TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING

Gladys Deacon as a young woman

Gladys Deacon as a young woman

My friend Hebe is never shy when admitting she has “work” done: “Darling it takes more than good genes and water to look this good at my age.”

She is right. Hebe looks fantastic. At sixty, her skin looks plump with a youthful dewiness. Her body, voluptuous yet slim, is the envy of women half her age. Hebe is indeed fortunate in being a beautiful woman and she uses the discreet cosmetic procedures to maintain her beauty rather than try to create or alter her good looks in a dramatic way.

Many famous and beautiful women have approached cosmetic surgery with far less discretion than Hebe, often with disastrous results. Their sad stories are endlessly recounted in magazines and on television.

Cosmetic unguents and procedures have been with us throughout history. Some women ( and men ) have been foolhardy, to say the least, in the pursuit of preserving or enhancing their beauty, often destroying the very thing they sought to preserve: not only their looks but in many instances their health.

So, over a lunch of delicious crab salad and a bottle of dry white wine. I proceed to regale Hebe with stories of known exemplars of the art manicured excess……

Diane de Poitiers, a renaissance woman of great beauty and powerful intellect, who became mistress to Henri ll of France, a man twenty years her junior. To preserve her beauty she drank large quantities of liquid gold. This beauty elixir , she believed, would keep her youthful and therefore strengthen her hold on the much younger King. When her body was exhumed in 2009, it was discovered that high levels of gold were stored in her hair and body tissue. It’s now believed that Diane’s beauty elixir may have killed her.

“Darling, the woman was sixty six years old when she died and she outlived the King,” Hebe protests. “I’d say the elixir was a success when you consider the average life span in the fifteenth century was thirty five. Do you think she was the original cougar ?” I ignore her flippancy and continue my discourse.

Two centuries later, the beautiful Gunning sisters, Maria and Elizabeth with their flawless beauty and the machinations of indefatigable Mama, managed to leave the peat bogs of Ireland and take London society by storm. The beautiful Misses Gunning parlayed their considerable beauty into advantageous marriages: Elizabeth to the Duke of Hamilton and Maria to the Earl of Coventry. It was Maria whose star shone the brightest.

Many considered Maria  the more beautiful of the two. She was mobbed whenever she appeared in Hyde Park, her manner of dress much emulated by high-born ladies as well as those of the lower classes,. The Paris Hilton of her day?

Hebe laughs, choking on her dry white: ” That’s hardly a recommendation. Did she come to a tragic end?” I nod. She took to applying a thick white powder over her pretty complexion and rouging her cheeks to a hectic vermilion.

We would consider it an absurd look today but it was thought to be unbelievably stylish by Maria and her contemporary’s. Unfortunately the make-up was lead base; it’s noxious effects causing skin eruptions and finally death from blood poisoning, Maria died at twenty seven, a victim of her cosmetics.

Hebe is silent. Not, I suspect from the lack of something to say but more from having her mouth crammed with crab salad. I continue.

Gladys Deacon, the exquisitely beautiful Bostonian heiress, unhappy with a slight dip near the bridge of her nose, decided to inject paraffin wax into the offending hollow. It’s the early 1900s. Not the most enlightened time for experimenting with injectables but Gladys is willful and she obsessed with the imperfection of her profile. The procedure is carried out with devastating results. Her beauty is destroyed. The paraffin wax is unstable. Obeying the laws of gravity, it leaves the dip where it was placed and travels to Gladys’ jaw, forming a large disfiguring lump.

Years later the diarist, Chips Channon tells the story of having visited Gladys at Blenheim Palace. Gladys, by then was the Duchess of Marlborough having, despite her disfigurement, married extremely well. It is winter and the vast opulent rooms of Blenheim are very cold. They sit close to an open fire and, while they chat, Chips observes Gladys holding her face very near the fire and with long fingers, slowly manipulates the softening wax beneath her skin into a more acceptable shape.

Hebe reflects on these snippets of history; “Darling. So sad and bleak. Those poor women. Is it a cautionary tale?”

“Yes I suppose it is, “I respond, somewhat pointedly. “Does it worry you that you inject your face with poison and hyaluronic acid?” I ask.

Hebe smiles: “Darling I’m sixty years old. It’s living that worries me more than dying and if a little Botox or restalyne makes it easier, then I’m all for it”.

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