What It's Really Like When Your Mum Gets Plastic Surgery
The Debrief: 'My mother, a first wave feminist who doesn’t take any shit, is paying thousands of pounds for someone to take a scalpel to her face.'
For most women, including myself, your mum is the biggest inspiration in your life. She’s the one you can always count on to cheer you up when your boss is patronising you, your best friend flirts with your boyfriend, or you get a chic new haircut that makes you look like Tootsie. When you were little, she told you that you could do or be anything you wanted, and now as an adult, she’s the one who tells you not to let the bastards grind you down.
Imagine the shock and confusion when this strong woman, who called you ‘insane' for contemplating getting botox after a three-hour KUWTK binge, tells you she’s getting a facelift. My mother, a first-wave feminist who doesn’t take any shit, is paying thousands of pounds for someone to take a scalpel to the very face that comforted me after my ten-year-old self fell off my bike, and cried at my graduation.
For the last few years, she has refused to be in family photos because she’s obsessed with her laughter lines and chubby cheeks. So, ever the problem-solver, she’s decided to do something about it. But it's a horrible turn of affairs that her solution will hospitalise her for 48-hours and leave her with deep scars behind her ears.
Me and my mum were sat in the kitchen of the family home, gossiping about friends and discussing nail polishes that make our skin tones ‘sing’, when she dropped the bombshell.
'I’m thinking about getting a facelift,' she beamed excitedly. My heart sank. I couldn’t believe she felt so bad about her face. I imagined the hours she must have spent alone, gazing sadly into the mirror, wishing away features that, to me at least, are totally beautiful. Why would something so extreme be necessary for her to be happy with her appearance? 'I just want freshening up. I’ll never do anything like this again. I just don’t want to look like a raddled old lady for the rest of my life.' Knowing that if she’s made her mind up on something, there’s no convincing her otherwise, attempting to talk her out of it was a lost cause, but nevertheless, I tried without success. She’d already booked the consultation with the surgeon.
Weeks passed, she assured me the woman who would be performing the procedure was ‘very good and very nice’, but on my questioning, confessed the doctor had been suggesting having further work done. Specifically, having fat from her soon-to-be removed double chin injected into her cheeks, something my mum had never even heard of, but any woman of my generation who hasn’t been living under a rock will have seen evidence of again and again. As a cautionary tale, I showed her the bad pictures of Madonna with ‘moon face’, but had to begrudgingly concede that having plumpness above the cheekbones does make one look younger. Jeez, how depressing is this perpetual quest for youth? Will this be me in 40 years?
I relayed all this to my boyfriend, who hugged me while gently dictating that I’m ‘never allowed to do anything like that’. I told my mum I’d like to be the one to take her to and from hospital (seen as I obviously can’t trust my dad to do what’s best for her).
I drove my mum to the hairdressers for the last hair wash she was allowed over the next fortnight (ew), and then to the hospital to be admitted for the procedure later that day. It was the first time I’d seen her without makeup on in as long as I could remember. She looked tired, nervous and vulnerable. We were both quiet bundles of nerves, but I tried to make smalltalk to distract her from the dawning reality that she was facing major surgery in a few hours time. I got home and buried my head in work, attempting to block out the image of someone taking a knife to the soft skin of my mum’s scalp and face. My iPhone buzzed at 11pm and her name appeared on its screen. I felt happy to see she was well enough to speak, but panicked at what the late night call could portend to. I could hear the distress she was in, even through her heavily slurred speech and delayed responses. She couldn’t reach the buzzer used to prompt the nurse, and desperately needed attention. After my making a few studiously calm-sounding phone calls, the situation was resolved. However nothing prepares you for hearing your mother in such a state. It will always strike fear into your heart, no matter how old or world-weary you might be. The next morning, she later informed me, she woke up and vomited down her front from the effects of the general anaesthetic.
Two days after the operation, she called me to let me know she was ready to be collected, sounding as stoned as Lou Reed in the mid ‘70s. On the way over there, I hoped she wouldn’t look like Ida Lowry with her cheeks wrenched back in Brazil, or Joe Frazier after the Thrilla in Manila.
'I wish I hadn’t done it! My mum exclaimed as I entered the recovery room. She had a tight, swollen face, thick purple scars running down either side of her neck, and was being attended to by two nurses who were showing her how to put on the elasticated head straps she’d have to wear for the next two weeks. 'Why did I do this?' She repeatedly asked me. I wanted to cry, though at this point all I could do was thank the nurses, pick up my mum’s bags, and most importantly, reassure her that I’m sure she would look amazing in a few weeks time.
While she was in hospital, she had noisy machines attached to her for 48 hours that made it difficult to sleep, felt nauseous and dizzy, and worst of all for her, felt trapped and helpless. Back at home, she couldn’t turn her head, bend down, walk her dogs, do housework, or indeed anything that might raise her blood pressure, for a fortnight.
Reflecting on how I’d feel about her ‘new look’ after the swelling has gone down, I came to a realisation. If all went to plan - and she didn't end up as one of those plastic surgery horror stories on trash TV - she’d look ten years younger. But the face looking back at me over lunch at a quaint cafe, or at the birth of her grandchildren, won’t be quite hers anymore. It will be a synthetic, anodised version of her, reimagined and sculpted by a doctor promising her the self-esteem she was so desperately seeking.
The week after the operation, she seemed sad, drained and confused. She slept badly because she couldn’t lie down and felt a perpetual tightness around her head caused by the clips holding her wounds in place. Because it was an elective surgery, my dad and brother seemed to have no comprehension that she was recovering from a big operation and did very little to lighten her load at home. Several times she asked me how she looked, tenderly touching the medical trappings around her face and head. What could I say? She looked like she’d had a lobotomy, and I felt like she must have had one to have got herself into this situation. 'I’m sure you’re going to look fantastic when it’s all healed.'
Seven days after the op, I went with her to have her stitches removed. 'Your body thinks it’s been hit by a train, so it’s normal to feel woozy at this stage,' the surgeon’s assistant assured her as he snipped at the metal and nylon fixtures behind her ears.
The surgeon briefly appeared to check on the piece of work that is now my mother, when my mum got her attention: 'I’d like to talk to you about liposuction around my middle. When’s the soonest you can fit me in?” So much for her promise not to do anything like that again. As it stands, she’ll be back on the operating table by September. We’ll go through the whole miserable process again, with no assurance that this procedure will be the one to finally make her happy with the way she looks.
I can't help but feel my mum viewing something so drastic as 'a necessary tweak' is at least partly down to the prevalence of cosmetically altered female faces on TV and in magazines, and more pertinently, the lack of women of a certain age on our screens. Ageism in the media is not only detrimental to women working in the public eye, but for all of us who consume it. To witness this impact on a woman as strong-minded as my mother doesn't make me judge women who choose to 'have work done', but feel sad that we as women believe spending our hard earned cash on sculpting, slashing and plumping our bodies into someone else's idea of beauty is anything other than buying into the bullshit notion that we have to conform to a certain aesthetic if we're to stay relevant, popular, or ultimately, loved.
The experience has left me circling one question: What is she really spending all this money and heartache trying to fix? And no, I won't be discussing what her new face looks like because the main thing is that it doesn't look like my mum.
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Picture: Eugenia Loli
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating