Zara Hartshorn: Teenager who looked 60 has facelift to combat 'Benjamin Button' syndrome


I'm Biv Dick Black, the Over Poster.
By Jack McKay, Nick Dorman

Zara Hartshorn: Teenager who looked 60 has facelift to combat 'Benjamin Button' syndrome
23 Jun 2013 00:00

Bullying taunts of "granny" and "monkey" are a thing of the past for the girl who grew old too quickly

Zara Hartshorn The lift I needed: Zara after the surgery
John Robertson / Barcroft Media

A facelift at the age of 16 sounds like vanity gone mad – but for Zara Hartshorn it gave her a life as a normal teenager, the Sunday People reveals today.

She was a youngster hoping for love like the others but her tender skin looked twisted and wrinkled because of a rare condition.

With prematurely ravaged features and gaps in her teeth she spent years enduring kids’ taunts of “monkey” and “granny”.

But today, thanks to pioneering surgery, the bullies are no more than an unpleasant memory.

Zara has found the fella of her dreams. She no longer feels out of place with her friends and is looking forward to life with her sweetheart Ricky Andrews.

With her looks transformed, she hopes to open a beauty salon.

Recalling the moment all the bandages came off, she said: “When I saw myself it was mixture of surprise and happiness.

“Growing up I never thought this day would come. I thought I would be the same for ever.

“I remember the unhappy little girl who was bullied and I want to go back and tell her it will all be all right. Now when I look in the mirror I can see opportunities that weren’t there before.

“There is the chance to go to college and have a better future.

“Before surgery I was picked on for looking different. Now I look the same as other girls my age.

Zara Hartshorn Wrinkly: Zara aged 15 last year
John Robertson / Barcroft Media

“I don’t feel like people are staring at me when I walk down the street any more. I finally feel like a teenager.”

Last July when she was 15, Zara told the Sunday People of her condition lipodystrophy.

It causes sufferers to age prematurely, decaying bones and destroying fatty tissue inside the skin.

After that she was contacted by Dr Abhimanyu Garg, a US expert, who flew her to Texas for tests.

Zara was then told she had an even rarer illness – cutis laxa, which can weaken joints and cause heart and lung problems.

Reeling from the new diagnosis, Zara was astonished to be offered a free facelift and nose augmentation by another leading surgeon, Dr Robert Ersek.

It was hoped the op would allow Zara to lead a normal life.

After going ahead, the day came when she nervously removed the last of her bandages.

She was thrilled with the results. Zara, who stars in a TV documentary this Thursday about her transformation, said: “It was an amazing opportunity that I could never have dreamed of having before.

“I realised how life-changing it could be but I was still so nervous about how it would turn out. The night before the operation I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited. Four days after the surgery when I had the bandages removed I really didn’t like what I saw.

“Everything was so swollen. I thought I’d made a huge mistake. But after nine days I had the nose cast removed and realised straight away how good it looked.

“Now I love my nose. When I came back home everyone was telling me that I looked completely different. It felt great.

“My sister Chloe’s boyfriend Connor looked at me three times before he realised it was me.

“Now I find it hard to imagine what I looked like before the facelift and nose operation. Going through my old Facebook pictures I realise how much I have changed and how lucky I am.”

Zara had tried to start relationships before but always lacked the self-assurance.

Now with Ricky, six years older than her at 22, she finally feels she is no longer being judged.

Zara said: “With Ricky it’s never been an issue. Before my surgery I don’t know if I would have had the confidence to start a relationship with him.

“He’s seen pictures of me before and told me I was beautiful, but I wouldn’t have believed him.”

Ricky, an apprentice painter and decorator, said: “The way Zara has handled things has been inspirational. I’m so proud of her, she means the world to me.

“When she told me about the operation I felt pleased for her.

“I tell her she’s beautiful every day. But I mean she’s a beautiful person inside as well.”

With boyfriend Ricky

Zara, who lives with her family in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, said: “Our relationship has changed me a lot. I’m more independent now and have more self-belief.

“Mum explained that I had an illness like she did, but that I was beautiful and shouldn’t pay any attention to what anyone said.

“The bullying was worst between the ages of eight and 10. Kids used to call me monkey and granny and I was even beaten up just because of how I looked.

“I hated school and used to come home and cry myself to sleep.

“It got so bad that I stopped going for a while. At secondary school I found real friends who accepted me for who I was, not what I looked like.

“But I was still mistaken for people years older. I lived in fear of being asked how old I was.

“I was even mistaken for a teacher in school on a couple of occasions, which was mortifying in front of my classmates.

“People have thought my sister Chloe, who is a year older than me, was my daughter. It all made me really insecure growing up.”

The transformation has made Zara feel so positive she can look at her old tormenters as if they were from ancient history.

She said: “I’ve carried those hurtful comments with me all my life but now I feel ready to leave the past behind and forgive and forget.”

Despite finding love, Zara admits she still has reservations about starting a family – because she dreads passing on her illness to her children.

“I would like to marry and have kids one day but then I’m not sure it’s fair to put them through what I’ve been through,” she said.

“I know I’ll always have this condition and it may shorten my life. But at least I can feel more comfortable and confident.

“In the future I’d like to have fillers in my cheeks to make them plumper and another facelift, if I need one. I feel like I’m now able to do things like going to college and having a career.

“I might not have felt these were possible before. The surgery has given me a boost and now I don’t fear what other people think. I’ve noticed a change in me and I feel a lot happier.”

Her only pang of regret is that her mum Tracey Gibson, 44, did not have the same treatment when younger.

She has premature ageing too, as does Zara’s other sister Jolene Hardy, 24, but not as severely.

Zara said: “I know I’m lucky to have had the opportunity and it’s something my mum would have loved to have been offered.

“I want to make something of my life for her too – to make her proud of me. In a way I wasn’t just doing this for me. I was doing it for my mum as well.

“She never had this opportunity and she’s been through so much.

“It definitely changed me for the better. It’s made me grow up, even though I look younger than I did. I think it’s brought me and mum closer together.”

Although the treatment is a cosmetic fix and her long-term condition remains incurable, Zara has vowed to keep her spirits up and her head held high.

She said: “Now I can walk down the street and not feel like people are watching me.

“I look younger but I still feel older than my years because of everything I have been through.”

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What's black and white and red all over?
Yer Honor, I coulda swore she was 67!


Lord of Jailbait
Ol' leather handbag has a lazy eye too...quite the combo.


In The Danger Zone...
Wackbag Staff
At least now she only looks 35. A hard 35.


Feel sorry enough for her to toss her a banging at eighteen. Hope she doesn't look like a ninety year old by then.


Lying causes cat piss smell.
I seriously don't see any difference in those photos.


Supreme Champion!!!!!
She's gotta be a mad woman in the sack, you know, cause ugly chicks try harder.