The Mind’s Construction in Face


It should be noted that the Tutoring Protégé does not mean any disrespect to the deceased celebrities mentioned in the write-up. On the contrary, the sole purpose is to highlight the mental complexes that lead people to opt for such poor choices.

Love & Peace to all.

According to all media, so it must be true that plastic surgery is a growth industry worldwide. People who’ve had face-lifts are having their face-lifts lifted. The Taiwanese are having New Year face-lifts to bring them luck. Often the resulting luck looks terrible, but it’s hard to sympathize when someone becomes a victim of failed plastic surgery that they never needed.

Usually, that’s a decision we make for them: that they don’t need it. Knowing what they looked like before they did it, we decided they didn’t need to do it. But they mightn’t have felt like that. Anyone who undertakes major plastic surgery doesn’t like how they look, even if we never saw much wrong with it.

There is a person called Pete Burns who went on Channel 4’s Big Brother and got famous for being a forgotten rock singer. He got additionally renowned for being a forgotten rock singer who’d had something unforgettable done to his mouth. He’d had that thing done that people who want new mouths do. They don’t want new mouths in the sense of a mouth like the old mouth, only young again. They want a new mouth in the sense of a different mouth, a mouth that has been seen nowhere on earth except below sea level. Apparently, the idea is that the top lip should be at least as big as the bottom and the result, even done in moderation, always looks as if the original mouth has been removed, inflated like a small plastic paddling pool and put back on upside down.

Pete Burns had the advanced version. I switched Big Brother accidentally one night, and there he was, so I switched it off immediately, but not before having my retinas seared with the image of one of those car-sized fish lurking deep below the reef, waiting to ingest a deep-sea diver. After leaving the show, Pete sank out of sight, but recently he got famous all over again; he wanted to sue the surgeons who hadn’t, in his view, put it back the way it was, although he hasn’t yet made clear how he means by the way it was: he might only mean the way it last year when it was already uncommonly large but still more or less attached to him.

Apparently, it now more or less isn’t. It’s easy to laugh until you see the pictures, and then you realize he’s in real, physical trouble to match the psychological crisis he must have been in in the first place. And there’s the connection between plastic surgery that doesn’t serve an obvious purpose and plastic surgery that does. The second kind started at East Grinstead Hospital, where a pioneering team of surgeons developed the techniques to help make continued life possible for Battle of Britain fighter pilots whose faces had been ruined by flame. The young men called themselves the Guinea Pig Club as a sign of the cheerfulness they needed to live with what they looked like. But, unfortunately, it was a long time before anyone knew how to do the cosmetic surgery that went some way towards making the first necessary repairs look anything like normal. So the Guinea Pigs, booked up for years of operations, had to learn to accept each other’s appearance, and the people of East Grinstead, who met the boys in the street, had to learn to live with visual shock. An awful lot gets learned in a war, and plastic surgery would certainly not have gone ahead so quickly if there hadn’t been hundreds of young men who needed a new face: a real new face, meaning a face something like the old one.

After the war, the techniques of repairing damage graduated naturally to improving looks. Again there’s a connection, and the link first showed up most powerfully in Brazil. In 1961 a disgruntled employee expressed his dissatisfaction with the management of a circus by setting it on fire. He killed at least 323 people, many children, and disfigured many others.
The plastic surgeons gave a lot of faces their lives back. One of the surgeons was Ivo Pitanguy, who later taught a generation of students to do the two things a plastic surgeon can do: correcting disfigurements in the unfortunate and making not perhaps entirely necessary improvements to the rich.

Our difficulty is to see why such inner feelings should be catered to in the same way that we, or rather the surgeons, cater to obvious physical needs. Currently, in Africa, there are units of plastic surgeons financed by the charity to correct childhood disfigured, some of them so hideous they make you wonder if the man upstairs really knows what’s going on down here. Arising from malnutrition, there is a disease called noma, and its first results are a rapid degeneration of a child’s facial tissue, with results you don’t want even to imagine. But plastic surgeons can repair that damage.

However, some of the know-how used in such an impeccable public service is developed in the private sector. So there’s an interchange, and you might say that the angel of mercy is financed by human folly and that there’d be folly anyway because nobody knows how to fix the mind, especially when it has the means to get its way. That beautiful British television actress who wrecked her mouth: she didn’t need to do that. But she thought she did. That beautiful American film star who did the same: why did she, of people, think her face was ugly? Her face was a dream, but our dream was her nightmare. So she fixed it.

And so, reluctantly get to Michael Jackson, whose original nose shares the condition with Pete Burns’s actual mouth of being rejected by the face where it grew up. But the real pity about Michael Jackson is that the man who sings ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white thinks it does matter. While my daughters were growing up, Michael Jackson was a hero in our household, and even I tried to learn his ‘Billy Jean’ moonwalk. My version looked like Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk, but I didn’t blame Michael. But when I saw what the plastic surgeons were turning him into, I blamed him. I thought he was undoing the work of a century of African-Americans who had put their lives on. If he wanted to look like someone else, why didn’t he want to look like Denzel Washington? I would have.

It took me a while to figure out that it was his business, not mine. We who admired him never owned him, and perhaps he had no other way of telling us except making himself impossible to love by anyone except the kind of fan who would have gone on loving him if he had turned himself into a wheelie bin. He wants another identity, but so do all those rich women who try to stay young by having their faces lifted. Even if they know when to quit, before the Botox looks like latex, they must still be aware that the backs of their hands will tell the truth about that strange blankness underneath the eyes. The falsity is blatant, yet it’s often the voluntary absurdity of the most subtle people alive. So it’s got nothing to do with intelligence. It goes far deeper than that. It’s the soul, believing that a face can stop time with the right kind of intervention.

In Hollywood, I once got invited to a lunch party of women who had been stars fifty years ago. If they’d stayed unaltered, I would have recognized every one of them. But in their bid for eternal life, they had become nobodies. Yet how can you blame them? Their beauty had been their life. On that same visit to Hollywood, I met a plastic surgeon who said there were no stars, even among the males, who didn’t come in for a pit-stop. That same plastic surgeon used computer modelling to show me how he could make me look like a film star if I’d let him take a bit off the end of my nose and stick it on my chin. He kept on manipulating the mouse until I looked like Steve McQueen. When I told him I wanted to be Cary Grant, his face fell, but not very far.

Source: A Point of View by Clive James


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