New Romantic

In a career spanning almost 30 years Toyah Willcox has been a successful recording artist, film and stage actor, writer and businesswoman. She talks to Fitness First about beauty, image and writing her compellingly open and honest account of her recent facelift. 

Q. We live in a very image-obsessed age and on one hand, some might see this as evidence of our shallowness, others might argue that failing to make the effort to look one's best indicates somehow a lack of self-respect or ambition. Do you feel that society should place so much importance on image and do you think this puts too much pressure on people - particularly the young? 

A. Society has placed importance on image from as far back as the Pharaohs. Image has set Kings and Queens apart from the common hordes throughout the centuries therefor it is only natural in all cultures for people to question if their image reflects their successes in life, whether it be in finding a mate, or getting a job or in getting a role in a movie. There is nothing shallow about self-appearance because I believe it is natural to care about one's looks. 

Do we put too much importance on image? Only when obsessed with an unnatural level of perfection. I do get despondent with the media for selling us what is beautiful and what is not, because surely beauty should be about celebrating diversity, but it seems we only get the 'Barbie doll' images shining happily from our magazine pages. 

I have always said that if we can teach our sons to believe they are leaders from an early age then we can teach our daughters the same and that goes for enforcing self-worth. It is a crime to give the young the impression that ageing is something to fear or to be ashamed of. That said I neither fear nor feel shame in the ageing process I simply want to prolong a quality of life in an industry that will always be image conscious. I love my work and I love the entertainment industry, telling me to go away and have therapy so I can learn to age gracefully would be like telling a porn star to have therapy to remain a virgin. I fully accept the values of my workplace. 

Q. In Diary Of A Facelift you recount a story about how, despite Katharine Hepburn's incredible talent her earliest reviews were all (negatively) about her appearance. Did you feel that your own achievements over the years were being sidelined by the public's preoccupation with looks? 

A. It is true that in recent years my looks dominated my achievements when it came to critical comment. You say in your question 'the public's comments' - the public have nothing to do with this, they are passive readers. The comments I received were media reaction, people who decided it was more worthwhile to say I looked 'haggard' than to say 'wow what a great performance', that's life, it doesn't alter my talent, I am still talented, it doesn't alter my ambition, I am still ambitious, and all it does is stop me buying the newspapers and buy their rivals instead. 
Punk star Toyah wows crowd 

Q. Fitness First recently commissioned a survey that revealed that 15 per cent of British people would be prepared to pay over 10,000 to wake up tomorrow and find their body in the best shape it could possibly be. Do you feel that beauty will become more viewed as a commodity? 

A. I find it surprising that only 15 per cent said this, I thought it would be more like 60 per cent. undoubtedly to some, beauty is a commodity, I can think of a hundred examples and not all of them are flattering. But what I have undergone is not about beauty it is about 'freshening up' and liberating myself from a potential 40 years of ageist reviews and comments such as 'are you angry?', 'have you been crying?', and 'are you not well?'. I'm 46 I have at least another 40 years in me and I want those years to be happy, after all I have worked for it and have saved for it, so is beauty increasingly going to be seen as a commodity, yes - but I have news for you - it has been since printing was invented. 

Q. You refer to Sharon Osbourne and Debbie Harry as being the only people prepared to admit their cosmetic surgery. Why do you think there is so much more stigma attached to facial surgery as opposed to say, breast enhancement? 

A. I admire them for being honest and admitting to surgery in a hostile environment. Breast implants are associated with young women and latest fashion and face lifts are associated with sad, ageing women, now that is what I call shallow. Face lifts have been around for over a century and have almost exclusively been the practice of the super-rich. 

In recent years surgery has improved to the point that one need never have to admit to having had it because it's all starting to look natural (in the good cases). The danger here is that if we don't talk about it, misinformed women could go to 'cowboys' for surgery and we need to regulate this industry. Also we need to eradicate from our minds that ageing means we step outside of society. Personally I have never been more qualified in life to work and advise and I am showing no signs of slowing down. We have all seen in the space of a few years that the 30's are becoming the new 20's and 40's becoming the new 30's, we are all remaining healthier longer, this will mean we will remain sexually active longer and I don't know anyone who has sex and doesn't care about their image. 

Q. Having your Diary published was an extremely brave and possibly risky step - was your motivation to achieve some sort of catharsis or a genuine desire to help others by recounting your experiences and your delight with the obvious positive result? 

A. I wrote the book because if I see another advert for a beauty product with a surgically-enhanced model promoting it, I will scream and if I meet another woman who tells me she looks 10 years younger than she is, because she drinks water, I will scream again. Surgery is very, very common. It needs to enter our every day vocabulary in order to protect those who are considering it. 

Q. During your career you have successfully reinvented yourself on numerous occasions and it is quite evident that you are thrilled with both your appearance and your self image at the moment - do you have any more surprises left for us? 

A. Do I have any other surprises left? Well of course. Where there is secrecy there is the element of surprise, just watch this space. 

Diary Of A Facelift by Toyah Willcox is available at all good bookshops priced 14.99 in illustrated hardback. 

It includes a detailed appendix of practical advice aimed at anyone considering or about to undergo facial surgery. 

Fitness FirstSummer 2005
Thanks to Steven Askey & Paul Lomas