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Louisa Young - Plastic surgery, no thanks!

Ottobre 2011
Louisa Young è l’autrice di L’inverno si era sbagliato, un romanzo d’amore ambientato durante la prima guerra mondiale. Fu allora che la moderna chirurgia plastica ebbe inizio, per ridare un volto ai soldati rimasti sfigurati. Oggi è tutta un’altra cosa, dice Young: l’industria della bellezza artificiale è un business scandaloso.

di Mark Worden

File audio:

Louisa Young
Louisa Young
The cover of the Italian edition of her novel
The cover of the Italian edition of her novel

Speaker: Mark Worden (Standard British accent)

Louisa Young is the author of the historical novel My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, which has been published in Italian by Garzanti as L’inverno si era sbagliato. The story is set in the First World War and one of its themes is plastic surgery, which was virtually invented at that time, as surgeons operated on the disfigured faces of soldiers.
Louisa Young is herself opposed to the modern growth of “aesthetic” plastic surgery, which she calls “the industrialisation of female vanity.” She is also quoted as saying that “If we put the same amount of work into solving real problems, rather than women’s appearance, the world would be transformed.” When Louisa Young met with Speak Up, we asked her about this:

Louisa Young (Standard British accent)

It’s very individual, it’s very individual; you know, if somebody’s got a terrible thing with their face that, you know, if they’re scaring the children in the street, you know, this is not nice, of course a person has their own right to do what they can about these things, but the fact that vast amounts of money are made out of telling women in particular – but now men, as well, because it’s a new market – that their bodies aren’t good enough and then, with the other hand, saying, “But here, give me all your money and I’ll make your body good enough!” You know, they’ve invented a massive industry out of nothing at all, and, at the same time, they’re destroying the self-respect and natural strength and character of half the human race, and little girls aged six or seven or eight are saying, “Oh, I’m too fat, oh, I’m ugly!” You know, the most beautiful creatures on God’s earth, little children, are being told, by people who want to make money out of the situation, that they are ugly and not good enough!”


And she had more to say on the subject:

Louisa Young

It amazes me, the extent to which the human character can just want money, that they’re prepared to tell an entire generation of children and an entire gender, that if you are not beautiful, if you are not 5 foot 11 and eight-and-a--half stone and virtually hairless and with no wrinkles and no character, then, “Sorry, you should go away!” And that we fall for it and we buy into it. I find it absolutely extraordinary, extraordinary!


And, somewhat ironically, the boom in plastic surgery appears to have coincided with the growth in obesity:

Louisa Young

Well, because that’s the industrialisation of food and the industrialisation of low self-esteem. You know, you can make a fortune out of making people feel bad. You know, we’ve come a long way from nature and I think, actually, it’s quite nice to maybe stay a bit closer.


My Dear I Wanted to Tell You follows a series of characters whose lives are radically changed by the drama of the First World War. There’s Riley Purefoy, a working-class boy who has fallen in love with an upper-class girl, Nadine Waveney. Her parents are opposed to the match and so he goes off to fight in the war, hoping to improve his social status by rising through the ranks of the army. Like millions of people, he imagined that the war would end quickly.
Then there’s his commanding officer, Peter Locke, whose beautiful wife Julia waits for him to return from the war. But when he does, he is no longer “the man she once knew.” And there’s Peter’s cousin, Rose, who becomes a nurse at the front. She sees the horrific effects of war close up. She also gets to work with a pioneering plastic surgeon, who reconstructs the faces and bodies of wounded soldiers.


Louisa Young presents her novel.

Louisa Young (Standard British accent)

The first book I wrote was a biography of my grandmother. She was a sculptor and part of her war work during the First World War was casting in plaster the faces of young men who’d been wounded, and I saw some images when I was researching this, photographs and paintings of these young men, which were just so strong, so… oh, just awful.

Then, about 20 years later, I was at an exhibition at the Wellcome foundation in London and there were some of those same images in this exhibition about war and medicine, and on the wall opposite them was what’s called a… a “field postcard,” which is a pre-printed card which you would fill in. This one was for wounded soldiers, so it says: “My dear (blank: you fill in), I want to tell you before any telegram arrives, that I have received a slight/serious (delete as applicable) wound in my (blank: fill it in).”

So I was looking at this and looking at those pictures of the wounds and I thought if you’d received one of those wounds and now you were being asked to fill in this card and send it to your mother or your girlfriend or your whoever it might be, were you really going to tell the truth? You would lie.

So I decided to go down to the hospital where the facial injuries unit was set up by a New Zealander called Gillies, Major Gillies, and, you know, poking around in the archive down there, absolutely fascinating, and I came across a memoir written by a nurse there by the name of Blackie. There was an anecdote in her memoirs about a guy who arrived very badly wounded. His girlfriend was madly in love with him and wrote beautiful letters to him the whole time about how much she loved him and was longing to come and see him and so on. And he looked at himelf in the mirror and he asked the nurse to write a letter for him: “Dear Lily, I’m terribly sorry, I’ve fallen in love with a girl in Paris…” Again, a lie, a complete lie; he didn’t trust her to love him enough to go through with this.

For more, visit www.amazon.co.uk/My-Dear-Wanted-TellYou/

If you want to see a video of our interview with Louise Young, click here

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The story is set in the First World War. To be set, essere ambientato. La storia è ambientata, si svolge, durante la Prima Guerra Mondiale. Ma anche ‘essere pronti’: I’m all set for the holidays, sono pronto per le vacanze.

If we put the same amount of work into solving real problems... the world would be transformed.
Secondo periodo ipotetico per parlare di cose presenti o future poco probabili, irreali o impossibili. Si forma con if seguito dal simple past nella frase subordinata e da could oppure would più l’infinito nella principale: se ci impegnassimo a risolvere problemi reali, anziché dell’aspetto femminile, il mondo si trasformerebbe.

Little children are being told, by people who want to make money... To make money, phrasal verb, sinonimo di become rich, arricchirsi. Letteralmente: fare soldi. Come in italiano, questa espressione ha solitamente un senso spregiativo, quasi ad esprimere avidità.