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Not just in Fairytopia ...

By Judith Ireland - posted Wednesday, 3 May 2006

She may be in the 48th year of her career, but Barbie isn’t tiring of reinvention. In a Pinocchio-like turn, she’s been brought to life and given her own stage show - Barbie Live in Fairytopia! - currently touring across the US.

It’s a big deal. The brunette 24-year-old actress playing Barbie is contractually forbidden from removing her blonde wig. Nor is she supposed to reveal her real name: “Oh good Lord, no. It would be like telling all the children that there is no such thing as Santa Claus. Barbie is real, just like him,” she told the Times Online last week.

While the “realness” of Barbie (and indeed Santa) is debatable - the ideal of the doll’s shiny veneer and improbable proportions is coming soon to a surgical theatre near you.


“Cosmetic surgery is no longer the province of the rich and famous,” New York plastic surgeon, Dr Michelle Copeland told the New York Sun last week, “it’s not cheap, but with age breeding body imperfections, people are somehow finding the money.”

Just as traditional forms of body décor have moved from fringe to familiar, there are a growing number of reports on the mainstreaming of cosmetic surgery. Last week, the Irish Examiner reported that one in five Irish adults would consider having plastic surgery, and a worldwide poll conducted by cosmetics brand Dove found that a quarter of 16-year-old girls were similarly inclined. The poll also found that 92 per cent of the teenagers wanted to change the way they looked.

The Independent informs us of a boom in “silver surgery” in Britain - with a 40 per cent increase in procedures carried out to reverse the signs of ageing over the past year. Not to be outdone, 10.2 million cosmetic procedures were performed in the US last year, with the American Society of Plastic Surgeons noting an 11 per cent increase in procedures between 2004 and 2005. In Australia, the number of procedures is growing at the rate of 25 per cent a year, according to a recent issue of Vogue.

We certainly have cosmetic surgery on the pop culture brain. We are obsessed with celebrity surgical conspiracies, with what’s real and what’s not. This week in NW, a happy snap of J.Lo in a bikini, derriere jutting out at an unusual angle, is titled “has she had bum implants?” A recent issue of Famous, ponders “fake or fantastic?” of Paris Hilton’s “perfectly sculpted figure” after she was spotted at a Hollywood plastic surgery clinic.

The third series of Extreme Makeover has just graced our television screens. For the uninitiated, this is the show that surprises unfortunate looking people with epic cosmetic surgery overhauls - sort of like The Biggest Loser meets The Block meets Lucky Lotteries. In one episode, Missouri nurse and mother Amy has her boobs inflated, lipids “hoovered”, brow lifted, nose sculpted, teeth straightened and acne scars lasered

Before being reunited with her family and friends, Amy also goes on a crash exercise course with a personal trainer and gets the requisite hair extensions and makeup session with a Hollywood artiste. “Oh my God, I look like a movie star,” Amy proclaims as voiceover tells us she has gone from “blemished to bellisima.” Her cosmetic dentist, no less effusive, describes his efforts as where “artistry meets dentistry”.


Depending on which side of the fence you pitch your ideological tent, cosmetic surgery is either a sophisticated form of body mutilation, or simply something people (who can afford it) do to make themselves feel good - much akin to a trip to the salon. On Extreme Makeover, we are told Amy bears “deep scars from a lifetime of humiliation,” due to her appearance. As she lies on the hospital bed ready for surgery she says, “today’s the first day of my new life”.

It feels patronising to judge or begrudge someone a nip or tuck when it (supposedly) brings such happiness. Especially when the qualitative difference between a nose ring and a nose job is as hard to distinguish as the authenticity of J.Lo’s perky behind. Both are driven by aesthetics, not functionality. Much like a Celtic symbol inked to a bicep, Dolly Parton’s décolletage is impressive, yes, but doesn’t have much use other than to generate ogles.

Both have the ever-present element of pain and danger. The perils of cosmetic surgery are well known - Michael Jackson is the bleeding obvious case in point. But there is also Tori Spelling’s seriously lopsided boob job, which put a generation of Beverly Hills 90210 fans off their silicone. Just recently, country music man Kenny Rogers voiced his dissatisfaction at an eye-op gone wrong.

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Judith Ireland is a freelance writer.

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