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!!