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Aging Gracefully?

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.

Before and after from the botox website. Looks pretty good right?

Before and after from the botox website. Looks pretty good right?

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.

Jessica Chastain on the cover of said Marie Claire only further encourages my desire for botox. My forehead hasn't looked like that in ten years.

Jessica Chastain on the cover of said Marie Claire only further encourages my desire for botox. My forehead hasn’t looked like that since I was a teenager.

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.

Is this look attractive? Seriously, I’m getting confused.

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.

It's brave to age naturally like

It’s brave to age naturally like this…

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?”

...when people expect you to look like this.

…when people expect you to look like this.

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 denialWe 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”.*

You gotta hand it to her. Carmen Dell'Orefice is 82 and obviously doing something right in the anti-aging

You gotta hand it to her. Carmen Dell’Orefice is 82 and obviously doing something right in the battle against aging.

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.


Adorable Lindsay vs. post unnecessary plastic surgery Lindsay. So sad.

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. Death_Becomes_Her_6114448_269

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!!!

xo leigh

* Aleksandra Crapanzano, Marie Claire December 2012, Frozen in Time

25 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love Death Becomes Her. The end was the most meaningful to me when Bruce Willis’s character is old and surrounded by children and grandchildren. It’s clear that eternal youth and beauty is attainable through our children. Life is a journey. Our faces and wrinkles and expressions tell a tale about our journey. If we want to look good, we need to live well. Love ourselves. Be good to our selves. I always feel a bit sad for those I see who have tried to change or alter the story their face naturally wants to tell. Do they like themselves? Do they embrace their flaws that make them unique? Doubtful. I turned 40 last year and celebrate another birthday in 7 days. I look at myself and don’t always like what I see. I get tired looking easier and need to sleep a full 8 hours every night and do yoga as often as possible and eat things that are healthy. It comes down to self awareness and self love. I believe we can shape who we are from the inside out. It just takes courage and patience and lots of work. 🙂

    January 21, 2013
    • Courage. Patience and lots of work. You said it. I’ve got the courage and the work down but I’m still working on the patience. Thanks for the reminder. xo leigh

      January 22, 2013
  2. Laurie Wallace #

    Hi Leigh: You have articulated what most women periodically think about, but I believe that it’s your attitude to life, aka your disposition, that transcends your physical appearance and makes you appear attractive. When I saw you at Christmas, I was thrilled by how beautiful and how healthy you looked. That was because you were happy.

    Love, Laurie

    January 21, 2013
    • You’re right Laurie. Happy makes a big difference to anyone’s appearance. Love you! xo leigh

      January 22, 2013
  3. Ellen Vera Allen #

    Well Leigh, I’m 61 now and there are definitely bags and wrinkles but every time I go in to my doctor’s office (she sidelines in Botox etc.) I am glad that my face is still expressive, if aging. (However no one has ever thought that my husband, also 61, was younger than me since he now has a white beard and has been Santa Claus for community events). From the photos on your blog, I would say that you have no need for treatments like that and the older guy was just trying his luck. Mistake! I would try various herbal ointments before I went the Botox route. It is interesting that women are supposed to be endlessly youthful, but it has been seen in various cultures – think Italy – that the end result is women as victims of a hopeless chase for marketing themselves to the men who are their only hope of being successful. That’s not you or me! Ellen

    January 21, 2013
    • No, Ellen, you’re right, that’s not for either of us! It’s one of the reasons I’m so much happier being a writer now than I was as an actress. My looks are an irrelevent bonus. I will succeed or fail based on my talent not my appearance and I draw real strength from that. Thanks for reading!! xo leigh

      January 22, 2013
  4. janet #

    What I don’t get is why mention Demi Moore as a good example at all? She went CRAZY last year and still has serious mental issues. Looks arent everything. But I guess to some they are.

    January 21, 2013
    • Demi Moore is included as an example of someone who seems to have been able to reverse the march of time. When she busted back onto the scene in Charlie’s Angeles it was like she’d stopped time completely. Almost a female Dorian Grey. Her recent mental issues only highlight that looking good and feeling good are not one in the same. But as a specimen for the positive results of plastic surgery, she’s still a pretty strong physical example.

      January 22, 2013
  5. Kellie Ross #

    Thank yiu for this Leigh! This was a fabulously written piece that resonated on so many levels for me. There IS an alternate to the more ‘invasive’ Botox or plastic surgery…and that is laser resurfacing. I have had this procedure and will have it again. Keep up these fabulous writings!

    January 22, 2013
    • Oooohhhh, laser resurfacing…..I’m looking into it!!! Thanks Kellie!! xo leigh

      January 22, 2013
  6. You did a nice job, here, highlighting the back-and-forth feelings of many people on this issue. In many ways, I wish I could come to a yes/no opinion on this, but I can’t (though I’d never voluntarily have any kind of surgery, personally).

    I especially agree with you that this new, more technologically-advanced obsession with youthfulness is not necessarily beautiful, attractive, or even flattering. Though I’m not quick to assign blame to one gender or group of people as the source of all this, I can definitely see how this demoralizes women as a whole and can definitely be a form of misogyny. I’m particularly saddened by young women who’ve not yet passed their twenties and feel they need to be injected, padded, lifted, tucked, etc. “Melted Barbie” is now how I will refer to these folks, myself! I think it’d be short-sighted (as you mentioned) to say that all cosmetic surgery is a bad idea, but I do think it’s so grossly overused that people forget it’s a risky undertaking.

    Not being someone who works in the theater/movies arena, it’d be very judgmental for me to say no one should alter their natural appearance — this completely overlooks the fact that some people are genetically inclined to age better or “worse” than others as far as outward appearance. So, of course, the key would be moderation in cosmetic surgery but also a very religious-like regimen of taking care of your body and face as they are a real asset to your career. Why would anyone admonish someone for simply taking practical measures to take care of themselves? I’m a musician and a writer. To me, my hands are my greatest physical asset… and so I protect them like nobody’s business. And I’m sure there are a lot of people who wouldn’t understand that.

    That being said, even though I’ve never seen you in person and know you only via this blog, I think you’re a very beautiful/attractive woman. I arrived at that conclusion immediately, without hesitiation — so much that your age (both your real one and the one that others may try to estimate) has never even crossed my mind. I hope you don’t change a thing! Unless, of course, it would make you happier and more confident.

    January 22, 2013
    • What a lovely compliment Jason. Thank you. It’s amazing to be considered attractive solely based on your, as Susan said, inner beauty. I also appreciate your not jumping to deprecate or admonish the debate. Your acknowledgement that some worlds/industries simply have different rules and requirements is both understanding and realistic. Thank you for your candor as well as your continued support of the blog. I truly appreciate it.
      xo leigh

      January 22, 2013
  7. Leigh, I am your mother’s cousin, Brooke’s oldest friend, and also an old friend of your mother. Through this connection I have been quietly enjoying your blogs. I live in a very isolated, ‘disadvantaged’ place in the South West of Ireland, without the influences around me, of which you speak in this particular blog. Some of the most beautiful faces I have ever seen are the weather beaten faces, reflecting the characters of my hard working neighbours. That same industry of which you speak, often arrives in my part of the world, lock, stock and barrel, to make their films, and to find those same wonderful faces to appear in their movies.

    As for the 60 year old man who, in my opinion, showed a real lack of character and a somewhat shallow and obvious jelousy of your youth, by his graceless remark, is not worth the effort or time used to write about him.

    Do not let people rattle you my dear. Infuse your inner self with a strong and positive belief in your own strengths, which you have had to develop over your lifetime, and that belief will form a boundary that weak and aging men (and women) will not dare to tamper with. That wonderful facial mobility and the life you have lived to date, gives you a beauty that nothing in Hollywood could ever, ever match. The mobility of your mother’s face is etched on my memory forever, when other faces have long been forgotten.

    Hollywood and its indusries have a strange hold on the Western world. But make no mistake, it is, when all is said and done, only a fantasy making world. You are real, Leigh. I love your writings and your perspectives, and I am extremely discerning, passing up so much in the way of blogs and books etc. Know who and what you are. Look inward. Do you know what I have called Hollywood, for years and years? The biggest side show on earth!

    This comes to you with the love I carry for some of your ancestors, for your living family, and for you, because of who you are and who you have become. Many blessings……..

    January 22, 2013
    • Susan, what a lovely and inspiring response. Thank you for taking the time to write. It’s amazing how some of the most beautiful and fascinating faces are the ones that reflect every bit of the life that they’ve travelled. I wrote this post with both an eyes open awareness of my own vanity and my place in, as you so aptly noted, “the biggest side show on earth”. It is difficult to live among the world’s most young and beautiful and not get confused. I am aware that at the end of the day it’s all superfluous and silly and yet I can’t help looking in the mirror and being upset at the destruction of my youth. I will keep your insight in my heart. I will try to rise above what my society deems as perfect, but at the same time, I think I’m going to keep using that darn cream!! Thank you. xo leigh

      January 22, 2013
  8. Courtney MacAulay #

    Hi Leigh,

    I found your blog through your father, who is on the board at the Company I work for. I have shared it with some of my friends and we always look forward to new posts. I loved this Aging Gracefully had me laughing out loud at work. I enjoy the way you are able to combine such a variety of emotions into your posts. Often when I read I’m not sure whether I should be prepared to laugh or to tear up. Keep up the great work 🙂


    January 22, 2013
    • Courtney,

      I’m so glad you found my blog and felt compelled to share it. It really means the world to me. I’m also thrilled that you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get. Just as people’s feelings and emotions aren’t one dimensional, neither is my writing. We feel different from day to day and I wanted to capture that rather than become some one note sick mother. I’m very pleased it’s entertaining either way. xoxo leigh

      January 22, 2013
  9. Hi Leigh, I really enjoy your blog and especially this column. I am a 55 year old with 2 grown kids and an 11 year old grandchild. I thought for a long time that my skin looked old until my Clinique saleswoman said, You Have Great Skin! And finally I believed her! I think a healthy diet, limited sun, lots of moisturizer, and good amounts of sleep are my healthy skin allies. I can so detect plastic surgery and botox on people; it isn’t even funny. It’s so fake looking! I think you are a natural beauty (honestly!) and I hope you resist the botox for a long time! Blessings, Joanne

    January 22, 2013
    • Thank you for your kind compliment. Sounds like you’ve played it right. Healthy diet – working on it, love my salt and sugar sadly. Limited sun, check! Lots of moisturizer, check! Good amount of sleep, for the most part check! I’m holding off on the toxins for now (especially since Kellie turned me on to laser resurfacing!). Thank you for your response. I hope you’ll continue to enjoy the blog! xo leigh

      January 22, 2013
  10. Wynn Everett #

    OH MY GOSH LOOOOVED THIS!!! YES on everything below!!!!!!


    January 22, 2013
  11. Trevor Bell #

    If you’re such a Sugar Mama can I borrow some money to have some work done?

    Wait, I feel Pretty

    You made me laugh this morning. Nice Work.

    January 23, 2013
  12. I really enjoyed your post Leigh.

    I write about aging naturally and enjoying the process. Wrinkles and looking older is as natural as getting our baby teeth was and I think people tend to forget, or haven’t discovered, how beautiful older faces are, if we can just be patient with the process. Louise

    January 26, 2013
  13. Mareli Basson #

    stunning post, thanks for once again discussing a topic in a way that makes a person rethink it.

    I’m a photographer and a makeup artist and I’ve used my craft more than once to show my friends that they can easily rival celebrities’s images in magazine. it’s amazing to see the ego-boost they have after their images.

    But I do sometimes wonder whether I’m doing more damage than i realise. Sometimes i can see they truly prefer their retouched image to how they look instead of realising that without their natural looks as a base the image wouldn’t have been nearly as striking in the first place. I very seldom if every readjust facial or body structure, just skin retouching and shading to enhance their features. I’m scared that one day one of them will get it into their head that they physically want to look like the unattainable retouched version and might just pay to get it and probably in the process destroying what made their features endearing or attractive.

    I love showing them that they can look just as good as the celebrities and seeing them glow after a good photoshoot. I always make a point of showing them before and after images of celebrities to show them what they look like normally, but sometimes it doesn’t seem like the lesson sticks.

    January 28, 2013
    • Mareli,

      It’s difficult lesson to stick isn’t it? It’s nice of you to show your friends what good retouching can do but I think the infiltration of beauty is just too intrusive. We see what people our own age can look like – Reese Witherspoon, Emily Blunt, Angelina Jolie are all pretty much the same age as me – we see what people older can look like – Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry, even Helen Mirin all look insane – we see young Hollywood in it’s youthful glory – the ungodly beauty of Blake Lively or the fresh faced loveliness of Emma Stone – and we want it. It’s right there in front of us. It’s not unattainable. It’s just expensive and time consuming and unfair. These people are bastions of beauty yet we live in world’s removed. If we spent the kind of money and time they do our faces and bodies we’d have a serious perspective problem yet we look at them and can’t help but feel lesser than. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read in a magazine about some wonder facial or product a celeb loves only to find out its $500/ounce or $1500+ for a session. How do we rectify that we could look better but we won’t be able to. How are we able to see these images (touched or retouched) of stars or, in your case, even ourselves and not want to see that image reflected in the mirror? It’s a quandary I’m unable to solve.

      Thank you for your response!

      xo leigh

      January 29, 2013
  14. logan #

    We live in a society in which the Condé Nast group and Hollywood determine what our standards of beauty are.

    We are constantly bombarded by images of the same kind of women over and over again, so it’s easy to lose track of what we subjectively find beautiful because we are told, through inference, that this is the standard of beauty.

    I think when we have ethical fashion magazine editors, and ethical Hollywood producers, who are aware of the artifice of manufactured beauty, they can create new pathways into the definition of beauty. Ones in which women do not have to be either too skinny through clenbuterol and adderall, and ones in which aren’t oversexualised as lingerie models and ones in which don’t have so much filler and botox that they start to resemble aliens from outer space.

    Please don’t get botox, it’s an animal poison that will cause underlying damage to your skin and collagen membrane. However, there’s nothing wrong with IPL here and there nor stem cell (from your own fat) injections in certain areas. We can’t escape our society’s standard of beauty, but some of us have the power to change what is beautiful, and if you have the power to influence young women, you have the power to change what kind of society we will live in for future generations.

    July 9, 2014
    • Well said Logan.
      I’ll be looking into IPL-s!!
      xo leigh

      July 10, 2014

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