By Sarah Vine, originally published on The Daily Mail
It’s not just Renee. In the battle to stay young, more and more women are robbing their faces of the very quirks that made them beautiful
Mystified. It’s the only word for it. Why would someone with a face as pretty and as interesting as actress Renee Zellweger voluntarily do that to herself?
Or, as a friend of mine said last night as we were discussing it (there really was no other topic of conversation), at what point do you sit down with your plastic surgeon, point to the ‘poor man’s Christie Brinkley’ page and say ‘I’ll have THAT one’?
It’s not so much that she doesn’t look attractive. It’s more that she doesn’t look like Renee Zellweger. In fact, she doesn’t look like anyone in particular. Her face, once so instantly recognizable, is now about as memorable as a shop dummy’s. This person, the strange-looking person who used to be the film star Zellweger, has one of the worst cases of FGW (Face Gone Weird syndrome) I have ever seen.
All the elements of attractiveness are there: blonde hair, blue eyes, plump lips, smooth skin. But a human face is much more than the sum of its parts. And that’s how you end up with FGW. All those treatments, those fillers, or those jabs, or those little nips and tucks, are fine in theory. In practice, however, it’s quite another story.
What’s more, it appears to be catching. A couple of weeks ago, Liz Hurley appeared in public with the unmistakable early warning signs of FGW. A waxy sheen to her complexion; patches of eerily smooth skin; and an almost total absence of shadows on the face, lending it a strange, one-dimensional quality.
It doesn’t only affect the older generation, either. At just 28, Lindsay Lohan appears to be suffering from early onset FGW — although with her it’s often hard to tell whether that slight puffiness is due to fillers or the fact that her liver’s having to work double shifts.
All women who in their perfectly understandable quest to slow down the signs of ageing have instead succeeded in turning themselves into someone else.
This someone else is no one you’ve ever seen before. She looks like everyone and no one. And you don’t just see her in the pages of the magazines or in the movies, either. She is everywhere, in swanky West End restaurants, laughing into her champagne at parties, walking her dog in the better postcodes of London.
I come across her often in my line of work. She’s common at political fundraisers, dripping in diamonds on the arm of some corpulent industrialist with a bulge in his back pocket and a yen for a peerage. There she is again, at a charity concert, or picking up the kids in her white Range Rover before speeding off to the Cotswolds for the weekend. You’ll see her turning left on a half-term flight to Barbados, or exercising with grim purpose at a gym in Knightsbridge.
Her friends worry about her. They wonder, should they intervene? But how can you?
How can you say to a woman who looks at herself in the mirror each morning and sees a reflection of her ‘happy, healthy lifestyle’ (as Bridget Jones star Zellweger attributed her new face to yesterday) that she just looks weird. That the fillers and Botox and little lifts here and there have erased many of the signs of ageing, but in doing so they’ve also removed much of the character that made her, as an individual, special?
The problem with FGW is that while the outward signs may be physical, the root cause is a complex tangle of psychological factors. It’s not as simple as wanting to look younger. It’s to do with a whole variety of pressures, emanating from many different sources.
For FGW, you see, is the ultimate expression of the hyper-critical self-loathing that many women, rich, poor, successful or otherwise, feel when they look in the mirror. It is — and I truly believe this — a form of self-harm, every bit as distressing and as damaging as bulimia or anorexia.
It used to be the case that when things weren’t going her way, a woman would repair to the hairdressers for a new cut, or treat herself to a new shade of lipstick. She might go blonde, or lose weight — anything, really, to lift the spirits, to take back control and get back on top.
Now she books herself in for some Botox. And while she’s at it, maybe a few fillers. And is it really true that there’s a jaw-lift that doesn’t involve surgery? Can I really have the fat under my chin dissolved by a simple injection? A tweak here, a tweak there. Always close to the desired result, but never quite. Perhaps one more chemical peel, doctor, do you think that will do it?
None of these things on their own are necessarily an issue.
I, for example, have Botox two or three times a year in the vertical frown lines between my brows. It doesn’t make them disappear, it just softens them very slightly. I’m always being offered other treatments — peels, lasers and the rest.
But I say no. At 47, I’m OK with the way I look. Granted, I’m not as dewy as I once was, and my jowls are definitely more on the wobbly side than I would like; but the only thing that really depresses me is that wretched frown line, and so that’s as far as I go.
Anything else would be a slippery slope. Because it’s the layering of treatments that does it, the slow, silent creep. In the same way that you never notice you’re getting fat because the process happens in a series of small increments over a long period of time, it’s hard to recognise FGW in yourself.
It’s not until, say, you step out at an awards ceremony having been out of the public eye for a few years and the whole world goes ‘Whoa, there lady, what have you done with our Renee?’ that maybe you realise you might have gone a smidge too far.
But then I have one big advantage over all these women. I am not a film star. I don’t have to appear ten times magnified in glorious Technicolor on a big screen, or be photographed on the red carpet and my pictures beamed around the world. I don’t have newspapers and magazines scrutinizing my every look.
And because I’m too old to be a fully paid-up member of the selfie generation, I’m not endlessly taking photos of myself on my smartphone and posting them on Facebook either, a fact that goes some way to providing me with a certain immunity to FGW.
The same, sadly, cannot be said of my daughter’s generation. Already, aged 11, they all have their special ‘photo-faces’, certain practised expressions and angles they have learned to adopt in order to look their best. I have yet to acquire mine: if someone points a lens at me I just grin like a baboon, all chins and piggy eyes. Hashtag fail, as young people say these days.
Question is, will FGW spread beyond the rich and famous to ordinary girls and women? Now we have the means — salons offering an array of so-called non surgical procedures up and down the country — will all women gradually morph into broadly the same person?
Sad to say, I’d put money on it.