Liz Jones on her decision to have a face-lift: "I couldn"t look at myself in a mirror"

“I couldn”t look at myself in a mirror”: Liz Jones on her decision to have a face-lift

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YOU columnist Liz Jones admits that for most of her life she has hated the way she looks. So her decision to have a face-lift nine months ago, as she explains here, was as much to combat her self-loathing as it was to hold back the years

Liz at her home in London, nine months after her face-lift, which she wrote about in YOU

Liz at her home in London, nine months after her face-lift, which she wrote about in YOU

The day before I had the photographs taken for this follow-up piece to my face-lift, I had the following done by my cosmetic surgeon Mr Alex Karidis… A chemical peel facial that made my face feel as if it were on fire: this removed dead skin cells. Botox in my forehead, right up to my hairline, and around the outer corners of my eyes. Filler in the tram lines – quite soft and shallow, they are now – from nose to mouth and at the corner of my mouth where it droops slightly on one side. I had a little bit of filler in my cheekbones – not enough to make me look like Lulu, but for a little youthful padding and rosiness. To make the most of the face-lift, you need filler and Botox every eight months. And once you’ve had them, they are so great you want them again.

My jawline and neck are still perfect – and you know that’s a word I never use in relation to myself – from the full face-lift I had back in March. My eyes, following the eye-bag removal (or blepharoplasty), which involved making tiny incisions among my lower lashes, have now lost their spherical shape, and are no longer pulled down, Michael Jackson fashion, by the newly taut skin. Since March I have also had three rounds of IPL (intense pulsed light), too, to zap the tiny thread veins around my nose caused by the trauma of the surgery.

Yesterday I looked in my bathroom mirror, in daylight, at my face without make-up, without pulling a weird pouty face, without half my face being out of the mirror’s range.

My jawline and neck are still perfect – a word I never use in relation to myself

Now, this might not sound a big deal to you, but you have to understand first the relationship I have with mirrors and my own visage. When I was little, my mum had a rosewood dressing table in her bedroom, with a jar full of face powder with a blue china rose as its handle, and a set of brushes and combs. The dressing table had three mirrors, so you could sit on her pink satin stool and check every angle of your face, even the back of your head. So, one day, aged nearly five, I sat in front of the mirrors and examined my face.

Oh, my God! I hated it. I hated my eyes – too round; my chin – way too pointy – and my forehead (I immediately started growing my fringe). My profile was too flat, as if I’d been hit by a frying pan in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. From that day, I hated the way I looked. I had a couple of brief respites. One Christmas, while I was in high school (so probably aged 13), my mum gave me my first Boots No 7 box set of make-up. It contained foundation. Wow! I teamed this with green Mary Quant eyeshadow, green nail polish, and Blushbaby in Toffee.

Normally, upon entering the girls’ toilets at school, I would creep down the side of the walls
in order to wash my hands at the sink. Having approached the mirrors carefully (there was
awful fluorescent lighting), I had trained myself never to lift my eyes and examine my face. Now, with foundation, I could walk into the room normally, down the middle. This was a huge, liberating breakthrough.

Liz before her face-lift

Liz before her face-lift

Thus, plastered, I was OK for a bit, until the gym teacher Miss Goodwin made me wash the
make-up off. But I wore make-up when I went out in the evening – to the youth club on Brentwood high street – and had a couple of snogs from boys, who were always a bit repelled upon ingesting a brown, gooey paste.

Then, in my early 20s, working in London’s Soho on Company magazine, I again felt OK about my face. I would get changed for body-conditioning class at lunchtime, and glance at myself. I would go to dance classes in Covent Garden, and check my posture in the full-length mirrors. I snogged a boy called Alan, who I’d always had a crush on back home in Southend. I thought my life was going to be normal, and happy. But then, I decided I needed driving lessons. During that first, fateful hour, my instructor gripped the steering wheel, nearly having a heart attack. ‘But you can’t see!’ he yelled. ‘Are you insane’

I had wondered, vaguely, why I couldn’t read the name of the station I was in across the rails on the tube platform, but thought I was going blind through stress and anorexia (I still can’t travel on the tube, as I am in danger of having a panic attack). Not being able to see was a small price for being thin, I had thought to myself, but the near miss during my driving lesson made me go and get some glasses. The shock when I saw my face and etiolated limbs in a mirror in the Pineapple dance studio triggered a habit of looking the other way. I don’t think I’ve looked at my face in a mirror since. In fact, I know I haven’t. I apply make-up every day by holding up an inch-square mirror to my face so I only see my reflection in tiny portions.

Yesterday I looked in the mirror, in daylight, at my face without make-up, for the first time in years

So you see, for me, cosmetic surgery is not just about holding back the years, staying young, being vain or wanting to attract a man or keep a man (although I was secretly thrilled when, at Bristol airport, a researcher came up to me wielding a clipboard, in order to get me to fill in a questionnaire, and asked me, ‘Are you over 35’).

I wish I were the confident sort of woman who was happy in her own skin, who did not torture herself, and give herself extreme hurdles over which to leap every single day. (I have all my diaries from when I was seven – I’ve always written thousands of words every day, as I was too timid
to speak to anyone about my problems; I only started therapy last year. I have one diary open
at my side now, as I’ve gathered them to help me find out why and how I have come to be the
person I am, a woman who has had a face-lift. In the mid-1980s diary, every weekend is not
filled with fun and parties and boys; it has the same three words etched in the paper, over and over again, in dark capitals: Dye, Pluck, Tan. Dye, Pluck, Tan. In the 70s, there are endless numerals
in neat columns. You’d think I was a maths whiz, but they are weight-loss charts. I think, too,
extreme malnutrition drained my face of its youthful plumpness, as well as extreme sadness, brought on by never feeling good enough, presentable enough to be seen in public, which made every outing an ordeal.)

Liz nine months on

Liz nine months on

Goodness, that was a long set of parentheses – but I think I’ve lived my life in brackets. I have never liked people looking at me. Even in my wedding photos, where I am saying my vows (because I’m deaf I was terrified I’d miss all my cues), I am looking down and away from my husband.

So, my cosmetic surgery was about being able to live with myself. I think, too, if I had had a more complete life, and teenage children, a husband, I would perhaps not have focused so much on me, and not been so tired of being me, either. Perhaps I would have been ready to slide into old age, have a grey badger stripe and wear chunky boots and tweed for the school run. But I haven’t been lucky enough for that to happen. Distractions, real life, call it what you will, would have been good for me.

Ever since the first photos of my new face appeared in this magazine, people have stopped me in the street, in the queue at passport control, in Boots, filling my car with petrol, to ask if I am happy with my new face, if it was worth all the pain and the nausea and the expense. And they always look puzzled when I tell them I have no idea. I tell them it still itches and feels numb at the extremities, around my ears, which is where the cuts were made. I tell them my boyfriend hardly even noticed I’d had it done. I tell them I haven’t looked, and they are amazed.

I wish I were the confident sort of woman who was happy in her own skin

I have, though, been more cheerful and outgoing. Because I look more cheerful, and less exhausted, people react to me in a different way. Because I have been able to look people in the
eye, they have also reacted in a different way. My shyness – at fashion shows, in shops, you name
it – has often been mistaken for being standoffish. I now think that because other people have told
me my face is now better, more acceptable, I have been a bit friendlier and more approachable.

I am still, though, hugely reticent about my boyfriend seeing me without make-up. He keeps saying stupid man things, such as, ‘You look so much better without so much foundation and eyelash extensions. You are incredibly fresh-faced for someone of your age.’ And while men always say you look better with less slap on, I have actually started to believe him, relax the rules a little, although I am never without my trademark eyeliner and raspberry-stained lips.

Back to yesterday morning in the mirror. I was nervous about looking. But then I’m always nervous. For the first time since I was five, I have gazed at myself and not been repelled. I look more cheerful. I look different, I really do, but I am still me. The most important thing, though, more than the contours, is that I feel I have been given a second chance. I am OK. I no longer look like Captain Pugwash. I am no longer that scared little girl, that terrified 20-something, that disappointed 40-something. I have a new(ish) face but, most importantly, a brand new start. Most crucially, I have started to think about myself in a different way. Feeling better about how I look has made me accept more invitations: to drinks in bars or dinners or parties when before I would always want to hide. I think I am nicer to be around: a glimpse of my old face would send me into a downward spiral. I looked cross and miserable, therefore that was how I behaved.

As well as digging out old diaries, I have dug out old photos, too, as they are all in the same
Tiffany blue box. There I am in my teens, and in my 20s. I am gorgeous, but I am looking at the
floor, hiding behind a curtain of hair. What a waste! I am determined to come out of the shadows, finally. To face life with my brand new face.