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London - So now I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt in an expert’s mind: I am ugly. Moreover, the chances are that if you’re over 40, without time or money to waste, you’re ugly, too. And just to rub it in - you’ve nobody but yourself to blame.
This, at least, is the conclusion to be drawn from Dr Jean-Louis Sebagh, a self-promoting gentleman of wealthy means, who has made his fortune by injecting Botox - containing one of the world’s most lethal substances - into the faces of the fabulously famous: Cindy Crawford, Trinny Woodall and Simon Cowell among them.
But it is not enough for Dr Sebagh that he simply sticks his syringe into the wrinkles of the willing. His limitless confidence allows him to castigate the unwilling, too.
He even hangs upon his wall a picture of Brigitte Bardot as a warning of how grotesque a woman becomes should she reject such procedures.
“Urgh,” he said during an interview, pointing at a picture of the French actress (did I call him a gentleman? Strike that). “She is the prime example of non-maintenance. In her day, she was the most beautiful woman in the world.”
And these days? “So ugly! By the time she was 40 she was finished.”
But he hasn’t finished. “Now, look at Sophia Loren. The perfect example of maintenance.”
In other words, as Botox celebrates its tenth birthday of legal use in this country, the evangelical Dr Sebagh divides women into two camps: those who use it - and those who are “ugly”.
His use of the word “maintenance” is, I grant you, clever psychology on his part. There are standards of basic grooming - as even chimpanzees would agree - below which none of us would expect to sink without being judged for our neglect, and which may all come into the category of what would commonly be called maintenance.
For my part, for instance, I wouldn’t breathe upon another human being of a morning until I’d brushed teeth and swilled with mouthwash. Clean undies and trimmed hair are nice, chipped nail polish isn’t, a little make-up brightens the day.
But the older I get, the less time I spend on puffery - perhaps ‘life is too short’ gets more meaningful when there’s less of it left. As Hillary Clinton ably put it last week, when snapped without slap on: “At some point it’s just not something that deserves a lot of time and attention.”
So she dumped the contacts, donned the specs, let her (clean) hair loose and got on with being US Secretary of State.
Age also inclines me to reclaim time; my main cheats are very short hair and semi-permanent make-up applied every two or three years, leaving daily routine to a touch of protective gloss, a comforting dollop of Olay and smiling a lot.
I have my routine, Hillary has hers and you, no doubt, have yours; each and all individual interpretations of the maintenance that is part of self-respect.
But that’s not what Dr Sebagh means by “maintenance”, is it? Indeed, quite the reverse. He banks not on self-respect; he banks - literally, at £400 a pop - on self-loathing.
If you’re anything like me, our kind of maintenance is an effort to keep us as we should be; his is to keep us as we should not be. We’d like people to say wow, she’s 55 and looks terrific; he prefers wow, she’s 55 but doesn’t look it.
For Sebagh and his ilk, the message is clear: the defining characteristic of ugliness is age and, by extension, the defining characteristic of an unworthy woman is one who shows any sign of it.
To be fair, it’s hard to know who to chastise first: the smug doctor with his pernicious message - or the women who fall for it. He is, after all, nothing without them.
Some, no doubt, are spurred on by a glut of magazine images (teenagers aren’t the only objects of media influence) and some, I fear, are simply showing off to the have-nots (the money involved rules out the vast majority of women).
Others may be new divorcees, back in the dating game for the first time in 20 years and not sure how to handle it unless they look like, well, they looked 20 years ago. Long after a familiar old couch-potato husband stopped giving them a second glance, here they are again: about to be judged, physically, by men - and here’s a man, a doctor no less, to tell them the rules.
(Funny, isn’t it, how these cosmetic surgeons are almost always men; persons of power to whom women so willingly defer?)
Yet even as they lay down their credit cards, I wonder if these women realise what they are letting themselves in for - and I don’t just mean the accidents, like permanently drooping eyelids or a glare of perpetual alarm.
For a start, there’s a cycle of dependency that begins from day one; apart from the accident victims, have you ever known anybody who goes just the once for Botox - or for its arriviste sister, the filler injection? Me neither.
The alchemy, as practiced by Dr Sebagh and his peers, works on the brain as well as the face; by having your first jab, you have admitted not just to a hatred of your wrinkles but to your fear of their return.
And return they must, as nature demands. So off you schlep, every few months or so, spending ever more money - and ever more time - between sessions, obsessing lest you succumb to your instinct to frown.
Fine, I suppose. If you’ve really got nothing better to do. The trouble is, no matter how frequently you attend sessions, the result is never quite what you want it to be. Your practitioner may well offer you the mirror: See! See how young you look!
And maybe, in a good light, you do - although I confess that, in our house, we’re more amused by spotting television stars with no movement above the nostrils than we are envious of the smoothed skin.
A baby-bum face, with a middle-aged posture and the deepening voice that passing years bring makes for an odd mix.
Dr Sebagh may call this “maintenance”. Frankly, I think it’s more like ‘maintaining’ a vintage classic Bentley by painting it in this season’s Daewoo cheeky red.
The saddest thing of all, however, is that women seem to forget what they lose along with their wrinkles. Our wrinkles are our medals, our scars and our history. So perhaps before we listen to those who seek to “maintain” them into oblivion, we should be asking just what it is that we really want the world to see.
Is it a pretend youth that we no longer have?
Or would we prefer it to see the humour (Sheila Hancock), the knowledge (Mary Beard), the power (Hillary Clinton), the character (Julie Walters), the intellect (Germaine Greer), the confidence (Ann Widdecombe), and the wisdom (Shirley Williams): real things that real women - all wrinkled, the lot of them - actually do have. In abundance.
And not in spite of their age, but because of it. - Daily Mail