Kira Chochrane
Kira Chochrane is upset again.

Following Kira Cochrane’s terrible piece on the decline of “lad’s mags” she’s come up with this terrible piece: a shocking expose revealing that many famous actresses have had plastic surgery. I thought about editing it for her, so you wouldn’t have to read all of the parts in which she explains what facelifts are and how Botox isn’t permanent. But it would defeat the purpose of Hackwatch if I were to spare you the searing pain of actually reading Cochrane’s articles as she, and The Guardian, intend for you to read them.

Age shall not wither them

A couple of months ago, a photograph was hungrily circulated around gossip magazines and websites and at a glance you would have had trouble explaining why. It showed an ordinary-looking woman in her mid-40s, out shopping in California, her specs on, cardigan buttoned. The clue was in the picture of Madonna that ran beside it. The anonymous woman was identified as the singer’s younger sister, Melanie Henry, and readers were encouraged to compare and contrast.

The difference was striking. Because while Henry, snapped unawares, looked as good as any woman could hope, Madonna seemed to have been beamed from another planet. Where Henry had the natural features of middle-age – mild creases beside her nose and beneath her eyes, for instance – Madonna’s face was eerily unlined, skin glowing, cheeks conspicuously plump. It’s not so much that, at 50, she looked much younger than her sister, as that she had no signs of age whatsoever. Not a crinkle on her brow, crow’s-feet by her eyes, or the slightest sag to her cheeks.

Of course, Madonna isn’t the only famous woman to look, quite literally, ageless…

I’m not totally sure I’ve nailed down the identity of the “Madonna” you are referring to. I saw a new video by “Madonna” and then I bought an older album with her picture on the cover called “Live After Death” and it seemed like totally different music. Among other things, why would Madonna be a good singer live, but not with the advantages of a studio production? Anyway, in neither case did Madonna look “ageless.”

Over the last 10 years, the public face of ageing seems to have changed completely, and many of the world’s most prominent women hardly seem to grow older at all. It’s not so much that they always look young, exactly, or that they have the tightly pulled skin of traditional facelifts.

They don’t seem to grow older at all, but they don’t look young? That…. makes no sense. I think you mean they look like they’ve grown older but tried to hide it. Like, you wouldn’t say, “Shatner doesn’t seem to have lost any hair at all!” He looks like he has a hairpiece.

But they do look completely different to their non-famous peers. Where other women’s lips recede, theirs stay mysteriously plump. Where others have laughter lines, they remain undimpled. And when describing how they stay so taut, the explanation is generally this. They moisturise. They drink water. They work out. They eat well. They avoid the sun. They don’t smoke. Which is enough to make the average healthy-living woman wince while inspecting her own wrinkles.

Why is it always feminists who assert that women are dumber than sacks of Polish potatoes? I’ll make fun of women for simultaneously believing in ghosts, angels and pet psychics, because too many actually do and it’s funny. But I’m not anti-woman, so I would never claim that women in general are too stupid to realize that Madonna’s had some work done.

Occasionally someone does break rank, and admits to having had treatments – in the past. Last week Kylie Minogue ended speculation when she admitted to UK Elle magazine that, “I’ve tried Botox … But I’m preferring to be a lot more natural these days.” Minogue added that she’s “definitely not one of those people who says, ‘You shouldn’t do this’ … Everyone individually can do what they want.”

“Everyone individually can do what they want?” Not when the hegemonic patriarchy is using mind control with gossip magazines, poor, naive Kylie.

Geri Halliwell says a similar thing in the latest edition of Red magazine (“I had some [Botox] squirted into my forehead and it gave me a headache”), echoing the comments of Jennifer Aniston earlier this year, who said she had “tried Botox once and it was really not good for me. I felt like I had a weight on my head.” Aniston’s former Friends co-star, Courteney Cox, told US Marie Claire magazine late last year that, “I went to this doctor once, and he was like, ‘Oh, let me do it just here and here and here.’ And I was miserable … It’s not that I haven’t tried Botox – but I hated it.

Wait, wasn’t your point that celebs pretend not to have had these procedures? A lot of them seem to be freely volunteering that they have. Maybe the rest of them are just being discrete and not bringing it up. You know, I’ve never seen Jenifer Aniston give a detailed account of having projectile diarrhea. I bet she has convinced most women that they shouldn’t have bowel movements.

For other performers, though, the rumours persist. Heat magazine has asked “Has Madonna had cheek implants?” while Grazia speculated “Has Madonna had the ribbon lift?”. (This procedure apparently involves a “flexible, tube-like device” covered in tiny hooks being inserted beneath the skin on the face. The hooks then attach themselves to the subject’s tissue, before the device is hoiked upwards.) But the source of most speculation is probably Nicole Kidman. The smoothness of her skin has caused the salon.com film critic, Stephanie Zacharek, to wonder whether her forehead is made of melamine, and Dr Martin Braun – who runs the biggest Botox clinic in Canada – to say he believes she has been an “enthusiastic user” of Botox.

Kidman has denied this. In 2007 she told US Marie Claire magazine that, “To be honest, I am completely natural. I have nothing in my face or anything. I wear sunscreen, and I don’t smoke. I take care of myself. And I’m very proud to say that.” Madonna, meanwhile, has stated she is “not going to have a press conference if I have plastic surgery. But I have said many times that I think about it, like everybody, and I sure don’t rule it out.”

Is there supposed to be an argument here? So far I’ve learned that you are a glutton for celebrity gossip and that lots of famous women have plastic surgery. The majority of your sample downplay it, which is pretty normal. You’ve found exactly one who flatly denies it. You’ve somehow convinced yourself that this is any of your business.

What is beyond doubt is that, in general, the aesthetic of ageing has changed, and that many women in the public eye are having extensive cosmetic work done, starting ever younger. Speaking to the cosmetic doctor, Tracy Mountford, who specialises in “non-surgical skin rejuvenation” – including Botox and other injectables – she says that many well-known women will “have had quite a bit done to maintain that ‘natural’ good look. People would be staggered … The majority of people [in the public eye] will be having something done.”

I’m staggered!

And in some ways, this is completely understandable. After all, ageism is alive and well. As Anna Ford said after leaving the BBC in 2006: “How many presenters do you know on television who are over the age of 60?” In 2002, the actor Rosanna Arquette made the documentary Searching for Debra Winger, in which she and other Hollywood stars questioned the paucity of roles for older women. Madonna has also commented on age discrimination, saying that, “Once you reach a certain age you’re not allowed to be adventurous, you’re not allowed to be sexual. I mean, is there a rule? Are you supposed to just die?”

I’ll just address the claim of ‘ageism.’ Doesn’t ____ism denote some kind of unfair treatment? Aren’t TV presenters supposed to be attractive? Are you going to sit there and tell me it is unfair of me to not be attracted to old women? But if–hypothetically speaking, now–I had ever rubbed one out to “Clarissa Explains It All,” I bet you’d find that somehow objectionable. I was only doing my part in the battle against ageism! Repeatedly! Hypothetically. And you have to admit that Ferguson was an early bloomer.

Until very recently, older women were simply expected to fade from view. As Susie Orbach, the feminist psychoanalyst and author of Bodies, says: “Thirty years ago, a woman of my age [62] wasn’t really in public space or contributing – you were terribly exceptional if that happened.” And the result is that women are still in the earliest stages, historically, of negotiating how to remain in the public eye.

So far, the most popular approach seems to be to deny the ageing process altogether. Professor Virginia L Blum, author of Flesh Wounds, an analysis of cosmetic surgery culture, points out that a performer’s looks are “their livelihood, and we do know that actors – and especially actresses – can’t even really appear on screen unless they look a certain way. So they’re constantly forced to manufacture the look of youth and keep producing it.”

Forced? This is all painfully stupid. We’re talking primarily about successful actors who could easily retire or move on to lower profile performances if they wanted to. I know, the studio should have cast Jessica Tandy for the lead in Tomb Raider and the audiences would have had a moral obligation to enjoy the film. But anybody who tries to become an actor, athlete, model, etc. knows what the deal is when they set out. Just like doctors know they probably won’t see any real money or leisure until they are approaching middle age. It’s all very tragic. Who will be the voice for society’s most vulnerable members?

It’s also true that performers are under more scrutiny than ever before, at the mercy of both high-definition TV – which lays bare the tiniest “imperfections” – and tabloid culture. It’s an environment that is at once trashy and highly exacting: every hangnail a sin, every eye-bag a crime.

In the face of such constant surveillance, it’s not surprising that women would want to erase marks that might otherwise be circled with an exclamation of disgust. And the tools are now widely available. The stereotype of a woman who has work done was once of someone in their 50s or more, who visited a cosmetic surgeon in the hope of having a decade or two erased through a facelift – her skin sliced open, pulled tight and stitched.

So that’s what a facelift is. I’d been thinking it was like that John Woo movie. I was going to be Roddy Piper.

but since Botox was first used for cosmetic purposes 20 years ago – and particularly since 2002, when it won approval in the US from the Food and Drug Administration for the removal of frown lines – the landscape has been transformed. Now the onus is increasingly on “non-invasive” treatments that don’t require scalpels but involve substances being injected into the face, whether it’s botulinum toxin (of which Botox is the best-known brand name), which reduces wrinkles by temporarily paralysing the muscles; Juvéderm, a wrinkle-filler made of hyaluronic acid; or Restylane Vital, also made of hyaluronic acid, which promises to “counter the effects of sun damage and provide deep dermal hydration”. (Juvéderm and Restylane Vital are also approved by the FDA.) Non-invasive treatments have boomed over the last decade. While cosmetic surgery procedures in the US increased by 114% between 1997 and 2007, non-surgical procedures increased by 754%. In 2007, 55,000 Botox injections were administered in the UK.

When it comes to these procedures, the focus isn’t necessarily on rolling back time, but on starting in your 20s or 30s and achieving stasis. Dr Jean-Louis Sebagh (also known as “King Botox”) recently said that “preventing the ageing process is better, where possible, than correcting it, non? If a woman comes to me at 35 or 40 and we treat her every three to four months, I can keep her looking that way for 20 years or more.”

This would be interesting if it wasn’t all pretty much common knowledge. Or perhaps even if the article seemed to have any coherent point or direction. Also, I liked how you claimed this procedure generally starts for women in their “20s or 30s,” then the doctor you used to support the claim said “35 or 40.” Two fucking sentences later. What does this shit look like before it’s edited?

It’s a question of vigilance. Non-invasive procedures appeal to both the famous and the less so because they’re not radical but incremental, meaning there’s less chance of a sudden, major change in one’s looks. The downside is that they have to be regularly updated.

Slow down!

So there is something called “Bo-tox” that is a short term treatment that must be repeated more often, while the other thing, a “face… lift(?)” is a more invasive procedure done with something called “sur-ge-ry,” by a “doct-orb.” This is a lot of new information all at once.

Mountford says hyaluronic acid products require a top-up every six to nine months, so once you embark on these procedures, you enter an ongoing process of revision, your face an endless work in progress. And the cost can be astronomical. While a year’s worth of Botox treatments and dermal fillers might cost, say, £2,000 (£1,200 for the fillers, £300-£500 every six months for Botox injections), over 20 years that comes to £40,000. And that’s not taking into account either inflation, or the chance that you will be tempted by some of the many other procedures available.

One of the many, many ironies of the feminist movement is that it provides a banner under which writing of this caliber is tolerated in venues where it would otherwise be ridiculed, so the public voice of women becomes monglified. I mean, here we are back to the feminist positing the sharpest of sexist stereotypes. A while back, Cochrane wrote a condemnation of the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic. Now she’s talking about pitiful creatures who will be helpless to resist the temptation of expensive procedures they didn’t even know they wanted.

Also, nice job not understanding inflation. Barring unusual circumstances, the fact that the cost of a biannual procedure will go up right on line with everything else is not noteworthy and does not mean it will be more expensive in any meaningful sense. “At this rate, by the time I’m 65, I’ll have to spend a whole day’s pay on an oil change!” See how stupid that is? If anything, won’t the real cost of the procedure probably go down? Don’t worry about all that math stuff though, dear.

Not that the cost affects the Hollywood set. These new procedures are now so popular that they’ve been credited with a whole new aesthetic for women in the public eye – a specific “face” shared by many female stars. Where facelifts were often synonymous with the “windtunnel” look – a person’s features pulled tight and distorted – the era of injectables is all about filling out the face, replacing lost contours. It’s a look that was described in New York magazine last year as The New New Face, with the writer, Jonathan Van Meter, pinpointing “the Mount Rushmore cheekbones, the angular jawline, the smoothed forehead, the plumped skin, the heartlike shape of the face” as defining this aesthetic. That, and volume. Van Meter described these faces as not being “pulled tight in that typical facelift way; they seemed pushed out”, while Mountford explains it thus: “If you have a prune, and you tighten the prune, you don’t get a grape. You get a tight prune. But if you restore volume back into the prune, you get a grape back.”

I was about to give you props for making an observation that wouldn’t have been obvious to a child, but then I saw that you lifted it from a man from the New York Magazine. Good job citing your sources, though!

The sad thing is that, while these cosmetic procedures are supposed to lengthen a performer’s career, they often cut them short. We all know of actors who suddenly appear with painfully enlarged lips, weirdly raised eyebrows, or stunned foreheads, and who become very difficult to take seriously. Over the last few years, casting directors have talked about the difficulties they experience as a result, with Richard Hicks, who cast Hairspray, telling Radar magazine that, “There’s no way to light them so that they don’t look hideous. For the most part, what I find moving is the truth, and once you’ve had your face worked on, it’s often not the same thing.” The Wall Street Journal has reported that Warner Bros has had to double its casting staff in Britain and Canada, because Botox is so common in the US. And directors Martin Scorsese and Baz Luhrmann have reportedly complained that the vogue for surgery has undermined actors’ ability to express emotion.

I’m slightly skeptical of the WSJ claiming that the casting staff abroad has doubled specifically because there is a shortage of actresses without excessive Botox. To be clear, I both doubt that this is actually true and doubt that the original WSJ article made such a claim. Let’s find out. The original article says, “In recent years, Warner Bros. has doubled its casting staff in foreign countries like England and Canada Where Botox is less common”

This is shitty reporting too, so I can see how you were mislead. Botox might be a factor, but the only fact here is that the staffs have doubled over a period of years. To what extent is this simply commensurate to the growth of the casting department or studio in general? Certainly, your gossip rags have mentioned that US studios are filming increasingly more in Canada. Do you think the fact that more shows and movies are being filmed in Canada might mean that more local actors are required? And how would one select, or “cast” these actors? Perhaps WB is working more in Britain, as well. Who knows? Not me, because I’m reading your bullshit article. Fun fact: this WSJ piece is also where you lifted your earlier “observation” about high definition TV making flaws more evident.

What does this culture mean for ordinary women? Well, for one, the beauty standard we’re expected to live up to is, specifically, a surgical one – which is complicated by the fact that this is so rarely acknowledged…

…apart from person after person freely acknowledging it in your favorite gossip magazines.

The result is that we are presented with image after image of women (and, increasingly, men) who are astoundingly unlined, and are forced to compare ourselves with them. If we buy into the idea that these people are “naturally” unwrinkled, the comparison is always likely to come up wanting. As Blum says of the current face of ageing, “I think it puts women on high alert all the time. I think it’s just very anxiety-inducing and it causes a certain amount of unhappiness because it’s asking people to hyper-scrutinise themselves.”

Again… “forced?” Maybe you’d feel less inclined to compare yourself to celebrities if you read something other than magazines about celebrities. Once more, you assume that women are so amazingly stupid that they think someone like Angelina just throws on some blush in the car on the way to a shoot, walks straight to her mark and appears “‘naturally’ unwrinkled.”

Of course, these images also encourage women to have cosmetic procedures, which can sometimes go horribly wrong. In Britain, the use of cosmetic fillers is largely unregulated, and there are many stories of rogue treatments leaving strange, floating lumps beneath the skin. Nottingham solicitor Paul Balen spoke in the Daily Mail recently about representing six people who have experienced problems with filler treatments: “Clients who have lumps of this stuff erupting out of their faces. Others are dreadfully scarred, or they have strange bags of these filler products appearing under their eyes.” In the same article, Karon Kitchener explained that an injectable water-based filler treatment she had to enhance her cheeks had left her with “a moving layer of custard under the skin. Every morning I wake up not knowing how I am going to look.” A specialist told her that it would cost £50,000 to correct the damage.

So, these procedures, unlike others, are not 100% effective? Who would have guessed? I wonder what the actual risk is. Is it greater than the risk one takes in driving to the clinic and back? I guess I should read an article that actually provides that information. But, thanks to Kira, I do know that Botox didn’t work out for… some lady. Keeping the information train rolling, did you know that holding it in is harmful to the kidneys? I read it in medical journals.

These treatments also involve us buying into a culture that invites us constantly to critique how we look, what we’d like to change, and then holds our happiness just beyond arm’s reach. “The cycle of gratification is endless,” says Blum, “because what will happen? ‘Oh, I get an extra 17 years’ – but then what happens at the end of the 17 years? I think, again, it puts people on high alert all the time.” She also believes that once you start having cosmetic procedures, it’s very difficult to stop. “If you have a good result, you’re in it. And if you have a bad result, you’re in it, because you have to fix it. So either way it’s addictive.”

So women like to look young. Looping back, this is because ageist men don’t want to bang old ladies. Also, I don’t know what Virginia Blum is a professor of, but given her unscientific and irresponsible use of the term ‘addictive’ in an ostensibly academic book, I’m guessing… women’s studies? American studies? Definitely something studies. A competent woman named Catherine Bennett reviewed Blum’s book for The Guardian. The shifts in the quality of writing are almost jarring, as we move from Chocrane to her colleague to pseudoacademic hackery on a level not seen since phrenology, so buckle up, but here’s an excerpt:

The nose experience has left this American academic so “damaged and vulnerable” that she is always close, she confesses, to reverting to the passive “patient position” – in defiance of “half a lifetime of cultural inquiry and feminist protest”. Still, it seems safe to say that no reader of Flesh Wounds will be left in much doubt about the latter enthusiasm. Her zest for cultural inquiry and feminist protest is so great that, without the victim-legacy of her nose jobs, Blum’s book might be consistently, instead of sporadically, unendurable. For instance: “While the order of the simulacral is the consequence of western styles of power, specificially capitalism’s, it also constitutes the fundamental undoing of power, as Baudrillard shows

Do we want these to be the terms on which we’re allowed to participate in public life? Last year, the author, Charla Krupp, reached the New York Times bestseller list with How Not To Look Old, and argued in interviews that her “whole focus is about the workplace … [the book is] for the boomer woman who is finding herself looking older than everybody else at work, and realising that she’s very vulnerable”. While Krupp doesn’t favour plastic surgery, she is a strong advocate of non-invasive cosmetic procedures, saying that, “We are so fortunate to be coming of age at a time when we can go to a dermatologist and get Botox, and get the wrinkles in our forehead and the crow’s-feet to disappear in a week, 48 hours sometimes.” Krupp’s outlook is echoed in a series of articles that have recently hit newsstands, which suggest that older people are having cosmetic procedures to help them remain “relevant” in a recession-era workplace. These include one by Judith Newman, for US Marie Claire, who described the blood leaking out of her puncture wounds after liposuction.

Blood leaking from surgical wounds can happen if you’re older. In fact, it happened to me when I was nine. Because it’s totally normal. Women like to look young, men like younger women because they are more fertile, evolution, science, male constructs… let’s wrap this up.

It’s natural to hold actors and performers up as role models, but to do so in this case is faintly ridiculous, since, of all of us, they are under the most intense pressure regarding their looks. It is understandable that they would bow to the most punishing ideals, but that doesn’t mean that the average woman or man should.


Instead, we have to ask ourselves whether we really want to paralyse our facial muscles, wipe away all signs of age and accept that only by looking oddly youthful for as long as possible are we allowed any place in public life. If we do, then we’re bending to a viciously sexist and ageist ideal. And, let’s face it, obedience is never a good look.

“And, let’s face it… something completely obvious,” is always a good way to wrap up an article for one of the best known papers in the world. The whole paragraph is an embarrassment, though. False dichotomy? Straw man? Just pick a fallacy and run with it, sister. And if it’s a question of being “allowed in public life,” then it’s not up to you “ask yourself” if you accept the conditions laid out.

Of course the situation described has nothing to do with reality. Most people can be moderate with plastic surgery. Older looking women abound and can be seen everywhere. Why, I saw a woman who looked to be at least 50 roaming freely about the public square just last month. Why doesn’t the publication of this shit cause the competent, female staff at The Guardian to threaten to strike?



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