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Fashion | Q & A / HELEN BRANSFORD

Don't Wait 'Until You Look Like a Shar Pei'

June 26, 1997|IRENE LACHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Vogue contributor Helen Bransford could be pioneering a literary genre with her new "Welcome to Your Facelift: What to Expect Before, During & After Cosmetic Surgery" (Doubleday)--the nip-and-tell book. In it, Bransford shows and tells about the good, the bad and the ugly of her own procedure two years ago at 47, which included a forehead peel, an upper eyelid tuck, dermabrasion under the eyes, liposuction under her chin and a standard lift. Of course, most people like to keep such information under wraps, and Bransford's coming-out party rather dismayed her husband, novelist Jay McInerney, although he was delighted with the results.

Bransford won't say who did her face lift because she doesn't want any negative reaction to the book to reflect on him, but she says she interviewed 100 doctors for her how-to. The book offers step-by-step advice from finding a doctor to how soon to have sex after surgery, from stocking flexible straws at your bedside table to probable results for people of color. It also includes such how-not-to information as bad reasons for face lifts--recent trauma, for example--to doctors' votes for "famously bad lifts," starring such celebrities as Helen Gurley Brown, Michael Jackson and Carol Burnett.

Question: Let's start with your decision to have a face lift.

Answer: My own trigger event was that my husband interviewed a beautiful young actress [Julia Roberts] and came home raving about her. I'm seven years older than he is, so I became suddenly sensitive.

Q: Certainly there are more couples like you, in which the men are younger. What are the pressures on women in that kind of match?

A: There should be none, frankly, but the way society is, there are pressures. Maybe they're self-imposed. But my husband has many friends who are seven and 10 years younger than he is, so I often find myself with people 20 years younger than I am. And I didn't want to feel like a grandmother picking up my kids at school. I thought with the amazing state of cosmetic surgery today, maybe I could get the help I wanted. So I just jumped in blind.

Q: How did Jay react to your face lift?

A: At first he thought I was too young. He . . . only knew one person who ever had a face lift. He was totally uneducated about cosmetic surgery.

He was not there when I did it so he wouldn't have to see me at my most miserable stages. He was not there until the fifth or sixth day, by which time little improvements were coming. And he's thrilled now. He has said that there is a road map of wrinkles and history that's gone from my face, but he said it kindly. He didn't realize that I would have killed myself if he told me that five years ago.

Q: Now that you've announced you've had a face lift, do people come up to you at cocktail parties and inspect you? How do people react to you?

A: I'm sure some people react in ways I don't want to know about. I didn't do it to be a spectacle. I just feel there's a stigma attached to it that's ridiculous and cosmetic surgery is so advanced now that it seems to me that in the next 20 years, people will all be partaking of it to some small or large degree.

Q: Why do you say that?

A: Even men are going in by the droves and having their eyelids done so they don't look tired at work. As easy as it is, it's certainly only going to be easier. Now you'll see a schoolteacher, a secretary, a politician and a businessman all in the same waiting room. The people who are the most defensive are your beautiful people here in Hollywood. They lie like dogs. Sorry, but they do.

Q: At points in your book, it seemed as though you thought you were old to be getting a face lift at 47.

A: It used to be that 55, 65, maybe even 70 was when people went in for face lifts. I quoted Dr. Steven Hoefflin as saying that people come in for evaluations in their 30s now and they're serious about it. I'm not advocating 30s. I'm saying when you feel you need it--if that's 43 or 49 or 52. But the younger the lift, the longer it lasts, the greater the elasticity of the skin. They're feeling that's better than waiting until you look like a shar pei and then the changes are going to be radical.

Q: In your book you say, "A face lift at 30 in the Hollywood community isn't uncommon. . . ."

A: I'm not saying at 30 but in your 30s. . . . Now actors and actresses make preemptive strikes. They have doctors who are guiding them as aestheticians, saying now might be the time to do this and to put off that.

Now I don't want to be killed by models in their late 20s or 30s, but they're keeping up with everything. They've got doctors hovering over them doing nips and tucks and little tiny sucks constantly. Yearly. I mean, they have millions of dollars at stake.

Q: I gather this book has opened you up to some criticism in the press.

A: There's no question it's superficial. That's a given. On the other hand, is it a conflict with being a feminist? I'm not crazy about labels but I've always done exactly what I've wanted to do.

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