Nip and tuck at 80

As a child I developed the belief that old age would be a glorious estate, a time of enlightenment and peace, and everything before — childhood, adolescence, the subsequent decades — simply the chaotic dues you paid before achieving geriatric nirvana.

This belief has taken a knock with the news from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (Baaps, a pleasing acronym given the mammary-based nature of one of its main sources of income) that its fastest-growing market is pensioners.

Operations on 70- and 80-year-olds in the United Kingdom are becoming increasingly common, although they are mainly of the face-tightening type aimed at taking 10 years off, rather than following the younger generation’s tendency to come into the consultation room waving a copy of a celebrity magazine and asking to have their heads grafted on to a Beyoncé body with an array of detachable cup sizes to suit all occasions.

When young people — usually women — get sliced and diced, they are now generally celebrated for improving themselves. The few voices who still insist on pitying or ridiculing the post-operative popsy for caving in to the pressure to conform are lost in a welter of whining morons for whom “Why not do it if it makes you feel better?’’ is the answer to everything short of multiple murder.

But the argument that cosmetic surgery connotes empowerment or harmless self-indulgence is as bogus as a Botoxed forehead, and shouldn’t fool anyone old enough to unpick it and see that its real ingredients are self-loathing and disgust.

To see it taking off among the older sections of the population, therefore, is profoundly depressing. Not just because many of the operations are sought by septuagenarian men who have taken up with women a third of their age and think that stapling back a few swags of loose skin here and there will be enough to erase

the differences between them and their new paramours — although this is perturbing for reasons I have neither time (nor tum) enough to ponder here.

It is depressing because a promise that has endured down the centuries is now being broken — the promise that in the end we will outpace social pressures and become comfortable in our skins in a way that eludes the inexperienced young.

I know, of course, that people never become fully immune to such pressure, or stop caring about what they look like the minute the first flush of youth flicks the V-sign and rushes off in search of the next chubby lump of childish flesh to land on. But until now we have always been able to see that with age comes a certain freedom from such concerns, an ability to ignore received opinion, and the self-acceptance to resist inflicting a surgical strike against yourself.

Once 80-year-olds start hankering for eyelifts, instead of revelling in their freedom, the dream is gone. Youth will always be wasted on the young, but we mustn’t contemplate age becoming wasted on the old. — Â

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