It’s time I had a Shirley Valentine facelift, says INGRID TARRANT after seeing her wrinkles on TV… and far from betraying feminism, she says it’s only like wearing make-up
Ingrid Tarrant on This Morning TV show in July 2018
As I settled down in bed to watch TV, it was comforting to know that there were seven like-minded women as excited as me and just as nervous too about seeing the first episode of Our Shirley Valentine Summer.
The premise, if you missed it, is that eight of us, all single women of a certain age, would, just like Shirley Valentine, spend the summer on a Greek island to try and find themselves and –who knows? – maybe love.
I’d enjoyed several weeks of good food, friendship and sunshine so, as the opening titles faded, there was nothing that prepared me for the shock of seeing the face of a wrinkled old woman gazing back.
Worse was to come: the ugly recognition that the face on the screen, with that scraggy neck and those lines etched deeply into the skin, was mine! It made me jump in horror. I wanted to dive under the duvet but the sheer awfulness kept me watching, transfixed.
I looked like a Chinese Shar Pei dog, the ones covered with loosely draped flaps and folds. It was gruesome: a high-definition horror show that in no way matched the image I had of myself in my mind’s eye.
Cue the self-examination.
Of course, I knew I had wrinkles but the sight of myself on TV had bothered me enough for objective scrutiny in one of those mirrors with x20 magnification.
‘Do I really look that bad?’ I asked my children, who in turn were very sweet.
‘No, Mama, you don’t look old,’ said my daughter Sammy – the third of my four children. You look young for your age.’
But after this, I’m not so sure that looking ‘young for your age’ is quite enough any more. In fact, the thought has begun to haunt me.
After a lifetime of choosing my own path, of happily ignoring the crowd, I am for the first time seriously considering cosmetic surgery to iron out some of the lines and creases.
And after decades of pooh-poohing such vanities, I’ve finally decided that it really is OK to get a bit of ‘help’ – even if the thought remains a little disquieting.
After all, I’ve always felt comfortable in my own skin – until now. I’ve never succumbed to the latest age-defying lotions and potions. I don’t lavish money on regular, extravagant beauty treatments and I am a slave neither to make up nor to fashion. I follow my own style.
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In fact, although I’ve always taken care of my appearance, I’ve known very well that I bear the hallmarks of a life well-lived.
To be blunt, I’m a 64-year-old, twice-divorced mother-of-four, indeed a grandmother of three. I love to socialise and enjoy a vodka shot or three and, still, a sneaky cigarette. I don’t fear the advancing years. I’ve never minded the idea of being an ‘old wrinkly’.
My mother was beautiful and graceful in her old age, as was hers. I love seeing elderly people with their age-old lines that add such interest and character to their faces.
So why now, you might ask, when I had good enough reason to take action many years before? In 2006, I famously left my second husband, TV presenter Chris Tarrant, after 22 years together when I discovered he’d been having an affair.
It was agonisingly painful at the time. The stress of being deceived and the divorce that followed badly affected my health and I looked a wreck.
Facing up to my changing looks
This was taken at our family summer house in Norway. I’m fresh-faced, happy and relaxed being with family and so close to nature.
I’m aged 32 in this picture, half the age I am now. But I can see the ‘devil’s horns’ beginning to appear between my eyebrows.
This was not long after my beloved father died. The clue is in the strained lines. Losing him was worse than my two divorces.
This was soon after I left Chris. I’m barely smiling and my eyes look sad. ‘They’ve lost their sparkle,’ as my mother said.
This was taken this year while filming Our Shirley Valentine Summer. I do like to laugh, but when I’m not smiling those lines make me look really miserable.
For those who can afford it, cosmetic treatments are quite a common response to that sort of trauma, whether it’s breast enlargement, facelifts, tummy tucks or lip fillers. Some even go so far as having their private parts made tight and tidy! I suppose it’s a message of some sort, or at least a psychological boost – ‘I’m back in control,’ perhaps.
Yet I never felt the need then. I suppose one reason for the change of heart is that we’re all becoming ever more visual.
And those of us lucky enough to be in good health are ageing rather better than in the past. Comparisons are inevitable, and at times uncomfortable.
Back in normal life – away from the Greek islands and the television cameras – I know plenty of women who have had surgery.
In fact, most of my friends admit to having had work done, from liposuction and Botox to facelifts, neck lifts and implants. Some, it is true, have gone too far, but that’s not the norm.
And if the procedures are done well, my friends look fantastic. I’ve never thought any the less of them, even if they don’t look exactly like their former selves. In fact, I admire them for just going ahead and doing it.
Yet, while we’d talked about it in a superficial way, it’s only now that I’m starting to ask the important questions: was it painful? Did you bruise? How long were you in bed for? And, more seriously, do you have any regrets? Nothing so far has served to deter me. The show, too, made a difference. My fellow participants were not only great company, they all looked so much better for their respective ages than me.
Some were very open about their surgical procedures and I’m sure others on the show might have had a bit of work done too. But I didn’t pry.
Though we talked about everything under the sun in the month we lived together on the island of Naxos, I never discussed the secret of their youthful appearance.
I should have been less reticent.
Now, I really want to know more. I’ve concluded that I’d like a face- and neck-lift. And while I’m at it, I’d like an underarm lift to get rid of those bingo wings.
Oh, and I quite fancy liposuction on my knees too. In fact, I’ve already taken the step of consulting a Harley Street specialist.
There are many serious questions to answer, of course, and it remains a dilemma – not least because I also want a new patio. How far do you go, for example? And when do you stop?
Take my beautiful rare 1938 Bentley, which was my father’s car and has been in our family for 67 years. When someone dented one of the rear wings, it had to be repaired and painted. But because it’s so old it was hard to recreate the patina of the faded colour.
So I had to have the other wings resprayed. Then the bonnet and the boot didn’t match so they were done at the same time.
And because the bumpers and headlights needed to be taken off first, it also made sense to have those re-chromed too.
After all, it would look very odd if it didn’t all match up. Suddenly you’re considering whether the leather upholstery is past its best too. And as for the carpets…
Well, all I can say is, you can see why some women end up having painful-sounding adjustments in their nethermost regions.
I don’t want to end up looking like Jocelyn Wildenstein, or the Bride of Wildenstein as she is known, who has become notorious for the amount of disfiguring surgery she has apparently undergone.
I’m well aware that the cult of beauty can become a tyranny, likewise the cult of youth – points illustrated in the highly publicised age discrimination case brought by former Countryfile host Miriam O’Reilly against the BBC and the criticisms of the media industry made by former newsreaders Moira Stuart and Anna Ford.
I know some will snipe and say shouldn’t I be happy to be the way I am? Am I pandering to an unhealthy trend – the normalisation of plastic surgery among the young?
But I don’t think I necessarily am. It is one thing to worry about the effects on younger women, the ones in their 20s we see going on reality shows such as Love Island with those improbable boobs, blown-up lips and identikit marshmallow faces. I find that worrying.
But that, surely, is different from correcting the effects of advancing years. To put it simply, I believe there’s nothing wrong with a small fightback against the sags and wrinkles that are changing my appearance for the worst.
It would be pleasing to my eye, if not to anyone else’s.
I don’t feel any pressure to be perfect, whatever that might be. I’ve always been very much my own person.
I’m independent and strong-minded and not easily influenced by anything. I’d never have cosmetic surgery for the sake of any man! It would be for me.
And I certainly don’t think that making the best of yourself is a rejection of feminism. Being on Our Shirley Valentine Summer reinforced how much I love and admire other women.
The fact is that we make cosmetic ‘augmentations’ every day. The beauty industry thrives on the vanities of women, and sometimes of men, too. I wear make-up, I occasionally have high and low-lights put through my hair, which goes so startlingly blonde in summer it looks fake.
Of late, I’ve also disguised the silvery strands that are starting to appear. I have manicures and pedicures. I’ve had my eyebrows microbladed and a gap between my front teeth has been filled to improve my smile. Why, then, should having cosmetic surgery be any different, particularly given my advancing years?
We don’t have to put up with wrinkles any more if we don’t want to, just as I didn’t have to put up with the gap in my teeth. So why not use that power?
Ultimately, I think I am content in my own skin – it’s just that I’d like that skin to be a little tighter.
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