Thursday, April 08, 2010

... and world peace

Barbie on the radio by Pants

After Pa Pants died suddenly, Ma Pants had a face lift. She was working in television at the time. It wasn't as narcissistic as it is now but she was a makeup artist in her fifties and there were a couple of ambitious youngsters eyeing off her powder puff. I was quietly horrified but fortunately didn't overreact. It occurred to me that when a husband dies suddenly, it can feel the same as if he absconds. Ma Pants probably looked in the mirror in her grief and thought, 'he must have left because there is something wrong with me.'

She only did it once. It was a good job. She looked the same only younger. The lift didn't ever sag and she suffered no serious psychological ill-effect. She didn't get hooked on the feeling or high on believing. That was thirty years ago when cosmetic surgery wasn't the quick wash and set it is today and vanity was yet to be considered a virtue. We were lucky. Ma Pants was vulnerable and not short of cash and she was working in an environment where face tinkering wasn't exactly taboo. It could so easily have become a continuing obsession for her. The event was not completely without residual fallout. To this day, Ma Pants remains underconfident about and discomfortingly preoccupied with her appearance. Before she goes out, she will always execute a debutante twirl and ask, 'do I look all right?'

A new book by Health Sociologist Professor Rhian Parker called Women, Doctors and Cosmetic Surgery: negotiating the 'normal' body investigates the relationship between the female clientele for remodelling and the male doctors who wield the scalpel. I haven't read it but I heard Professor Parker interviewed on the radio this morning. Sounds like her findings fall into the 'no shit Sherlock' category of research.

Turns out that women often go into cosmetic surgery not really knowing what to expect and more or less leave it to the men to sort them out. Shock revelation eh? And guess what, women often come out looking, how shall we say, more of a cliche than they anticipated? You know, wide Bambi eyes and great big snoggy lips. Gasp! Of the women interviewed who'd had breast implants, all but one emerged from surgery with bigger boobs than they'd requested. Incredible! Professor Parker does get the doctors to voice what to the rest of us is blindingly obvious, that they got into the elective surgery game because of the opportunities for 'design'. One said it was a lot more fun than cleaning up after car wrecks. I'll bet. Coming to grips with the trust equation here is like trying to understand how a dog that handed itself into the dogcatcher could then hope to be treated with respect.

Readers should note that the question why has just entered the room. I don't honestly believe that cosmetic surgery is anywhere near as prevalent as the media would have us believe. Apart from Ma Pants, I don't know anyone who's 'had work'. But the prominence of it amongst women with more roubles than marbles reflects on all womankind, that's the price of inequality. One woman's vanity is everywoman's vanity. The question why and I are intrigued. Isn't the cut-to-catalogue face just another version of the whale-bone corset? They say a camel is a horse designed by committee. In the same way, if you leave the design of woman to a man you end up with Madonna.

The question why and I are not so much interested in the women like Ma Pants whose one moment of surgical madness coincided with deep distress. A man might have responded to the same level of personal trauma by buying a power boat. We are more interested in the Munchausen end of the spectrum and the compulsion to continue beyond rejuvinatingly pert to the point of utter monsterisation. Like when we see a picture of Donatella Versace and think what is that thing sitting on top of that leopard-skin tube? and wonder if she ever sees it the same way. Does she ever say, okay mirror, you're right, I'm officially gross?

There was a story in the Daily Mail a while ago about Nileen Namita, an 'artist' in Britain who spent her daughter's school fees on her fifty-first operation to maintain a life project of being the incarnation of Queen Nefertiti. She probably needs to change her brief to the Kewpie doll that ate Lemony Snicket and reconcile herself to the fact that skin is like an elastic band - you can only stretch it so far. This is not art but a form of self-harm. She maybe needs to read up on symbolism too and look at the work of Cindy Sherman and Frida Kahlo before offering herself at Sotheby's.

Sarah Burge is known as the 'Real Life Barbie' . She spent US$1 million to reincarnate herself as the ultimate plastic icon but is more Barbie as imagined by Joanna Lumley with her catchphrase,'pass the syringe, where's the Bollinger darling?' and her pretensions to making the world a better place. Not content with being the joke turn on sofa TV, she's set up an organisation to help other vain, stupid people indulge themselves in vain, stupid pursuits which they can delude themselves into believing are changing the world for the better. You know, the old beauty queen delusion - I'm wearing this bikini for world peace. With Sarah's counsel you too will be able to sofa-hop your way through the day with lashings of Bolly knowing you are helping to fight climate change. Official, Sarah says so,

Life in plastic isn’t perfect unless the world is on a humanHi so Sarah’s attention has turned to the most riveting dream of all, it’s almost mission impossible – to give the ultimate fulfilment of life to humans all over the world and try and fight climate change in the process. She has founded the humanHi project to help humans around the world realise their potential and make their dreams and ambitions fulfilled.

And you know you can trust a woman who gives her fifteen-year-old daughter Botox injections, right?