As a teenager, I tried everything to look like the fashion models in Seventeen magazine. I wanted their smooth complexions and long, perfectly straight hair. I didn’t know that most models don’t look as gorgeous in person as they do in the glossies.
Now, decades later, I live by the motto “Nothing Elective!” No cosmetic surgery for me. I plan to grow old with all of my wrinkles and age spots for the world to see. Why? Because I’ve earned them as a caregiver for my elderly parents, a breast cancer survivor and the victim of a devastating financial scam. I’ll proudly show off my battle scars, the results of facing life’s hardest hurdles and becoming a stronger woman because of it.
But I know we don’t all agree. Seniors and baby boomers are undergoing expensive and dangerous plastic surgery in increasing numbers in their efforts to hang on to their youthful appearance. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery’s Consumer Attitude Survey for 2010 found that 77 percent of people over 65 would be open with friends and family if they had undergone cosmetic procedures. And many already have been under the knife: in 2010, according to the ASAPS, close to 85 thousand Americans age 65 and older had cosmetic surgery. That’s a 21 percent increase over 2009, when fewer than 70 thousand older Americans took the plunge.
“I’m a huge fan of Joan Rivers – her pioneering spirit, her tenacity, her line-crossing comedy – but her face, I’m sorry to say, is a horror. It doesn’t look younger, it looks otherworldly, like another race of human altogether.”
Besides the obvious health risks involved, this enormous shift in our attitude toward facelifts, tummy tucks and breast implants is dangerous psychologically. Yeah, sure, older adults should have the same right younger folks do to radically alter our appearance, but there’s a kind of self-hatred inherent in these procedures. It seems less about anti-aging than it does about internalizing the ageism that makes us feel so ashamed of those wrinkles and age spots that I’m so proud of. Our society’s values have morphed, much like some celebrities’ faces. What happened to growing old gracefully?
And that’s the other thing: those faces. Do any of these people actually think they look younger? I mean, I’m a huge fan of Joan Rivers – her pioneering spirit, her tenacity, her line-crossing comedy – but her face, I’m sorry to say, is a horror. It doesn’t look younger, it looks otherworldly, like another race of human altogether. What’s strangest to me is that this puffed and plastic version of a human visage has become preferable to the real thing for an entire generation, a cosmetic-surgery version of the Emperor’s New Clothes. People who have undergone plastic surgery must all look at one another and feel reassured: freaks in good company.
The truth is, having plastic surgery when you’re over 70 is like painting racing stripes on a snail’s shell. You may think you look younger, but your walk, gait and balance are likely to give away your true age. If your face appears perfectly smooth, but your neck, arms and hands are wrinkled, what’s the point? We all have good and bad times in our lives, so why try to deny it?
Instead of chasing elusive physical perfection, let’s celebrate the wisdom gained from living long lives and the undeniable beauty (inside and out) that comes from aging naturally. I’ll take those wrinkles over stiff, mask-like faces any day.
Will you adopt my “Nothing Elective” motto? Leave me a comment below!