the Zsa Zsa Gabor end of the spectrum and not possible to ignore, admire or envy.

These days, though, it's everywhere. It's the girl at the tills. It's the mothers at the school gates. It's your former classmates at the school reunion. It's even the daughters of your classmates at the school reunion - you can tell when they show off their pictures to you on their phones. That girl didn't get those big lips from either parent, you can generally be sure.

It's everywhere - and it's not necessarily an improvement. While we Irish have utterly embraced a bit of work as some sort of go-to self-improvement, we still haven't worked out how to talk about it or react to it.

When faced with someone with an obviously tweaked face - and, let's be honest, it's nearly always obvious - we're still not sure whether it's polite to say anything.

Is it OK to say: "You're looking well"? Or is that loaded? Or, worse, is it like saying: "That's a nice dress"? To which most Irish women will act on the impulse to tell you where they got it. If you tell an obviously altered Irish woman she looks well, is there the danger that she'll think you're fishing to find out where she got her new face?

Probably not, because the Irish MO when it comes to cosmetic work is to say nothing. We take our lead from the behaviour of the rich and famous, who deny to the bitter end, despite all appearances to the contrary.

Countless websites can feature old and recent shots of Kim Kardashian's face and suggest that she is unrecognisable today compared with her teens, but if she's not saying, then to accuse is face-shaming.

The generally accepted policy on cosmetic work is "don't ask, don't tell".

But if we don't ask and we don't tell, then do we just drift wordlessly into a blanket acceptance that all of this work is making everyone look younger and better? We all know that in many cases it's doing neither.

Amanda Brunker did us all a favour by having her Botox live on The Late Late Show last Friday night. Brunker, with the good humour, charm and chutzpah we expect from her, came on and not only had a few jabs live on TV, but talked about how she has been having them semi-regularly for the past seven years.

Brunker first got Botox just before she got married and she's used it since to look "fresher".

As she told host Ryan Tubridy, she's at a "jaded" phase of life, running around after two young and busy sons, and she doesn't want to see that in the mirror.

She also said two key things. First is that, true to herself, she's dead set on "ageing disgracefully".

Second, she said: "I'm not going to pretend [that I'm not having it], that would be a bit fake."

It's the two levels of artifice, perhaps, that jar so much. The cosmetic work is one layer, but the pretending it hasn't happened makes it seem so much more artificial.

Last week came official confirmation from Victoria Beckham that she had breast augmentation in the past. Obviously, it has been apparent over the years that her chest varied in size, but Victoria never really explicitly said that.

For example, the way she looked at the World Cup in Germany a decade ago was markedly more buxom than she is now, but unless Victoria said it, then no one else could.

It was British Vogue last week that shared a link to the full version of a letter Victoria wrote for its 2016 October issue, which featured famous people writing to their younger selves.

In a previously unpublished section, Victoria said, to herself: "I should probably say, don't mess with your boobs… All those years I denied it - stupid. A sign of insecurity. Just celebrate what you've got."

It's hardly news to anyone that the augmentation occurred, but it's interesting the denial of it seems to bother her almost as much as the procedure. It's like wondering why she bothered on both counts. Nobody fooled, probably not even herself.

It probably didn't make her feel any more confident or any better, if Victoria's letter to herself is anything to go by, it was maturity, family, love, a grasp of what matters that made her happy. Not the boobs.

This is not to say that a smoothing of the signs of age cannot help a person feel better about themselves. But many who dip their toe into cosmetic work then discover a growing need to dip their whole body in soon enough.

Frown lines go with an injection of Botox, but then the "parenthesis" lines around the mouth suddenly look worse, or the jowls, or the under-eye bags. People lose the ability to see that the Botox is making their eyebrows look overrated, or creating lines by the bridge of their nose as some muscles overact to compensate for their immobile cousins.

They might have looked like they'd simply had a good night's sleep when they started with the bit of work, but by the end, still nobody's saying it, but most people look downright weird.

And you can think of at least one example of it local to you off the top of your head.

In her book, Botox Nation: Changing the Face of America, genetics professor Dana Berkowitz describes one young woman telling her that the effect of using the face-freezing drug is "crack-like".

As in, it's as addictive as crack cocaine and the trend is for women to have it younger and younger, partly as an allegedly "preventative" measure and partly because they believe that this way lies the perfection necessary to feel good about yourself.

And when we don't say that cosmetic work doesn't always actually look good, we feed into this notion.

Last year, I met Darren McKeown, the Scots plastic surgeon who starred in the BBC's Facelifts and Fillers series.

He was in Dublin to launch his skincare products, aimed at young women who don't need cosmetic procedures - yet, as he might have it - but who flock to his surgery anyway.

McKeown told me that the women seeking work on their faces get younger all the time. They also arrive far better informed than clients in the past. They know what they want, they've seen what they want, and they really, really want it.

He told me that he tries to encourage them to wait, though he can't be sure that they don't go elsewhere and get what they want. For the most part, it seems, young women want lip fillers. I have interviewed women far too young to bear any signs of the passing of time who use lip fillers. A decade ago, filled lips were the preserve of older women.

Lips thin with age and loss of collagen, but they also fade in colour, so they become invisible. Fuller lips suggest youth, so it half makes sense why an older woman might want them. But a young one?

If the ultimate goal of any cosmetic work is to look more attractively fertile, which is what desiring a more youthful appearance is, whether conscious or not, then it's perverse that young woman need it. The older woman with the face full of fillers you can at least understand, if not appreciate, but the young woman trend is baffling.

Not that women of any age are owning up to it, of course, though it's hard to know who they're kidding.

Sunday Independent

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