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Authors: Kathleen Baird-Murray

Face Value (9 page)

BOOK: Face Value
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But plastic surgery was something else. Plastic surgery was definitely a beauty wrong.
Politically speaking, feminism wasn’t right up there on her list of personal causes, because she didn’t have time to save the world and fight for women’s rights at the same time. So much had been achieved already by the feminists of the last few decades: equal pay; the right to vote; contraception; maternity rights; Birkenstocks as key fashion accessory. Besides, if she had been an ardent underarm-hair-growing, militant Susie Orbach-style feminist, she would never have been allowed to have someone like Lise as her friend, or to have a job like beauty director on
magazine. The feminists had all but disappeared—it had been rumored one of them had died on the operating table having a face-lift, and even Germaine Greer appeared on reality TV shows and hung out with, well, people like Lise with loud laughs, blonde hair, and big tits.
Plastic surgery was intrinsically evil, eradicating the two things men found most unpleasant about women from the face (literally) of society—age and fat—and boosting those two things they usually liked—breast one and breast two—with cancer-causing silicons and gels. And wrinkle removal on such a grand, permanent scale was nothing short of sinister. If you didn’t have wrinkles, how could you remember those fun nights out? The time you fell asleep in the sun? An unhappy time of your life, even? She’d had this argument with Lise once, who had pointed out to her that the photo shop on the corner of Mayflower Street could now develop your pictures in half an hour if you really needed to remember everything, but the thought of somehow selling your soul by having it erased from your face and body with a scalpel, or a laser, still disturbed Kate. Women were no longer allowed to grow old gracefully. Age, like fat, had become a feminist issue, and it was wrong to get it cut away.
She had considered refusing to do the supplement, telling Alexis she was making a stand, like those models—
models—had done against fur. But then she remembered what had happened to them. The models were now virtually extinct, age having withered them. Some of the ones who had survived seemed to have relinquished their principles at the same time as they relinquished their age, embracing “age” as a movable concept more than a physiological change, one that could be deleted or denied if you used the right needle or told the right lies, all the while cloaking themselves in the warmth of the soft, downy pelts they had once rejected so vociferously.
Lolly’s idea, to do something on the history of it all, was a good way round it, a compromise.
Alexis loved it. “But it’s just one story. You’ll need a few main stories. Something a little more commercial, more user-friendly . . . y’know, plastic surgery
You can call me from L.A. Dig around a little. The international plastic surgery conference—the Face-Off—is on at the same time. You knew that, right? You’ll get another story or two there if you’re lucky.”
Kate nodded, although she hadn’t had a clue about any conference.
“Get Cynthia to sort out your flights. Now, take your time, get it right. You can file any other work straight from your laptop. And don’t forget to talk to the art department about the shoot.”
Shoot. What shoot? No one had said anything about a shoot.
“Would it be possible to visit Disneyland while I’m there?”
Alexis stared stony-faced at her for a minute, then guffawed heartily. “Oh, that English sense of humor. You really are funny!”
There was an awkward silence. Kate had always wanted to see Disneyland. That castle at the beginning of every Disney film, Mickey Mouse, the Alice in Wonderland teacup thing . . .
“Was there anything else?” Alexis had moved on.
It was nearly closing time at the bar. Kate had long since sobered up, spurred on at the prospect of catching an early flight to L.A. the following day and feeling more than a little excited about the trip. Cynthia had booked her hotel, a glitzy little boutique hotel just off Rodeo Drive, and lined up a succession of interviews with Hollywood’s finest surgeons. She was sure that would impress Alexis.
Alexis was evidently on both their minds:
“Anyway, let’s go. I ’ave to see Alexis now,” said Jean-Paul.
“You’re seeing Alexis?”
“Well, you know . . . a man, ’e goes out, ’e has a couple of drinks, ’e wants to, you know, get a little frisky, it’s late, ’e thinks, who can I call this time of night who won’t mind, but who will . . . you know, ‘put out,’ as I believe you say in Eng-er-land?”
Kate was appalled.
“With Alexis? But I thought you wanted to, er—go out with me?”
“Ah! You’re disappointed now? See, you want us to be more than just friends?”
“No, Jean-Paul, I do not. I’ve just got here. I have work to do. It’s just that it seems a little unfair to Alexis, who, I should point out, is my new boss, for you to be calling me up and asking me out.”
“Oh, she knows I see others. But it’s not like we’re together together, you know? I think she knows that. Oh, I can’t remember what I say to her, but she’s cool.” He glanced downward at Kate’s thighs. “She knows I don’t like women with cellulite anyway.”
Kate pulled her shoulders back and recoiled as far as was physically possible on a bar stool without tipping backward and off. She was angry with this impudent, idiotic Frenchman. Surely, Englishmen were not as obsessed with a woman’s finer physical attributes as their French counterparts, or at least, they probably were but they had the decency to keep it to themselves. Not only was this stupid artist annoying, but he was on-off dating her boss, too. And how ridiculous to discard someone just because they had cellulite. In the last four weeks, as well as filing two main stories, having six one-hour-long meetings, and attending three perfume launches, two anticellulite product launches, three lunches in her honor, a salon opening, and a reader event, she had had her racoon stripes tamed down, her hair cut into a shoulder-length jaggedy bob-shape with the name of an up-and-coming actress she’d never heard of; three blow-drys; two manicures; and a pedicure—all to look not stunning, not attractive, not jaw-droppingly gorgeous, just plain groomed. For the first time in her life she understood what they meant when they said you had to suffer to be beautiful, a forever unattainable goal. And here he was judging her on a little thing like cellulite. Besides, had he not noticed Alexis’s facial hair?
She pulled herself up stiffly, laid fifty dollars on the counter so he understood she wasn’t one of “those” women, expecting for everything to be paid for, and gave him the evil eye.
“You know what, Jean-Paul? Your art sucks. And you have a saggy arse. Like two ferrets jostling to get out of a bag. And there’s no cream that can change that.”
She slammed the door and strode off into the night.
Jean-Paul gave a little whoop! in delight.
los angeles
beauty note:
Dress by Marchesa. The one that Scarlett Johansson wore to the Oscars, bought cut-price in a sample sale, but no one need know.
John Frieda Sheer Blonde Highlight Activating Daily Shampoo with Light Enhancers in Honey to Caramel, smoothed with Lolly Bergerstein Styling Serum for Flyaway Ends.
Estée Lauder DayWear Plus Multi Protection Tinted Moisturizer SPF 15.
Maybelline Unstoppable Mascara in black.
Bobbi Brown Shimmer Brick in Bronze.
A dab of Nars Multiple in Malibu.
Fracas by Robert Piguet.
She had lost her concentration, and she didn’t want to recover it. Something to do with the peach-colored hibiscus bushes on every corner, the manicured hedgerows, the dusty, gray-green eucalyptus trees in the distance, and the suffocatingly sweet, creamy-rich gardenias in tubs scattered around her hotel that gave her a rush, a feeling of dazed exhilaration that she was gloriously unaccustomed to. Then again it could be the pure, concentrated, unadulterated sunlight, as yellow as a carton of Sunny Delight, picking out halos on every tall and tanned and young and lovely person, which was everyone who walked down the street. Even “street,” she decided, was too humble a word for such broad boulevards, their low-roofed shops and houses pretty yet unassuming, giving the city a casual, low-key face unlike any she’d ever seen in any grandiose European counterpart.
“What’s that noise?” she’d asked the driver who had met her earlier at LAX. It was more than just the sound of a car going over bumps, it was a gentle, cushioned thud, reverberating through her limbs like a warm hug from a big man, a movie car noise, marking each meter’s entry into the glistening city.
“What noise?”
“You know . . . kerdunk . . . kerdunk . . . there it goes!”
“Oh! I don’t know. You mean the car going over the seams in the road? I guess I’m so used to it.” He smiled through the mirror at her.
She resolved to make that
noise, the way she would remember this city and the intoxicating smells that went with it. She wrapped the noise and the smells up in the golden-hour light as it finally faded into night.
She felt as if she was on holiday. Ready to tune in, turn on, drop out, or was it the other way round? For once, it didn’t really matter in which order the words came, sorry, Timothy Leary. The fact that life could be like this, could be normal for the inhabitants of Los Angeles, was insurmountable for her, made her almost angry that they had kept it a secret for so long. Except of course they hadn’t, it was always on the news even if it was only as a backdrop to some celebrity gossip show on breakfast television (Lise watched them). How could the Angelinos manage to hold down jobs, run up and down beaches in red swimsuits rescuing people, or prance about on red carpets in long dresses, knowing that the sea was two blocks away, the mountains a short drive, and the possibilities—exciting, dangerous, good to know—right beneath their noses?
She had read—of course she had—of embittered, angry rap stars with bulbous guns and booty-shaking girlfriends; of impoverished Hispanics fleeing Mexico only to court low-paid jobs on street corners; of earthquakes and forest fires tearing through spoiled men’s Malibu beach houses; of androgynous singers and overpaid film stars getting away with murder and molestation; of brown smog that sulked over the landscape refusing to join in the fun; but all these trials, tribulations seemed to have been forgotten time after time in the city’s rush to forgive its own, to embrace the gloss of makeup, lights, cameras, action, and start over. L.A. was one big film set, from the tatty billboards with big-breasted pinups to the mirrored Dallas-type buildings that seemed to offer a token gesture of appeasement to those who wished to do business, needed that veneer of suited conformity. All of which made Kate the next best thing to the aspiring starlet just off the bus from Hicksville (Maidstone). All she had to do was smile, be her witty, charming, English self, and the city would open up its heart to her, transform her into anyone she wanted to be. The waiters, the people at the check-in desk, the driver who had ferried her from the airport into the city the night before, all had been friendly. Like one big aphrodisiac, it could all go to her head, would do if she wasn’t so secure in her own skin. Which she was, wasn’t she?
In spite of this rapture she was anxious tonight, as she lay on another crisp, white, king-size hotel bed, her clothes strewn on the floor around her, a room-service tray with the slurried remains of spaghetti Bolognese (made with tofu) calmly waiting outside her door to be collected by the Prada-clad waiter. Her anxiety was on a par with her first haunted, epic journey to New York, but this time her worries were more intrinsic to the very core of who she really was. She had been half able to justify the plastic surgery supplement to herself by pretending it was a factual, historical account of surgery in this most vain of cities and among that most vain of professions. She had unearthed contacts: Marilyn Monroe’s last agent before she died, and an elderly, now retired surgeon whose last public appearance was to give a lecture to university students on the history of surgery in Hollywood. But what if in dressing up this story to be some kind of fabulous celebration of surgery at its celebrity best, she was losing track of the ideals and ethics she had once adhered to so closely? From the moment she’d stepped off the plane in L.A. she could barely remember what they were.
There was no doubt that in the last month, she’d changed dramatically in the physical sense. Some of those changes were to do with the fact that with more money in her pocket she could make some much-needed sartorial improvements to her wardrobe. The Topshop staples had been deposited at New York’s Housing Works Thrift Shop on Seventeenth Street, where they sat uncomfortably among the designer donations, hoping the vagaries of their cheap-chic cachet might make them of interest to the fashion assistants who stalked the shop, caring not so much about raising money for the homeless as picking up their employers’ castoffs. She liked her new-look bouncy hair, even if it meant she had to take the trip to Lolly’s twice a week and have either Lolly or one of her assistants blow-dry it to within an inch of its life. She liked the way her skin practically squeaked it was so clean, thanks to the numerous steamings, exfoliations, extractions, serums, creams, and massages it had at least once a week. Like her new discovery of Los Angeles, she felt she had somehow tumbled into a beautiful new world, where everything was in glorious Technicolor, compared with the black-and-white world she’d been living in for so long.
But beyond the new Phillip Lim dresses and Marc Jacobs jackets that she bought in her favorite discovery, sample sales, held exclusively for those privileged few who worked in the fashion industry, with garments sold at a fraction of the price (that fraction nonetheless being approximately twice her weekly salary at
Maidstone Bazaar
), there were other changes. She had spotted a number plate on her way in from the airport with the letters OOH 36DD, and she had barely flinched. She hadn’t called home for ages. And her sentences had started curling up at the ends and ending with a question mark? When they weren’t really questions?
BOOK: Face Value
2.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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