Saving face? The cost of plastic surgery

Penny Johnson is suing her surgeon. She wanted to change her face but claims the consequences ruined her life. Others feel rescued.

'This is a modern day tragedy,' said the lawyer Lawrence West. 'A young woman allowing her vanity to lead her astray.'

He was speaking on behalf of his client, Penny Johnson, who claims her life has been ruined by plastic surgery which went terribly wrong. She is now suing for damages of £54 million.

What is her complaint? For months after a facelift operation, her right eye had to be taped closed at night; she dribbled, felt unable to see clients and 'even her own children complained about her 'monster eye'', said Mr Lawrence.

In 2003, she had wanted to re-model her nose and remove dark circles under her eyes. But Dr Le Roux Fourie, who she'd seen on TV, suggested more extensive surgery and she's still living with the consequences.

Mrs Johnson has suffered permanent nerve damage to her facial muscles, suffers from slurred speech and a constant 'buzzing' round her eye. She accuses the surgeon of 'playing God'.

'I don't want to do anything anymore,' she says. 'My husband has a separate life with my son which I'm not included in. I can't be a wife anymore.'

Altering human physical appearance is as old as recorded history. Reconstructive surgery was practiced in India in 800BC, and the East maintained a strong tradition of the practice.

In the West, the first cleft palate operation was carried out in 1827 in North America, but appalling injuries sustained in the two World Wars accelerated progress in the science of facial reconstruction.

It was in the 1970s that aesthetic (cosmetic) plastic surgery began to develop. These procedures were not about saving faces damaged by war but enhancing normal appearance, giving people the face or body they wanted.

Since then, body altering procedures like tummy tucks, breast enlargement, lip enhancement, face lifts and many others have become increasingly common, with Britons spending £2.3 billion on cosmetic treatment last year, and taking out loans of £5 million to pay for them.

Vanity and therapy
Penny Johnson's story is not unique. But despite the risks and the recession, plastic surgery is on the increase and not just among women. 'Man boob' corrections were up by 27% last year.

Some people would say that changing the way you look can be the best therapy in the world, increasing confidence and banishing low self-esteem. The boy teased for having sticky-out ears need be teased no longer.

Others feel it's about vanity rather than therapy, and nothing more than a sad – and risky - response to relentless media messages about beauty.

You Decide

  1. Would you consider plastic surgery? If so, what for?
  2. Would you take Mrs Johnson less seriously now she has a twitch and slurs her words?


  1. List some celebrities who you know have paid for cosmetic procedures of one sort or another. Has it helped them?
  2. Do some investigation and then write ' A brief history of cosmetics – what they did to themselves and the effect it had.' (There's a good link in 'Become an expert'.)

Some People Say...

“She got what she deserved.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Haven't people always wanted to look beautiful?
Oh yes. Up until the 19th century in the west, they used to put lead oxide on their faces to make them pale.
This was before Hollywood told us we had to be tanned. But even this cosmetic treatment wasn't risk-free. The body gradually absorbed the lead resulting in muscle paralysis and sometimes death.
So just how many people in Britain get plastic surgery?
Well, there were 38,274 procedures done by recognised plastic surgeons in 2010, 34,413 of which were on women. The overall figure compares to 36,482 in 2009, so even in recession the figure is rising.A Mrs Johnson says that's what her business was worth, before her face made it impossible to work. The doctor accepts liability but thinks £9 million more appropriate.


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