It’s often tempting to peer back into the mists and wonder what our ancestors would make of us now.
I wonder what Agincourt’s Henry V would have made of the British Army’s bold new ‘Belonging’ campaign, where it’s made clear the forces are happy to take on even the spongiest cupcake because literally anyone can be a human shield in the age of equality. “What if I get emotional?” asks one potential recruit in the ad campaign. “The king received an axe blow to the head, which knocked off a piece of the crown that formed part of his helmet”, says Wikipedia. Score draw.
Back then it was turnip for dinner. Now it’s ‘elevated toast’, and you have to take a picture of it or it’s not really there. Back then, frostbite was a blessing as it took the edge off the gangrene. Now, the NHS is bankrupted by people taking colds to A&E. Back then, grooming involved the local hag hacking your locks off with the same rusty knife she used to bone poor Uncle Jacob when the typhoid finally won out over the dysentery.
Now, people inject animal fat into their lips.
Laughter’s good for you and five minutes of howling at pictures of women rocking the post-Tyson look is enough to send me out into the world with a spring in my step. It turns out this hardy generation of young people among us known as ‘millennials’ have taken the dubious trait once known as vanity and turned it into a form of laudatory self-abuse with enormous comedy potential.
I suppose I shouldn’t chuckle at a woman who’s gone in for a routine procedure and come out looking like Simon Weston. It’s not her fault society has placed such expectations on her that the only way she can feel fulfilled is to search Google for a cheap alternative to Harley Street and let Dr Nick jab a 22-gauge hypodermic into her filter. At any rate the article I stumbled upon the other day was ‘The Rise of Lip Fillers Gone Wrong’ by Jennyfer J. Walker. No, I don’t know whether her parents spelled her name like that on the form.
It’s a tale of woe all right; she went to a ‘beautician’ and it all went sideways. And up and down and round and round because by the look of the pictures the entire room was filled with lips when ‘a woman on Wimpole Street’ had finished with her. Jennyfer’s friend “recommended someone to me – she’d done some of the girls from The Only Way Is Essex – so obviously I went.”
Obviously. If you’re born with lips that don’t match whatever image you’ve been told the world needs of you, it makes perfect sense to pump Restylane into them. Some might say you could instead question where you get your influences, why you’re listening to people telling you your life will be improved with different sized lips of all things, and where the voice inside you is coming from which tells you your inherent uniqueness isn’t perfectly fine. But only ugly people say that and fuck them.
The more I attempt to understand millennials the harder it is to prevent my palms turning inwards by themselves and my fingers curving into a strangling stance. The substance of life, all its grim realities and joyous surprises, are being filtered by millennials into a succession of surfaces to be altered, photographed and sent somewhere with electronics. Appearance is all. You’re no longer born into a life you try to mould as best you can – you’re a blank surface on which you can project an exclusive image to a set of people all doing the same.
So how they look is now a matter of concern out of all proportion with the past, and they take their cue from a small selection of idiots elevated to the rank of ‘celebrity’. We’ve all worried we look like fools with a diabolical choice of outfit here and there and our barnets flapping all about. But it’s quite the leap from that to thinking you need to have big lips because ‘some of the girls from The Only Way Is Essex‘ do and they’re really popular and I want to be popular too. Please don’t pick on me; I, too, self-harm, just like you. Love me. Or better yet, Like me.
And the spiral tumbles ever downward. First they all have to wear the same massive bobble hats in winter, then they all have to have beards, now they all need bigger lips. Long the preserve of the demented, it’ll come as no shock when we’re told the latest craze among millennials is the tattooed eyeball. The tattooed eyeball. Tattoo. Eyeball. EYEBALL.
Sure, cosmetic surgery has been around a long time. Without it we’d have had no Eurotrash and that’s no kind of world for anyone to live in. Trying to make yourself more attractive to your sexual targets is the stag’s horns or the peacock’s tail put through the grinder of humanity and deep down it’s all about procreation. Who wouldn’t want a bigger cock? Well, that fucking Jenner I imagine but you get my point, or you will if you come a little closer.
But we’ve always accepted the unwritten truth that, no matter what you do to your appearance, it’s the grey stuff up top that’ll make you liked or otherwise. Be clever, be nice, be funny, be any of the things generally recognised as positive personality traits. Be strong or caring, generous or friendly. These are the things that make humans tolerable. Being a prettier arsehole does little for the smell.
When an attractive woman appeared on Mastermind the other day with a specialist subject of ‘Kim Kardashian’, not a viewer above 30 didn’t know how it was going to play out. A baffled John Humphrys shepherded her to a creditable 10 points on Kim, before the general knowledge round undid all her hard work. Question: “What alteration to clocks, abbreviated to BST, was introduced in 1916?” Answer: “GST?” Vogue Williams: seven passes, 11 points. And the one she got right was about Potter.
But she’ll go home to thousands more social media boosts from people who value her lovely dress a lot more than whether she knows the name of Bob Cratchit’s sick son. It doesn’t matter what the rest of us think: she’s proven herself to be fucking stupid on national TV and it’ll do her nothing but good. I will admit she seemed a fairly gregarious lady, maybe not all surface. Lips were a bit thin though I thought.
Young people today have a choice, whether or not they know it. They can try to ape celebrities, paddling in shallow pools and putting thought of actual self-improvement and self-awareness into a box marked ‘No Way Fam’ or some fucking thing. They can all get the same tattoo to show how singularly woke they are, they can get their lips filled with bovine blubber so their peers will take them more seriously and they can sign internet petitions to show they care.
Or they can peer back into the mists. Constance Lytton was a suffragette who campaigned for prison reform, votes for women and birth control. In 1909 she was banged up in Holloway for demonstrating at the House of Commons. She started to mutilate her body, planning to carve ‘Votes for Women’ from her breast to her cheek, an ever-visible message of defiance. She got as far as the V before blood poisoning forced the screws to put a stop to it. I have to say, it does make Jennyfer’s travails seem a little silly in comparison.
You can take a picture of the brunch you can no longer push through your massive, bloated trap. Or you can try to live a life that might hurt, might be short on instant gratification, might require effort beyond the never-ending wrist-work of selfies and tiny internet thumbs.
You’ll be you, though. Give it a try. It might just be OK.