Budgets, cosmetic surgery and air-brushing – do they add up?

As an erstwhile economist (in the 1980s BC, ‘before computers’ so no internet, up-to-the-minute gripping stories down the wire or in twitter stream which I now am coming to rely on), I groaned this morning as one of my old gurus, Anatole Kaletsky of The Times pronounced that a slide into recession is a near-certainty. On a day when unemployment figures climbed and inflation was expected to rise further according to the Governor of the Bank of England, I was staring at this charity’s budget for the next year from April – and as ever, a great deal of guess work is required.

Can we be optimistic?

“Well, on the one hand… and on the other”, I can hear the economist (in me) going… But I have to make some decisions, for example about the likely success and fund-ability of our Face Equality campaign!

On the one hand, the public debate about cosmetic surgery and air-brushing have never been louder, both being vilified in the press over the weekend as a result of the Channel 4 series, Beauty and the Beast: the Ugly Face of Prejudice – on again tonight at 8pm or available for replay for a month via the Channel 4 website – see The Sunday Telegraph (http://tinyurl.com/4lk4s29) but also because of the ghastly death of the woman having buttock surgery and the run-up to London Fashion Week.

Will this rising clamour make it easier for us to gain funding for the continued roll-out of our Face Equality campaign? I think it may do…

But, on the other hand, cosmetic surgery, freely entered into with fully-informed consent (including taking in the significant risk that every surgery carries) is perfectly acceptable and might be on the rise as a recession looms as people try to sustain their looks in what they perceive, rightly, will be an increasingly competitive labour market. Looks do count, especially in the first few minutes of any meeting – but employers are not fooled surely any more? It’s competence to do the job that counts far more – right? I fear not.

Air-brushing too could well be on the rise as marketing teams try even harder to sell the beauty of their products, their beaches and hotels, their cosmetics as recessionary pressures impinge on consumer spending…

Maybe we should seek funding from the companies that might do well from recession – but would they really want to support a charity at times critical of their exploits?

The jury’s out but will be called back at the end of the month. Any advice, please?!

“The choice is yours”

It’s become a catch-phrase, a famous album title and the ditty used in Cilla Black’s Blind Date show that my children loved (me?) to watch in the late 80s/early 90s! But for me the phrase is forever linked with my plastic surgeon.

Jim Evans was an old-school Consultant trained by Harold Gillies, the father of plastic surgery, during the Second World War. Mr Evans, as everyone very formally spoke of him, would, you might have expected, have had and explicated very clear plans for his patients’ reconstructive surgery – after burns in my case, acquired in an accident in 1970, aged 18. “This is what I am going to do next” he might have said – and I might have fallen into line.

But his was a much more gentle – and in today’s terms, patient-led – approach, at least it was with me. He would lay out the pros and cons of all the options – especially the aesthetic limits of what he could do. He’d even consider some of the crazy ideas I came up with – like raising a huge pedicle tube on my back to replace my severely burned chin, an idea he initially thought far too risky but came to see might work. And then, in a self-deprecating way, he’d step aside with “The choice is yours”…

And I would then have to weigh up in my mind (not his) what each option would involved for me – the impact on my face (would anything really make much difference?), my life, my self-esteem and confidence, my chance of getting work or getting love – and many other things too, of course – pain, discomfort, hospitalisation, needles, loss of education etc etc. I decided to have many operations but eventually, my choice was to say No – and walk away to try to become a citizen and not a patient any more.

Tonight Channel 4’s Beauty and the Beast: the Ugly Face of Prejudice episode brings together two women one of whom cannot believe that the other would not put herself through more surgery to change her looks – probably a lot more. She cannot accept that someone could possibly feel happy with the way they look ‘if you look like that’.

It gets to the root of two dimensions of our prevailing beliefs about face values: first, that plastic and cosmetic surgery (two different things incidentally) can create the beautiful, untarnished looks that are the passport to happiness; and second, that someone without those looks cannot possibly live a meaningful life, happy in her own skin. It is as if the culture is saying “NO, the choice is ours” – which denies people their right to choose and imposes unwarranted pressure on anyone who looks unusual.

Incidentally, my position is that I am entirely happy for people to have cosmetic surgery as long as they have been fully informed of its risks and benefits – and all the alternative routes to happiness too!!

The ugliness of prejudice

I had a truly beautiful weekend – at a beautifully choreographed wedding in a beautiful setting with family and friends all gathered to celebrate…

… but getting back to reality, today sees the start of a Channel 4 six-part factual TV series called ‘Beauty and the Beast: the Ugly Face of Prejudice’. In each programme, someone with a beauty obsession lives with someone with a facial disfigurement. In a prime time slot, 8pm, this should certainly allow some of the myths around disfigurement – and the beauty culture – to be exposed to public scrutiny… so it will be interesting to see the viewing figures – will people watch?

I hope so because whilst we at Changing Faces have had no editorial control over the programmes, we have contributed to them and they do reveal how extraordinarily strong the power of the beauty trap is and how that impinges on the mind-sets of those with disfigurements too.

Although there is less attention on the contributors with disfigurements their six stories demonstrate in unequivocal terms that having an unusual or noticeably-different face invites prejudice and discrimination every single day in today’s society – and this is replicated for thousands of people throughout British society.

Yesterday, I was in Belfast at Stormont for the launch of the Face Equality campaign in Northern Ireland – and there were many stories that confirmed not only that disfigurement can happen to anyone at any age any day, and there are many causes – from birth, accident, cancer treatment, skin or eye conditions or facial paralysis. What was reported to the assembled politicians, policy makers, HR directors, health professionals and PR specialists was that people with disfigurements or their parents how hard it is to live in a society where disfigurement prejudice happens daily and unwittingly in many discriminating ways – including at work – which often amount to harassment and intrusion.

Here are just a few examples: a grand-parent told how she and her daughter had heard some fellow diners in a restaurant ask to be moved so that they didn’t need to look at the child who had a birthmark.

A woman in her thirties who’d had serious car accident: “I get stared at wherever I go – and I fear meeting people I used to know because I dread their questions, sympathy or comments – or their turning away”… and “It wasn’t until I left my little friendly village primary to go to the big secondary that I discovered how horrid people could be”.

But we also heard a very honest plastic surgeon break through the veneer of assumption about what surgery can do: “Surgery is popularly seen as the solution but it’s not just about surgery – people need help psychologically to adjust and socially to adapt”.

I hope the Channel 4 series will help people become much more aware of the prejudice that is perpetuated in culture, seemingly unwittingly. Let me know what you think…