A few days ago, in Stellar magazine, Olivia Newton John gave an interview in which she spoke about plastic surgery and her distaste for it, insisting she’s never had plastic surgery. “I’ve always said that I wanted to grow old gracefully and not cut and slash…..So far I have, and I hope I can continue to do that. I guess because I have had real surgeries for really important, serious reasons, I don’t take playing with your face lightly.”
She went on: “I’ve had points in my life when I’ve gone to see plastic surgeons, when I was down and depressed or after a break-up or something, but I couldn’t ever do anything, I couldn’t go through with it. I thought, ‘I don’t want to look like those women.’ Some of them look great, it doesn’t all look bad, but I couldn’t do it.”
Well, there’s a whole lot to unpack right there.
I'm going to write the rest of this post very carefully because discussing any woman's appearance (even your own) is incredibly fraught. I do not wish to make accusations or assumptions about Olivia or any other woman in the public eye or woman who has or has not had surgery.
I will say that there seems to be a new demarcation line between 'plastic surgery' and 'altering your appearance'. The second description is far wider in scope and includes injectables. The first requires a scalpel.
So those who have embraced the needle but not the scalpel are now able to accurately insist they have had no surgery. Semantics or a valid distinction?
I guess that's subjective.
What makes Olivia Newton John's comments - and the raised eyebrow reaction to them from many woman - so poignant at this moment in time is that her daughter is currently in the middle of her own plastic surgery controversy.
This week, Chloe Latanzi has been the subject of media reports that she has spent $400,000 on plastic surgery. Who knows where this figure came from. It's probably rubbish. But it is clear that Chloe has altered her appearance and it would be disingenuous to pretend she hasn't. About as disingenuous as a woman pretending she was a natural blonde or any woman over 45 pretending she didn't have to dye away the grey.
Or insisting she had red hair when we could see it was brown.
Feminist disclaimer: what any woman chooses to do with her face or body is up to her. I don't have to agree with it because it's not my face or body. However, I think it's important to remember all 'choices' are made in the context of societal expectations, they're not solely personal decisions.
But the whole question of mothers and daughters and plastic surgery - or "having work" as I'll call the spectrum of invasive procedures that includes both cutting and injecting - is playing on my mind as I head towards 45 and consider Botox.
I look at my daughter, who is 10 and I'm so very torn. I know she is looking at me and watching my every move, learning who she wants to be, who she doesn't want to be and why. I see her studying my behaviour. Everything from using tampons to putting on make-up, blow drying my hair, putting on fake tan (occasionally), using expensive creams on my face, acquiring mountains of cosmetics (it's a sickness and a hobby, both), getting a second piercing in my ears, contemplating another tattoo.....she's studying me for the future test she'll have to take as she crosses over from girl to young woman.
So what am I teaching her if I freeze my face and erase my expressions?
I asked Ita Buttrose this question when I interviewed her recently because I have been asking everyone and she seems very wise. She rolled her eyes elegantly and let out a small, exasperated sigh before espousing her believe that "young women today overshare far too much" and that why on earth was it any of my daughter's business what I did to my face and why on earth would I tell her.
A few days later I had dinner with a girlfriend who was thinking about getting Botox and maybe, one day, a boob job. She is 26 so naturally I told her to shut up and threatened to tell her mother who I knew would be horrified by the idea.
So on one hand you have girls whose mothers are having work and on the other (sometimes simultaneously) you have daughters who are doing the same thing.
Are we all meeting in the middle at some utopian age of 26?
Is that when the clock is meant to stop? And as a feminist, do you support the choices of your mother and/or your daughter to alter her face or her body? Do you try to talk them out of it?
I don't have the answers. I'm keen to hear yours.
Feature image via Instagram (@chloelattanzi)
Watch Mia share her thoughts on botox.