Tuck your face behind your ears


Present Tense: Kylie Minogue had a television special on ITV last weekend. It was notable for several reasons.

Firstly, the backing dancers wore only a few atoms each. Secondly, it featured comedy sketches whose canned laughter was strongest when the punchlines were weakest. And lastly, but most importantly, was the realisation that Kylie appears to have been replaced by a mechanically sophisticated waxwork.

Who knows what magic the make-up crew brought to the show, but there's no doubt that for a woman in her late 30s her face carried little life.

And although she has been through a very public illness, to the admiration of the watching world, the experience appears not to have etched itself on her face. She denies this, of course, but the fear is that she has it tucked away behind her ears.

Her skin wasn't just taut - you could have used her forehead as a bongo.

And, for those of us who have grown up with this archetypal girl next door, it's awful to think that in an effort to maintain her crown as pop princess she may feel that she first needs to cross a threshold. Let's call it the Nicole Kidman Threshold.

The Australian actor was, for many years, a vision of natural porcelain beauty. Pale, red-headed, poised, and beguiling enough for the film critic David Thomson to write a book about her that may yet be the only biography written entirely in drool.

However, Kidman has recently taken on the appearance of a porcelain doll assaulted by the elder brothers of its owner. She claimed only this week that she has never had so much as a squirt of Botox, yet when she last appeared on Friday Night with Jonathan Rossit was impossible to ignore the fact that her eyebrows are now somewhere close to her hairline, her nose has narrowed, her eyes are moving towards her ears and her ears appear to be trying to flee.

Kidman is moving towards that unfortunate twilight zone in an actor's career, when her talent is deemed secondary to her looks. Increasingly, actors battle back with all the armoury a surgeon can wield. Actresses and pop stars get their surgery because they know that and that the choice is between allowing their careers to fall away, or to cling on to some waxy version of what they had in the knowledge that the lighting guys can do a wonderful job at hiding it.

You can spend hours watching US drama now while identifying the actors whose extensive surgery makes them somewhat unsuited to playing a trailer park grandmother.

The thing is, scientists can now clone monkeys but, despite decades of practice, cosmetic surgery still looks wrong. But as it becomes more commonplace, the freakishness becomes accepted as standard. The magazines that gleefully pinpoint celebs' procedures are actually normalising the idea. As it gains a foothold in the high street, we face a future without character, without expression.

You can already see increasing numbers of female American tourists strolling about the middle of Connemara with a look of permanent surprise on their faces. You see them in Temple Bar with their mouths stretched, their expressions ironed out and you wonder how they reached that point. Was it a gradual change, a little tuck here, a nip there? Or was it one major overhaul, involving scaffolding and tea breaks for the surgeons?

Botox has brought cosmetic procedures to the small town salons, and you can watch light entertainment TV shows in which the big prize is to be sliced, diced, sucked, tucked and presented to your friends as a better version of your horrible old self: your history erased, your past left in a bucket somewhere.

The shows claim to be about boosting participants' self-esteem, but instead they are part of a possibly irreversible rush towards a point when most wealthy women over 60 will look like the character in Brazilwho gets her skin stretched like cling film while she reads a magazine.

Men are unnecessarily acquiescent in this process. Surely, as they carry the shopping bags, it can't escape their notice that their wives look not 10 years younger but several magnitudes scarier. Or do men do what they usually do when their partners arrive home with a new haircut: not notice for a while and, when they finally figure out what the sullenness is all about, announce, "Very nice face. A much better nose than last time."

Maybe a little honesty is in order, before the character is wiped from our faces, and before Kylie is erased from history.

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