The anxiety reminds me of how I feel as I board an aeroplane, and I’m tempted to reach for the Valium I stash for my fear of flying.
But my older sister Susan is as excited as a small child waiting to open her birthday presents. It doesn’t make sense. I’m not doing anything nerve-racking — she’s the one about to go under the knife.
As Susan embarks on yet another round of cosmetic surgery — an eye and brow lift this time — I am feeling both furious and fretful.
It’s nearly a decade now since, at the age of 61, she swapped her turkey neck for that of a swan. I refused to listen to the gory details of the two-and-a-half-hour op but I knew it involved several incisions, tightening muscles as well as skin and stitching behind the ear. The only bits I read up on were the complications, such as permanent nerve damage and loss of sensation.
I was horrified at the time and I’m horrified now. Even as the less-thandesirable wattles at the front of her neck melted away, I felt the hackles at the back of my own neck rising.
For years, I’ve railed in public against the tyranny of trying to look forever young. Perhaps my finest hour as editor of Cosmopolitan magazine in the late 1980s was when I banned the ads for breast enhancement surgery in the classifieds at the back of the magazine.
Linda Kelsey’s (right) older sister Susan (left) had a lower face lift a decade ago when she was 61 years old
I insisted to my (male) bosses that our twentysomething readers, already burdened with society’s notions of the perfect body, didn’t need to be encouraged to self-mutilate. And I haven’t changed my position since.
Even though my sister emerged from her lower facelift surgery first time around happy and victorious, I persisted in the idea that allowing someone to hack away at her marked her out as a victim.
A victim of the belief that a woman who no longer looks young and beautiful is a woman of no worth. A victim of the idea that ageing is an ugly thing rather than a potentially proud manifestation of having lived a long and productive life. And a victim of the curse of social media and the Photoshopped selfie, which even oldies post these days on their Facebook pages to hoodwink themselves and us.
That’s the fury. The fretfulness is to do with the fact that Susan is now 71, a decade older, and has something called atrial fibrillation, which affects the rhythm of her heart and makes undergoing any kind of operation a bigger deal.
The truth is I hoped that, by now, she would have accepted her age and the face that goes with it.
How wrong I was. Her latest excuse is her droopy eyelids, which will now be tightened and lifted.
Sometimes I wonder how I’ve reached my own great age of 69 without any interventions. Not a single filler, other than in my teeth. And the only place I’ve had Botox is in the sole of my right foot — to treat a movement disorder called dystonia, which affected my ability to walk and was mercifully cured by regular jabs of botulinum toxin.
But my sister, as always when she makes up her mind, is unstoppable. Honestly, I cried when I saw her bruised post-operative face the first time around.
Yet for all my fury and my fretting, I have to own up to something else. While I genuinely worry for her welfare, it is also possible that I’m rather jealous.
Three years my sister’s junior, I have always looked younger than her. When we were small, grown-ups were forever telling me how pretty I was, what big eyes I had, and what lovely glossy dark hair.
Linda (pictured left, with sister Susan, right) banned the adds for breast enhancement surgery in the classified ads at the back of the magazine when she was editor of Cosmopolitan magazine in the late 1980s
Could it be that part of the reason why I hate her having all this stuff done is because I’m still that little girl yearning for the competitive advantage over my big sister?
Is it possible that, even more than I hate her going under the knife, I loathe the idea that people are going to start thinking I’m the badly weathered one with a younger-looking older sister?
Since her first surgery, my face, which held up OK until I was in my 50s, has collapsed. My partner Ronny doesn’t pretend he hasn’t noticed but says that, as we both age, my wrinkles diminish neither his desire nor his love for me. I’m a lucky woman in that respect.
But, some days, I fear my principles are about to collapse in the same way as my face.
I seem to spend half my life pulling at my baggy bits in the bathroom mirror to demonstrate how much better I’d look with tighter skin. And, in moments of full honesty, I wonder whether I might actually have preferred Susan’s course of action to my insistence on clinging to the moral high ground.
It certainly gets ever more difficult to become a tweakment refuser. The feminist author Caitlin Moran once denounced women who have Botox as ‘losers’. Now she has hit her 40s, she has embraced the plumping power of Botox to rid herself of ‘facial bunchiness’. I am beginning to feel like a dinosaur.
Every time someone I know fiddles with her face, it makes me more self-conscious about my own. Surely a real act of sisterhood, in both feminist and sibling terms, would be to eschew surgery and grow older gracefully together?
Women like my sister are upping the anti-ageing stakes so high, the rest of us look like wrinkled remnants
But no. Women such as Moran and my sister are upping the anti-ageing stakes so high, the few of us who remain unrestructured resemble the wrinkled remnants of a bygone age. So many of my friends have had tweaks here and there, I am starting to feel like a minority of one. Sad and a bit lonely.
Susan recovers much quicker from this op than she did from her last. Her heart is fine and it is less invasive than the first one. Within two hours, she is sending me frankly frightening selfies, and I have to ask her to stop because they make me feel queasy. ‘I’d rather see you in the flesh,’ I tell her.
The next day she is home and when I visit, she’s not looking too battered. And she is cock-a-hoop.
One month later, I admit that having proper eyelids really does make her look a lot better. But then comes a troubling moment. I catch her prodding her undereye bags and lamenting how her lower facelift has worn off. That’s the thing about trying to hold back the years — it’s a never-ending battle.
Susan Graff (left) said that a boy in Italy told Linda that she had beautiful eyes when she was 10 and Susan as 13, adding: ‘It was then that I realised she was beautiful and that men would always be attracted to her’ (the sisters are pictured as teenagers, Susan is 19 and Linda 16)
Why I chose to go under the knife
By Linda’s sister Susan Graff, a designer and married mother of three.
‘Occhi bella’ (‘beautiful eyes’), said the handsome boy who stopped in front of my little sister as we walked along a street in Italy, on holiday. She was ten, I was 13 — and it was then that I realised she was beautiful and that men would always be attracted to her.
Today, at 69, she does have a few baggy bits round the jowls and her neck isn’t quite what it used to be. But she still has the eyes.
At 71, my eyes were beginning to resemble those of a St Bernard. They had drooped so dramatically, it had become almost impossible to wear make-up. My eyes used to be my finest feature but, lately, I’ve been constantly wearing glasses to cover them, even though I don’t need to other than for reading.
After about five minutes of deep thinking one morning last November, having had a dispiriting encounter with the bathroom mirror, I made an appointment with a plastic surgeon. All the big decisions in my life are made quickly.
The doctor informed me that it wasn’t just the excess skin on my eyelids which needed removing but that, for optimum results, I should have a brow lift as well, as that area was dropping, too. Ten minutes later, I was all signed up.
The problem with ageing and still feeling young and fit is that every time I look in the mirror I get an awful shock. This can’t possibly be my face, this is an old person’s face!
Linda (left) wonders whether the fact she has always looked younger than her sister could be part of the reason she hates it that she has ‘all this stuff done’, as she explained she could ‘still be that little girl yearning for the competitive advantage’ (pictured with Susan, right, and brother Tony, centre)
This is how I felt ten years ago, when I had my first lot of surgery. I had been holding my three-year- old grandson in my arms when he started to fiddle with my neck. ‘What’s this, Grandma? It’s nice and soft.’ To my horror, his new toy had become the skin on my neck.
I’d been conscious of my saggy bits for some time, but this really brought it home to me. So I called a friend who knows about these things and asked her to come round immediately.
‘Do you think I need to have my neck done?’ I asked her. Without taking a breath, she said, ‘Yes — and I know just the man’.
Two days later, we were sitting in his office. He called his nurse to take notes: ‘Lower facelift for Mrs Graff,’ he said.
It was only then that I properly realised what I was letting myself in for. Like my sister, I had always scoffed at this type of surgery and when visiting my daughter in New York, would pour scorn on the stretched faces of the women walking their poodles up and down Madison Avenue. Now I was about to become one of them.
But I had my facelift. It took a couple of hours, as they cut behind the ear as well as making a small incision under the chin. They tightened the neck muscles and skin and somehow stitched it to keep it out of sight.
My surgeon promised that my husband David would never see the scars but my hairdresser might. I stayed in overnight with a mask-like contraption over my face, which blew out cool air to reduce the swelling.
The morning after, a nurse showered me and washed my hair, removing all the clogged-up blood. The lower part of my face was swollen and badly bruised. I had to sit up in bed at night for the first ten days and felt pretty uncomfortable with the tightness round my neck, but no pain.
Susan said that, like her sister, she ‘had always scoffed at this type of surgery’ and poured ‘scorn’ at the faces of the women who had work done when visiting New York to see her daughter (Susan and Linda are pictured in their early-mid 20s)
The surgeon did a good, subtle job and, a month later, I looked fresher and felt more confident. Few people guessed that I’d had anything done, although plenty said how well I looked. And, despite what my sister says, the last thing I feel like is a victim.
In fact, I feel empowered.
I’ve made my own decision about what to do with my own face. I feel no need to justify myself to friends or family. Being a feminist isn’t about reading all the tomes my sister educated herself with, it’s about making one’s own choices. I certainly don’t need my husband’s permission — I’ve worked all my life as a fashion designer and I’m financially independent.
That said, I do want him to be happy with my decisions and was pleased he didn’t object.
On the day of my brow and eyelid surgery, I have to be at Cromwell Hospital in London by 6.30am. Much to the surprise of the nursing staff, I’m totally calm.
For someone who is a control freak, this is the perfect situation — all responsibility has been taken out of my hands, so I’m able to relax.
I’m told I’ll now be having a general anaesthetic, not the deep sedation I was expecting, because there are two processes to the op.
My surgeon draws a new crease line into the fold of my eye where he’ll make the incision to cut away the excess skin, and then a line above the outer side of my eyebrows where he will do the brow lift. I did have a minor last-minute panic about whether stopping the blood thinners I have to take for atrial fibrillation might provoke a stroke. But I reasoned it was too late to worry now.
Linda said that, even though her sister was happy after her lower facelift surgery, she still ‘persisted in the idea’ that the surgery ‘marked her out as a victim’ (Linda and Susan are pictured in Rome in their 20s)
The operation takes two hours. The first time I look in the mirror post-op, I have the face of a boxer who has just gone several rounds with Tyson Fury. I’m surprised that all I feel is a bit of soreness. And — yes! — I can see my eyelids. The sides of my eyes no longer resemble curtains. I’m elated.
I leave the hospital at 5pm. The doctor tells me to start taking echinacea, use antibiotic cream and cold compresses four times a day for about a week. I have a light supper, go to bed early and am awake all night, having to sleep in a semi-upright position which I find impossible. But there is absolutely no pain or discomfort.
Three weeks later, I meet a close friend in the park. The scars above my eyebrows are practically invisible, so I put on make-up for the first time since the op. My eyelids are a little sore but the change is not far short of miraculous.
My friend cannot get over the difference and says I look ten years younger, which I definitely don’t, but her enthusiasm is palpable.
The best thing of all is my husband’s reaction. He feels I’ve got my old eyes back and somehow he has reclaimed a bit of the young girl he met 50 years ago.
Do I think women should have cosmetic surgery? Absolutely not — we should grow old gracefully, embrace our lines and saggy bits, improve our minds and not be so shallow. But if that doesn’t work for you, and unless you’re my dyed-in-the wool sister, I’d say, go for it. Find a good surgeon, lop off what you don’t like and hang on to what you do.
And as for those eye bags Linda’s fretting about, well, let’s just say anything’s possible . . .
Sister Sue And Me, Susan and Linda’s no-holds-barred blog about sibling devotion and differences, has just launched at sistersueandme.com.
Susan said that she doesn’t think women should have cosmetic surgery and should grow old gracefully, but added that ‘if that doesn’t work for you’, she’d say to ‘go for it’ (Linda and Susan are pictured when they were younger)