I was at a holiday party this season speaking to a gentleman who was around sixty years old. We were having a great conversation when he asked me, in a flirtatious manner, if I’d come with a husband. I said, yes and pointed across the room to where Sean was standing his back to us. The man said, “The buff one in the gray? Must be nice.” Then, in a conspiratorial manner he added, “So…you married younger huh?” My wine glass nearly shattered under the pressure of the involuntary death grip. Married younger?! Excuse me?! What was he implying? Ok, truthfully Sean is two years younger than me, but this man was implying an age GAP, like I was some crazed cougar shopping for mates in the nursery. I get it, he’s young and handsome, but suddenly, in contrast, I felt I must look…what…old and tired? Yes, this man was still hitting on me, but it was like he was making a play for a contemporary and not the much younger woman I actually was. The whole experience left me feeling dismal.
I’ve flirted with the idea of botox for years. When I moved from New York to LA my incredibly expressive face, the one that could be read from the top balcony, was suddenly a serious detriment. On camera my expressiveness morphed from enthusiastic to garish. Everything was amplified and not in a good way. One on-camera coach informed me I should get botox immediately “to shut that s*#@ down”. I thought I would have done anything to get my career off the ground but I couldn’t get my head around injecting my twenty-seven year old face with a toxin so it was unable to move. Ten years later, seeing the result of that movement etched into my forehead, it’s starting to look like a pretty good idea. Years of conversations and “feelings” have stolen my fresh face and replaced it with one that looks, well, weathered.
Not ready to bite the bullet, I dance the perimeter of the anti-aging world with things like the new skin care line from Rodin + Fields. Rodin + Fields are the dermatologists who created ProActive Solution, a product I could never use (despite the need) because I was allergic to one of the key ingredients. However, when they introduced their new anti-aging line for both fine lines and brightening, I thought maybe some non-invasive reversing could help. I recognize it’s just a bandaid, but at this time I can’t afford (and am too afraid) of the other options.
Aleksandra Crapanzano wrote an essay in December 2012’s Marie Claire called Frozen in Time where she poses the question whether botox and anti-aging treatments are becoming not just the norm, but the unspoken expectation for women in our society. She writes about going to a dinner party and looking around the table at the other women. Despite the fact she was probably the youngest by ten years, she realized that without having undergone any injections or surgeries she probably looked the oldest. She asks, “Have the expectations of a certain stratum of society changed? Was it now uncouth of me to show up at dinner with my fine lines? Was it akin to showing up with mud on my boots and a moth hole in my sweater?” Now I may not be hobnobbing with Manhattan’s social elite but, looking around at the other women in Los Angeles, I can honestly say I understand how she feels.
I was recently doing some random flipping on the TV and came across an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Having never seen it before I stopped to see what all the hype’s about. What struck me most – aside from the fact that certain women never grow out of junior high behavior – was their faces.
What was happening there? It was horrifying. Everything was too tight, too shiny, too exaggerated and frankly, too frozen. I was inspired to tweet something (something I’m making an effort to get on board with) but I couldn’t properly formulate my distaste. What exactly was I thinking? Why did they all look like that? How could they look in the mirror and think they looked good? Were we coming to a place where that was beginning to look normal? In ten years will everyone look like that? God knows I understand the desire to retain a youthful appearance. I’d love to hold onto my jawline and crease free eyes but I couldn’t help thinking I’d rather look like a pile of wrinkles than, to coin a phase, a melted Barbie doll.
My concern is that we’re getting confused. The more we’re absorbed into the business of youth, the more disoriented we get. Is a lineless, frozen face the future’s new normal? Are we looking at a time when we don’t realize how ridiculous we’ve become? It’s obviously what Suzanne Collins was thinking of when she created the people of the Capital in her wildly successful Hunger Games trilogy. In the books the wealthy and elite are surgically altered, dyed and powdered within an inch of their lives with no sense of how absurd and, in many ways, grotesque they actually appear.
Crapanzano’s article references Timothy Greenfield-Sanders HBO film About Face, which interviews former supermodels about aging. In it Isabella Rossellini expresses her inner conflict with this whole new anti-aging industry. “I’m debating in my head. One day I get up and say, “Hey there’s this new technology, why not use it?” But most of the time I wake up and say, “Is this the new feet binding? Is this the new way to tell women, you are ugly deep down, you should be this and this. Is the main problem misogyny?”
Carmen Dell’Orefice, the still stunning supermodel of the 1950’s, offers a different perspective with a candid and casual “Well, if you had the ceiling falling down in your living room, would you not go and have a repair?”
I think there’s something to be said for both points of view. Don’t we all want to retain our face’s “natural” state, the face of our youth? My mom used to say she’s often surprised when she looks in the mirror because she doesn’t feel that old. Crapanzano acknowledges that feeling when she expresses the natural process of aging feels anything but natural because so few of us feel our age. She says, “Out of sight of a mirror, I still think I’m 30, tops. For most women over 40, looking in a mirror is an unpleasant collision with reality, a fissure in our denial. We just don’t feel how we look.” Dr. David Colbert, a Manhattan dermatologist known for keeping his patients looking “naturally” young poses a more probing question, “Does it make your life longer when you look 40 when you’re 60? Maybe. Maybe it’s the interpretation of your life that make it feel longer.” And according to Manhattan psychiatrist Dr. Marianne Gillow, her patients are consistently in better moods after botox, as if looking better makes them feel better, or perhaps the inability to frown simply makes people feel less “frowny”.*
I have to say seeing my face in photographs or a mirror these days has a clear effect on my mood and interpretation of self. I fear turning into one of those women who refuses to be photographed or, like my mother has a habit of ripping (or deleting) herself out of photos. I don’t want to break up with my image, I just want to like it. I don’t think these feeling are uniquely mine or even exclusive to women. There are some amazing before and after pictures of men in Kate Sommerville’s book on skin that would benefit everyone from Sean to my father. Yes, men generally age more attractively. It’s acceptable to see the results of aging on their skin and, in a cruel double standard, their wrinkles often end up improving their looks making them sexy and distinguished, but ultimately, men want to look young and fresh too. Look at poor Kenny Rogers…and he was a cowboy. They’re allowed to be wizened.
It’s hard to open a magazine or turn on the TV these days without seeing an onslaught of perfectly smooth faces. Everyone from politicians on the national stage to movie stars on our grocery store news stands are there to show us how we could (should?) look and it’s difficult not to fall pray. I think if you’re going to do it, the key – after finding the right doctor – is to not go overboard (and never touch your lips). Everyone witnessed the destruction of Meg Ryan’s beautiful, quirky, adorable face, because for every Demi Moore there’s a Jocelyn Wildenstein around to freak you out. Crapanzano quotes Harvard-trained plastic surgeon Dr. Haideh Hirmand who says, “People get carried away and think, If a little looks good, a lot will look better and that’s not the case. I’m almost certain you look older if you do too much.” Case in point, previously adorable Lindsay Lohan who looks older than me now.
Ultimately, it’s a slippery slope. What is pretty if we can buy it? I remember when Ashley Simpson had her nose done. At first I was annoyed. Just accept what you look like already. But time passes, you forget about the nose job and all you see is the pretty girl the nose job uncovered. I hate myself for thinking it, but she looks better now, and once you’ve allowed yourself to forget she bought that face, you start thinking it was a pretty good idea. At the end of the day I don’t want to look different, I want to look the same. Life’s aged me and I’d like to recognize myself in the mirror again. I want to be the best version of myself, but not so young it becomes creepy. The aforementioned Demi Moore looks fantastic but she reminds me a bit of that old Meryl Streep/Goldie Hawn/Bruce Willis movie Death Becomes Her in which two vain competitive women make a pact with the devil (ironically, played by Isabella Rossolini) for eternal life and youth. As things go drastically and comically awry, they realize life isn’t about how you appear but who you are, and as they shatter to pieces at the end of the film, the audience sees the cautionary tale that is the worship of youth and beauty.
When it comes right down to it -as I said in my post on Birthdays – obviously the key for me is being around to age. I WANT to grow old. But, even with that perspective, I’d prefer the aging part to be a little less obvious. Life is special and sacred but feeling good about yourself is a part of that. Self confidence is akin to self worth and if people start looking at me like I’m expired meat I might start to feel like that. I don’t want to be tightened and pulled within an inch of my life. I always want to look like me, older or no, but if I’m never mistaken for my husband’s sugar mama again, it will be too soon.
I mean really?! Come on!!!
* Aleksandra Crapanzano, Marie Claire December 2012, Frozen in Time