by SUSAN JOHNSON
I see I am not the only one to find Pamela Stephenson’s comments on the ABC’s Q&A panel this week so fascinating. An actor, sex therapist, comedian and wife of Billy Connolly, I heard a long time ago — through a bizarre series of personal links — that she had chosen to have breast implants and I had also read about her choice to have plastic surgery, and to use Botox.
But the other night on Q&A, in answer to a question from a young woman in the audience about why someone would choose medical intervention rather than simply accept the ageing process (I’m paraphrasing here) she replied that it was because she “wanted to be a babe.”
The other members of the panel felt compelled to add the PC line that surgery/intervention is up to each individual woman, and that no woman (or man) should diss another woman for having it etc etc. But can I say here that actually there is a very real argument for supporting women so that they can make the choice NOT to have such surgery or intervention?
I know all the arguments: but you use lipstick don’t you? Hairdryers and skin lotions and face powder and all those other things that constitute artiface? Humans — men and women — have been adorning, adding, subtracting, tatooing, extending their lips or their ears with rings or plates or whatever, ever since humans had bodies.
Well, yes. Each of us is probably engaged, to a greater or lesser extent, with presenting our best physical self to the world. And every woman — no matter how plain or how beautiful or how ugly – can tell you a story about how the way she looks has resulted in certain outcomes. When I was writing ON BEAUTY, I catalogued what happened to humans who are beautiful and the effects of beauty are often very real rather than symbolic. A beautiful woman — an exceptionally beautiful woman I mean, not just a pretty one — has to get around her own beauty, so to speak, and so does an ugly one.
Every one of us, too, has a rough idea of where we fall on the beauty scale. I have the kind of appearance that appeals to a certain kind of man, but another kind of man finds no appeal whatsoever in my face. I am still recovering from the wound of being told that I most resemble Rowan Atkinson in his Mr Bean persona.
And every one of us is vain, to a greater or lesser degree. For instance, when I was in my early 40s, I wrote a hot-hearted defence of grey hair and in a flame of self-righteousness I declared that I, Susan Johnson, would NEVER dye my hair. I listed all the women in the public eye who are still not grey –Susan Sarandon, Madonna, Hilary Clinton, Quentin Bryce, Hilary McPhee — and I could hardly name any who had eschewed the dye bottle (Emmy Lou Harris is the pin up silver haired girl).