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Got your mother’s hang-ups?

A unique study found plastic surgery results in a more youthful appearance, but the improvements are remarkably small.

A unique study found plastic surgery results in a more youthful appearance, but the improvements are remarkably small.

Published May 16, 2013


London - Most daughters inherit something of their looks from their mother, whether it’s hair colour or their smile. But what if you hate the part you’ve inherited? Worse, what if your mother hated it too - so much so that she had surgery to change it?

That’s precisely the position Deborah Harris found herself in. As a little girl, she remembers being shown a picture of her mother in her younger days. Deborah instantly recognised her - apart from one crucial difference. In the photo, her mother had a wider nose with a pronounced bump on the bridge - much like her own nose.

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When Deborah asked her mother why her nose had been so much bigger, Fery explained that she’d had an operation to give her a prettier nose than the one she’d been born with. She also said that the operation had changed her life.

It was a remark Deborah didn’t forget - and as a teenager she found herself scrutinising those old photographs again. It had a dramatic effect on her.

“I was experiencing the same insecurities that had plagued Mom,” says Deborah, 21, from Teddington, Middlesex. “I was self-conscious at school, and tried to avoid people catching sight of my profile. If photos were taken of me, I’d insist they were done from the most flattering angle.

“I asked Mom if I could have a nose job like she’d had. She assured me that I could when I turned 19 - and I couldn’t wait.”

Deborah had rhinoplasty in 2010, four months after her birthday. Her mother Fery, a 56-year-old accountant, not only paid the £6 000 fee but also helped her daughter find a reputable surgeon.

“Of course, I told her she was beautiful, but when she complained about her nose, I couldn’t just encourage her to accept it,” says Fery. “I hadn’t accepted mine - so how could I expect Deborah to accept hers? It would have been hypocritical.”

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Deborah and Fery are part of a growing number of mothers and daughters having the same cosmetic procedures to correct what they see as shared genetic flaws. Mr Azhar Aslam, a cosmetic surgeon at the Linia Clinic on Harley Street, says: “There is a trend for mothers and daughters to have surgery, often at the same time.

“Women inherit body shapes and facial features from their mothers, so it’s not surprising that if they’re not happy with something, they both come in to change it. The process is less daunting when they do it together.”

Yet it isn’t just physical flaws we inherit from our mothers. According to psychologists, the trend for mother-daughter surgery could be a symptom of deeper psychological issues - the insecurities women pass from one generation to the next, often without even realising it.

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In My Mother, My Mirror, the therapist Laura Arens Fuertstein argues that just as we inherit physical characteristics, we can also inherit hang-ups about the way we look.

And today, with the increasing accessibility of cosmetic surgery, these shared neuroses can lead mothers and daughters to reach for the same surgical solution to their perceived “problem”.

But even for those who stop short of surgery, absorbing our mothers’ negative attitudes towards a certain aspect of their body can result in a lifetime of insecurity.

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“We call the influence of a mother’s behaviour on her daughter ‘modelling’,” says psychologist Dr Jane McCartney. “Mothers who are unhappy with a feature of their body and mention it a lot can produce daughters who see themselves through the same distorted mirror.”

And even when we make a conscious effort not to pass on our hang-ups, our attitudes still have an impact. “Mothers might never mention their unhappiness with their weight or nose, but perhaps they’ll spend a lot of time looking at that feature in the mirror, and children pick up on these signals,” says Dr McCartney.

“Our mothers are our most formative role models, so their attitudes have a significant influence on us. It’s a basic human desire to be what our parents want us to be.”

In other words, the messages we give to our daughters, even in their earliest years, have a major impact.

Fery admits her attitude towards her appearance may have been passed down from her own mother.

“My sisters and I all inherited our noses from our mom, who made no secret of the fact that she hated hers. She’d often make comments about how she wished she could have had it fixed. Even now, aged 82, she says she wishes she had.

“Perhaps, for this reason, I was predisposed to scrutinising my nose. I was 13 when I first noticed that the bridge was very wide, and from then on I always felt it was ugly. In 1995, when Deborah was three, I had surgery. Three of my five sisters have also had rhinoplasty and none of us has regretted it.

“I don’t feel guilty that I’ve caused Deborah’s negative feelings about her nose. My younger daughter is 15 and also has the family nose. I don’t highlight it, because I don’t want to fuel her insecurities, but in my mind, she’s in the queue for a nose job.”

Thirty-three-year-old Jennie Thornton is in no doubt that it was her mother Debbie’s decision to have breast augmentation that caused her to seek treatment for her own perceived flaws.

During Jennie’s teenage years, Debbie, 51, from Beaconsfield, Bucks, complained frequently about how nursing four children left her breasts so small and saggy that she couldn’t stand to look at herself naked.

So powerful was her loathing of her bust that she set up a separate bank account to save for cosmetic surgery, and in 2003 she paid £3 950 to have her A cup breasts augmented to an E cup.

“Jennie and the rest of my family objected at first, but afterwards they could see I was much more outgoing because I no longer felt ashamed of my body,” she says.

The next year, Debbie saw Jennie getting out of the shower and commented on her daughter’s breasts.

“She had had D-cup breasts in her teens, but by her early 20s they had disappeared. She was left with flaps of skin that looked just like mine had done after years of nursing - and I told her so.”

Jennie, a 33-year-old interior designer who also lives in Beaconsfield, says: “My insecurities had been there long before Mom mentioned it. An ex-boyfriend used to say my breasts resembled dogs’ ears. It was worse for me because I had no excuse for how my breasts looked. At least oum’s were the result of having children.”

Although most mothers would be horrified to think their throw-away comments were sparking insecurities in their daughters, remarks like these are common, says Dr McCartney. “Seemingly innocuous remarks can have lifelong consequences.”

They did for Jennie. In 2010, six years after Debbie’s comment, she visited the same clinic as her mother to have her own breasts enhanced to a D cup. “If Mom hadn’t lamented her small breasts for so long and hadn’t gone on to have implants, there’s no way I’d have gone under the knife,” adds Jennie.

Psychologists warn that society’s growing obsession with altering our appearance is dangerous. Well-balanced people accept their flaws and regard them as relatively trivial, allowing them to focus on the aspects of life that are more important - such as work and relationships.

Dr McCartney says: “It’s damaging for girls to be taught to place too much value on their appearance. Some people become so neurotic, their priorities become skewed and their obsession with how they look can take over their lives.”

Tracey Masser, 52, an administrator from Basildon, admits she has passed on her obsession with remaining youthful to her two daughters - Shelley, 24, a beauty therapist, and Danielle Pardoe, 33, a customer service adviser.

Tracey says her own mother was fastidious about skin-care - “She had great skin and knew the importance of staying youthful” - and Tracey has continued the “family tradition”.

“When the girls were teenagers, I taught them how to look after their skin to prevent wrinkles as they aged. It’s better to be aware of what you can do to help yourself, rather than waiting until it’s too late.”

Last year, Shelley had fillers to plump up her lips and Botox at the Court House Clinic in Brentwood, Essex, to smooth her frown lines. She was swiftly followed by Danielle and Tracey, who had the same treatments. Tracey also had filler injected into her cheeks to restore lost volume.

Both sisters have had breast implants. Danielle has also had a nose job, which Shelley admits has made her consider doing the same.

Shelley says: “When we’re together, the three of us are always talking about the bits of our bodies we don’t like - such as wrinkles starting to appear, jowls sagging or the family nose.

“Having a mother and older sister who both look very similar to me is like being able to see into the future. Hearing their insecurities about their crow’s feet and lines have encouraged me to take preventative measures. Hopefully I’ll age even better than they have.”

Danielle adds: “If Mom had a facelift in ten years’ time, it would definitely make me question whether I’d benefit from one, too.”

But Dr McCartney warns that mothers who encourage daughters to base their self-esteem on appearance are storing up problems.

“It’s always better for mothers to try to focus on instilling confidence in their daughters based on other attributes than just physical ones. That’s the best way to encourage them to become a happy, balanced adult and to fulfil their potential.” - Daily Mail

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