Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The treadmill of bodily perfection

Is there anyone who doesn't wish that their body or face were better? Whatever your age, if your body or face doesn't compare well with what your friends have, or what you see on TV, or in magazines, or on the Internet, or in eye-catching advertisements in the street, or in glossy holiday brochures, you can feel undermined and second-rate.

My list illustrates how hard it is to avoid images of people with great bodies and beautiful faces. Of course, you have to be susceptible to suggestion. A lot of people do have a high resistance to mental manipulation. But the advertisers know their business, and the constant daily exposure we are all subject to has its insidious effect. None of us match up completely to those alluring images of happy people with beautiful bodies and vibrantly attractive faces! And the message seems to be: if you get yourself a body - or face, or teeth, or hair - like that, your life will be so much better: you'll enjoy more pleasure, more fun, more laughter, more sex. Even the weather will be sunnier. It's the promise of a good life based on appearance alone. And it's used to sell almost anything.

My parents accepted that one aged naturally. Mum had her little vanities, and did things to her hair to make it seem (in her eyes) more stylish, although in the end it was just the standard hair-do of an older lady. Dad did nothing at all, beyond training the remnant of his head hair across, so that he wasn't quite bald on top. My parents looked to suntans, smart clothes and appropriate jewellery to divert the eye from their bodily imperfections, of which there were many, multiplying as they got older. It was a definite consolation that nearly everyone else of their generation looked exactly the same. If you went on a beach, or on a cruise, you'd see sagging and withered bodies galore, only partly disguised by suntans so deep that they risked skin cancer. But as everybody had that look, it was acceptable, and absolutely normal, and no-one was made to feel uncomfortable.

But they have got us on the run now. Sagging fat, scrawny muscles, withered skin with blue veins and blotches - all remain the inevitable fates in store. For you can't naturally prevail against gravity, the sun, and the gradual dissolution that comes with maturity. But a giant beauty industry tries to persuade us that it can all be avoided or reversed. And some of the measures developed to combat ageing can help, at least for a while, although all of them need renewal or repetition to maintain the original palliative effect.

Some simple and low-cost solutions, such as a properly nutritious and balanced diet, or inexpensive moisturising cream, or not frying oneself in strong sunshine, will work as well as anything. It is human nature however to seek the magic elixir of youth, and laboratories all over the world devote massive resources to finding such a thing - or better, an entire suite of products that will market at top prices, especially if the laboratory, or the beauty house behind it, is a Name. I would be prepared to speculate that as much money and effort is poured into beauty products as is committed to proper medical research. And if true, that would seem to many a gross immorality.

Myself, I try to ignore the smooth messages and concocted images, and simply aim to look reasonably pleasing to the eye. And live happily with the result.

Of course, people like me have a special consideration - the female look, so hard-won, must be maintained. It's all very well to feel your mind emerging from a smothering fog of decades' standing. You want to see your external shell morphing into a good approximation of what it should have looked like from birth. And then make sure that there is no reversion.

From five years and more of studying how well friends have achieved their own transformation, I can see some standard expectations:

# That once on a good hormone regime, a year or two will see a pronounced and very obvious effect on body shape and skin texture.

# That ongoing hormone treatment (especially if post-op) will add a certain perfection to the initial changes. 

# That fully embracing the female life alters one's habitual posture, ways of moving, and behaviour, and these things reinforce the physical appearance. 

You can still spoil it all if you open your mouth and reveal insufficient voice training, but we are concentrating on 'the look', and there is no doubt that hormones alone can achieve a significant transformation - if you give them time to do their work.

Unfortunately, hormones need a lot of time. Once the first effect is achieved, think in terms of years for anything comparable. My own observations do seem to confirm however that ten years after first treatment, most traces of the Original Person have gone.

Except of course the underlying bone structure! If this was unusually dominant before hormones, they will have softened it, but they won't have hidden the features that one doesn't want, such as too much height, or a very angular jawline. So there is a place for facial surgery, to get rid of strong brows and lantern jaws, to fill out cheekbones, to pretty-up the nose and lips, and banish sagging jowls and eyelids. I say this: look into it all carefully; and if you need it, then put funding in place by whatever means you can, and have the work done. I have no ethical or moral axe to grind here: it's your face, your decision. The experience of friends suggests that cut-price work will lead to problems and dissatisfaction. But on the other hand, it is clearly very easy to fall for a sales pitch and get ripped off. If ever I were going to indulge, I would consider what my friends had had done, and decide on its quality. And I would always put quality before cost - I do not want a bodged job on my nose, thank you!

There's a danger to bear in mind, though. One successful alteration might suggest another. The surgeon may even recommend it. A hard-to-resist package may be offered. And you can then begin a regular sequence (or cycle) of must-have surgeries. I'm not saying it won't make you look marvellous, but it won't confer permanent rejuvenation, if that was your aim - eventually the rejuvenation or restoration effect will unravel. However, the trouble, pain and expense may be worth it, to get rid of a feature hated since young, or to look fantastic (and employable) through the most active years of one's life. But it's like redecorating a house: a makeover in one room instantly makes the others look shabby, and you end up having to repaint the whole lot. At vast cost. Me, I'd rather spend my cash on holidays, memorable meals out, and a spot of culture now and then.

You know, the financial winter that overtook me after the sale of the Cottage in 2011 did me a favour. It made cosmetic surgery unaffordable. So I've never had any, not the slightest procedure. Now, in 2014, I feel past the stage where I would be tempted to tweak my appearance, whether it be facial work or liposuction. Fat and flab make my abdomen unattractive - or at least that's my opinion! - but that's curable with a little less eating, and a little more exercise. I don't need surgery for it. And my face seems to have passed some appearance threshold, so that even the awful nose somehow looks acceptable nowadays: subtly reshaped by a combination of hormones and ever-more gravity. I've decided to leave well alone, even when my long financial winter ends later this year.

A bit of fun now. In my last post, I went on about how nice Aberaeron was. Well, shortly after saying farewell to Anne, I looked for a public toilet. I had to ask, but eventually found it in a sidestreet, and pretty immaculate it was too. There was a polished metal mirror fixed to the wall, and naturally I used it to tidy my hair. I couldn't help noticing that it had bumps in it which acted like a fairground distorting mirror. I moved this way and that in front of the mirror. It was most amusing. This, for instance, was what I would have looked like if a lip job hadn't worked out quite right:

Or if I'd had serious jaw-reduction surgery:

No, the untouched face was definitely the best look for me!


  1. I've now been on hormones for 2 years and 4 months, and had my testosterone entirely suppressed for 20 months. From the outset I willed my face and body to change, and a few months in enthusiastically blogged that my breasts were growing. They weren't - it was just fat. I then descended into a feeling of resigned hopelessness that nothing would change. Had I possessed a healthy bank balance, facial and breast surgery would have been attractive possibilities.

    The changes are so subtle, and develop so gradually, that it's all too easy to think that nothing has changed. But it has, and I'm so glad that I've recorded my progress with lots of photos, so that I can see the changes. And yes, my breasts really are growing now.

    I think you're very wise to keep the face you have. Even in the short time we've known each other, your features have definitely softened. Much, much more importantly, your hair, your voice and your body language all confirm that you are the woman you always wanted to be. There really is no need for the surgeon's knife, my dear.

  2. One should never compare one's self to others Lucy. In any case money won't change the person inside. If you were an absolute bar steward before surgery you will remain so afterwards. Naturally we all wish to look presentable to others whether male or female and especially if transitioned but more is definitely not the way. We cannot prevent the ageing process but we can certainly slow it down or speed it up depending on our lifestyle. I was watching a television program about the Earths atmosphere and how it was discovered that it was composed of many gasses. Whilst speaking about the discovery of oxygen I learned that its atomic structure is such that it attracts electrons from adjacent materials. Its atomic structure composes a nucleus with six orbiting electrons (I didn't take chemistry at school but I understand much of the subject) with space for two more which it thieves from elsewhere. This process produces free radicals and that is why and how we area able to function. The oxygen produces energy without which we wouldn't exist. The point of this mini lesson is this, it is the free radicals which cause our bodies to decay and age, rapidly in some but less so in others. One of the ways to combat this process is to consume the right foods as you say, especially those which combat those free radicals chemically, foods like black or red grapes, tomatoes and others. There is much to be said about the correct diet in this respect. There are foods we should be avoiding too as you know. Combined with taking hormones a clean and healthy lifestyle goes a long way to keeping us young-looking.

    Shirley Anne x


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