It is a warm November day in California. A girl stands in a hospital room waiting to be anaesthetised for operation, while her husband sits on a nearby bed looking on. The girl is covered in marks from the head down; her breastbone bears a faint but sharp line reaching to the middle of her torso. Her surgical stockings are rolled around her knees showing a healthy, glowing tan. Over the next ten hours a surgeon will perform almost a dozen different procedures, transforming her 23-year-old body beyond all recognition. Heidi Montag is ready for surgery.
The picture described above, one that appeared in nothing more highbrow than People Magazine is, I believe, one of the most telling images of our time. Therein lies a woman on the cusp of the biggest change of her life. Scared, excited, and anxious: she is about to shed the body she has despised for so long and metamorphose into ‘an upgraded version’ of herself. To come is serious pain, be it from the stitches in her now size 32H breasts or the unsupportive reactions of both the press and her family. She waits nevertheless - aware, but only vaguely, of the road ahead.
As I look at Montag half-naked and about to begin her new life I can only wonder at how she ended up in that hospital room. Montag is, much as Jade Goody was, a person famous simply for existing. A music career, fashion line, and forays into acting have all stemmed from her endearing if naïve turn in MTV’s reality show The Hills. However it was also here that the first seeds of her insecurity were sewn. In a post-op interview Montag describes the pain she felt at being mocked for her ‘Jay Leno chin’ and ‘Dumbo’ ears, and how being unable to fill out a bra during a Playboy shoot sparked her interest in a second breast augmentation. It seems the same fame machine that brought her to the dizzying heights of number 50 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs Chart also took her to a place where self-loathing meets self-mutilation.
While the insults she received were harsh and unwarranted they would also seem laughable had they not caused such an about turn in her life. This is no post-relationship lurid dye job but a brutal statement of intent. Montag looks from the page in a body that will soon cease to be and asks us to look back upon ourselves. And the longer we look into the void the more the void seems to look back at us.