Every year, in Britain alone, around four thousand women come round from cosmetic surgery operations to discover that, far from gaining the perfection they had been promised, they are severely disfigured. There is estimated to be a 10 percent failure rate in facelifts, and a 70 percent complication rate in breast implant operations. Liposuction around the eyes can result in blindness and breast implants may lead to loss of sensation in the nipple, leakage of silicon into other areas of the body causing anything from puckering of the skin to cancer and death, hardening of the implant and chronic back strain. Peter Davis, a consultant and then-Secretary of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, once detailed a procedure for dealing with such complications (the most common of which is the formation of a membrane by the body around the alien substance of the implant) that, in view of assault legislation and clinical practice, should have greatly compromised his career. “I just get my hands on it and nutcrack it! It makes a noise like a small balloon bursting, and they go ‘Aah, that’s better!’. And that’s that. The membrane is only like a thin polythene bag, which makes it easier. But sometimes it won’t crack open. Then I have to operate again”. If you don’t fancy risking Davis and his nutcracker, you could try microlipoinjection, otherwise known as having your own fat injected into your breasts. The only problem so far is that the fat has a tendency to liquefy and rot. Not really very attractive and putrefying zombie breasts probably wasn’t the look you were going for. Microlipoinjection is the latest thing, but it’s as peculiar as the ivory, glass balls, ground rubber, ox cartilage, polyester, and sillicon injections women have had stuffed into their breasts, in the past, in the quest for a bigger, firmer bosom. Can’t say I’d want any of them in direct contact with my lymphatic system – even my own organic matter, sucked from any one of a number of spots it wouldn’t be missed.
If you’re looking to get smaller, there’s “the kiss of the cannula”, “slurp and slice”, and liposuction, otherwise known as “God’s gift to women”. You might go rotten (necrosis of the area is a possible side effect) or die, but you’ll have a jawline and abs worth risking death and decay for. First performed in 1926 by French surgeon, Charles Dujarier, it caused the patient to lose a leg to gangrene. It resurfaced periodically in the 60s, 80s and 90s, but the rate of complications and deaths tempered the enthusiasm of surgeons eager to streamline their patients. It didn’t temper demand, though – losing the saddlebags being a higher priority than losing one’s life, apparently.
For your face, there’s paralysis in the form of the neurotoxin, Botox. Injected into anything that might move, the procedure is being carried out on women as young as 17, before the wrinkles – otherwise known as character – set in. As a 34-year-old long-term frowner, I thought I was probably past saving, but a surgeon assured me that, with a “mini-lift” and botox, I’d look “refreshed and revitalised”. I resisted on the grounds that, unable to frown, how would I look cross. Just when I was least likely to be interested in talking to anyone, I’d have to explain my mood. That and I didn’t want to risk looking like I’d just re-entered the earth’s atmosphere.
The good old-fashioned nose job was first developed in India around 800 BC by the physician Sushruta as part of a series of techniques for reconstructing noses, genitals, and ear lobes removed for criminal, religious or military punishment. 750 years later, encyclopaedist Aulus Cornelius Celsus – a man with a fine nose himself – detailed techniques for the reconstruction and correction of noses. Quite what these prototype nose jobs looked like, I don’t know, but surely no more disastrous than the nubbin Michael Jackson called a nose.
Michael Jackson is a fine example of what I like to call creative-extreme plastic surgery. Unlike the tweak and tuck brigade with their noses shortened, limps plumped, faces frozen and bosoms heaving, Michael Jackson took a creative approach to his surgical modifications. He had his face sculpted to look like something no one had ever seen before, while mysteriously getting paler in the process. Whatever you might think of the result, at least it was original.
Trying to stop her husband cutting her off financially and running off with the 21-year-old Russian model she found him in bed with, Jocelyne Wildenstein decided to transform herself into a replica of a jungle cat, his favourite animal, basing her look on a clipping from the National Geographic. It didn’t stop her husband running off (rumour has it he screamed when he saw her new face), but she was awarded millions in the divorce settlement – enough to cover the surgery costs, anyway. She’s lost her peripheral vision and had to come up with gestures to convey the moods and expressions her immobile face will not. Yes, she looks ferocious, if a little cross-eyed, and I’d rather have her guarding my house than wake up next to her, but there’s something admirable about someone taking such a novel approach to their marriage, even if she did do it to (attempt to) satisfy a man.
Dennis Avner, otherwise known as Cat Man, makes Jocelyne Wildenstein look like a cute little kitten. After being inspired by a meeting with a Native American Chief to “follow the ways of the tiger”, he’s had his upper lip split, face tattooed, nose flattened, ears pointed, teeth filed into points, silicone cheek, chin, and forehead implants, and facial piercings to which he attaches whiskers. He eats raw meat, is planning to have cat-like ears attached to his scalp and says he has lots of girlfriends. If I didn’t have to look at the teeth and he took out the cat-eye contacts and worked on his growl (it’s not very impressive – kind of a small hiss), I might be able to handle it. He does seem like a nice chap.
The human Ken doll is a sight to behold. Saying he wanted to maintain his youthful looks, Steve Erhardt has frozen his face into Ken’s perpetually quizzical yet vacant look. He’s had pec and bicep implants and abdominal etching to create Ken’s barrel chest and tiny, sculpted waist and his face lifted, botoxed, and injected with silicone. His latest procedure is what he calls “orbicularic surgery” to remove crow’s feet and stop them forming altogether by removing the skin from the muscle so, when the muscle moves (if it can), it doesn’t make the skin move with it and voila no crow’s feet can form. If he’s transformed himself into a eunuch to complete the process, he’s yet to admit it.
I wouldn’t want to look like any of these people – nor would I want to wake beside them – but I do admire them. They’re accused of having body dysmorphic disorder and of being freaks – vain, obsessed and insane. They’re tabloid fodder and here I am using them to make a point. I think they should be icons of individuality. They’ve taken an industry, grown rich on exploiting insecurities and conventional concepts of beauty, and used it to make real their fantasies. Those fantasies may be based in fetishes, but then so are everyone’s – we all fixate on something and we all want to be unique or, at least, ideal. Women carved up by surgeons in search of a land that time forgot, are neither unique nor ideal. They all have the same things done, each hoping to look perkier, more youthful and taut than the next, until they start to look like their own waxworks. Unless your plan is to look like your teenage daughter, in which case never look more than 19, then the age beyond which you mustn’t age is 35. There’s a revolving gallery of women in varying degrees of preservation, none of whom look entirely human. Neither do Jocelyn, Dennis and Steve, but at least they’re worth remarking on. Of course, if you really want to appear unique, the best thing is to get nothing done. Everyone starts off looking like no one else.