Senior-Planet-Joan-Rivers

You Too Can Look Weirder

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! 

Photo: david_shankbone’s photostream

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75 comments
  • Swolf
    REPLY

    I mostly agree with and appreciate Linda’s point of view, though am not comfortable with singling out one individual for comment, and am more like the ” live and let live” contingent..
    However, there is one issue that seems never to be mentioned.about aging naturally and gracefully, and that is, it may not be age itself that’s so distressing, but for some of us,it’s feeling so unattractive. It doesn’t change the basic issue, but seems hidden behind the euphemism of “aging.”

  • Willow
    REPLY

    Joan Rivers continues to be a beautiful women. We need to embrace all women as beautiful regardless of their choice to age naturally or not. If I choose to age naturally, I will not disrespect those who choose differently. Thanks for listening.

  • Annamay
    REPLY

    Oh thank you for this! These aging stars begin to look all alike — same eyes slanting upward on the outside, kind of Asian. The sharply drawn jawline that looks separate from the neck, those weird puffs of cheek on the sides of the mouth — sometimes even lopsided. I miss the original character of the subject! Perhaps a “tweek” here or there might do the trick but they go just too far.

  • ‘Charlie’
    REPLY

    I could not agree more!! I know some women who have had “work” done & smooth skin, no wrinkles combined with spotty hands & wrinkly knees..strange, I’ll spend my money on trips or theater or just plain silly fun! I’ve spent 67 yrs with this face and I like it !!
    If it’s not medically necessary, why?

  • llyn64
    REPLY

    How patronizing could an article be!? I am 67 years old and have never had cosmetic surgery, but I would’nt mind a few tweaks. Obvioiously, it is not for you, your choice, and your perception. But If cosmetic surgery, minor or major, makes one happy, I say go for it.
    Here is an idea: go back to school and get your mind on bigger concepts than judgement of other’s cosmetic choices. Oh wait, that was my choice. You get the point.

  • quilley
    REPLY

    I realized way back when I first began to feel the aging process, when my beauty would no longer get me in the door, that beauty my be developed from another deeper place. The superficial would no longer suffice.

  • rita seger
    REPLY

    when you grow up having a nose job and all of a sudden your popular, it makes you stop and think. getting strokes for the way you look makes you want to continue looking good (not all wrinkled). Joan Rivers is a little overdone but modified it can be attractive. It makes you less invisible. thanks for this wonderful site

  • chinagirl99
    REPLY

    One of my mother’s frequent comments was, “Everything in moderation.” That said, I am now 66 years old and have had several plastic surgeries…the first, a lower face lift at 52, was the only strictly cosmetic one. (I didn’t have a double chin: I had a quadruple genetically inherited one.) In my early 60’s, after years of waffling, I had a breast reduction….and suddenly regained feeling in my hands, could take up many handcrafts I had abandoned, became headache and back-pain free for the first time in 40 years.I had an upper lid lift that was also considered medical – and it made it possible for me to read and work again at night – but which had a lovely cosmetic effect.

    So….I think this topic is too broad and too prone to cliche to write a blanket condemnation of multiple procedures. If a small nip and tuck makes one feel better…great. If one chooses to go au naturel, also great. Beauty comes in every package and has as many manifestations as there are people on this earth. Let’s just celebrate THAT!

  • cmag1971
    REPLY

    Sorry, but she looks horrible. So many of these guys don’t seem to understand that your neck doesn’t match your face; skin doesn’t match hair color etc.

    Personally, I earned my wrinkles, so I’ll keep’em.

  • Ashton Applewhite
    REPLY

    Plastic surgery is at best a slippery slope, at worst a slide into the grotesque. I used to be categorically opposed to it. Except for breast reductions. And maybe a little botox in the furrow between my sister’s brows. Or when a specific cosmetic issue stands between someone and self-esteem. And isn’t make-up artificial enhancement too . . .?
    You get the picture. I wouldn’t do and and think it’s generally a lousy idea, but I stopped being so dogmatic.

  • Debbie
    REPLY

    Who knew you were such a talented and insightful writer, Linda?!? This is a wonderful article, full of humor and truth. I just read all the comments, and I am struck by the intelligence and eloquence of your readers as well. (loved Robbie’s comment, by the way!) I wholeheartedly agree with your aging gracefully and naturally philosophy. Bravo!

  • Moha
    REPLY

    I too am in the ” grow old gracefully” brigade…truly, as we look at the other species that is evolving, not out if envy, but genuine concern…do they not see how they look? I look at myself in the mirror daily and am not at all flattered by the obvious signs of aging, but I do want to do the best I can to be able to take myself to the finish line with what’s intended to happen to our body by taking good care and working for it. Thank you for an article that reflects what’s on our minds…

  • STERNDALE
    REPLY

    WELL SAID!

    BETTER TO CONCENTRATE ON STAYING HEALTHY BY EATING RIGHT, EXERCISING, AND NURTURING LOVING RELATIONSHIPS WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS BUILT OVER THE YEARS!

    THAT’S THE SECRET OF STAYING YOUNG!

  • Audrey
    REPLY

    I certainly am in the era of “procedures”, however, have never had one and don’t think I will start now. Maybe it’s because I have heard too many horror stories…maybe it’s just because I am who I am and realize we need to grow older gracefully. I have definitely earned my lines and wrinkles. I smile a lot. I think our society is to artificial and once you start, where does it stop.
    Good article, Linda.

  • Jayne
    REPLY

    Your article really illuminates an important issue for our aging population. Aging gracefully. Let’s embrace that idea!

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Hi Jayne,

      Yes, for many of us, aging gracefully is what it’s all about. But some would still rather fight the aging process.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and add to the discussion here.

  • Nancy Mueller
    REPLY

    I agree! If people truly want to turn back the clock, they need to be looking inward at the nutrition (or lack of nutrition) that they are putting into their bodies. Every time we put something foreign into our bodies, our bodies do not know what to do with it and have to go into overload while treating the substance like a toxin.

    Stop the madness! Our favorite celebrities are hardly recognizable (Cher)! Please stop; we love you the way you are!

  • Liz
    REPLY

    Linda is right! Our humanity is expressed in the sags and lines we see in the mirror. What does that alien looking mask of a face tell us about the inner self? It expresses little of the compassion and wisdom we gain as we age. Look at Rembrandt’s portraits!
    “Nothing Elective”!

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Hi Liz,

      I appreciate your adding this point that we can learn from the artwork around us, because it is a reflection of our culture.

      Thanks for your support!

  • Allison tucker
    REPLY

    Linda,what a thoughtful and well-written article. I am so impressed. It is a bit terrifying to look in the mirror but I sure have earned every wrinkle ,some from smiles of joy and some from frowns of sadness,the road map,of my life! Keep the articles coming,you have an enjoyable,humorous,insightful style. Love you and miss you ,Allison

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      My dear “old” friend, Allison,

      Thank you for sharing with me and the readers here. I like your analogy of our wrinkles being a road map of our lives!

      I miss you and look forward to seeing you later this year!

  • Tom Volkar
    REPLY

    Well said Linda. I’d rather continue exercising often as I have been doing so that I naturally look younger than my age. My inspiration is a 72 year old guy at my gym who hits the treadmill and weights hard for 1.5 hours every day and he looks 60!

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Hi Tom,

      I am a huge proponent of moving our bodes throughout our lives — via exercise, walking, sports and/or dancing.

      I hope you told the gentleman that he inspires you! Sounds like a great role model and lucky for you that he’s in your line of sight often.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • Kay
    REPLY

    This article is timely. I have not yet decided if surgery by choice is for me or not. I know several women who have had a little work done. If not overdone, it seems to make them feel better, then sometimes, an exercise routine to help with balance and flexibility and keeping their weight within reasonable limits can follow. But you are correct in saying that people go too far and do too much. In our house we say, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Hi Kay,

      I like your motto, too — Just because we can, doesn’t mean you should. Exercise is another vital part of aging well.

      Best of luck with your decision and thanks for your thoughts.

  • BarbaraE
    REPLY

    Great article! I couldn’t agree more. I think it is so sad that people focus on looks and not what is important. I am especially shocked at the number of people in their 20’s who start the plastic surgery journey. I had to laugh at one of the comments. My 85 year old mother-in-law had eye surgery and then kept asking me why I hadn’t told her about all her wrinkles! Keep up the wonderful, insightful articles!

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Dear BarbaraE,

      That is a funny story about your mother-in-law. Things they never tell us about aging, eh?!

      It is scary that people younger and younger are electing for plastic surgery. Thanks for your comment!

  • Robbie Abbit
    REPLY

    You were right on point taking note that the fashion models weren’t as gorgeous in person. Whether it is digital retouching on a picture or cosmetic restructuring of the body, everyone seems to strive for the unattainable instead of appreciating what they have. There are plenty of other more impressive things in life to flaunt than a fake rack. Very well-written–From a proud son!

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Dear Robbie,

      Thank you for those kind words, my sweet son! I hope our family values have been handed down clearly so that you live a satisfying and well-balanced life. {{hugs}}

  • Faded glory
    REPLY

    I’m with you Linda! I love the analogy of racing stripes on a snail! I’m going to keep on playing; tennis, golf, or just walking with friends and spend my money on traveling the world in stead of trying to erase the story of my life on my face! Ha!

  • carolyn
    REPLY

    I think your “Nothing Elective” motto is great, IF you can get everyone else to go along with it, too!!! I loved reading your article, and want to hear more from you!

  • Steve Bisheff
    REPLY

    Linda: I’m glad I never had to compete against you for a column. This is really a well written piece. Very smooth, with colorful phrases. Honestly, not just because you’re a friend, this is an extremely professional job. You definitely should be writing regularly for someone. Congrats.

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Steve,

      You’ve absolutely floored me! I think reading your sports columns all of these years must have sunk into my brain and come out in my own style. Thank *you* for being a teacher when you didn’t even know you were! I’m so very honored by your comments!

  • Yored
    REPLY

    I agree. Your wrinkles are part of the aging process.if you’re still alive to go thru the process then be proud. Wrinkles & gray hair are just signs of life’s experiences. I think Linda is so on point. Great writing.

  • Kim Hawthorne
    REPLY

    I feel very much as you do on the topic of cosmetic surgery mostly being freakish looking, yet I adopt the “to each his own/live and let live” philosophy. If Joan Rivers is living her day to day life happier than she otherwise would be because she likes the way her cosmetic surgery looks, why should she care that I think she looks like an alien? Conversely, I’m certain she would prefer my 55 year old face that has not been touched by cosmetic surgery if I would have it cosmetically altered to erase some of that aging. Why should I care what she and all the women with cosmetically altered faces think of my face? It’s my face, I like it this way, so it’s staying this way. If they like their faces altered in a way that looks extremely unattractive to me, well, so be it, those are their faces, not mine. Do what is going to make YOU happy. That, in my opinion, is the key to a life well lived!

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Hi Kim,

      I understand what you are saying — live and let live. I’m using Joan Rivers as one example of a cultural trend where women (and men) feel compelled to look young, and it is doing psychological damage as well. I hope Rivers is happier as a result of her multiple surgeries, but just the fact that she’s had these procedures reflect a sense of unease (unhappiness?) with how she looks. And I’d still be laughing at her jokes if she didn’t have even one facelift! Thanks for your comments.

  • Laurie Beth
    REPLY

    I’m with you the whole way. I’m most struck by your analogy of having earned the way we look and being stronger for it. We all work very hard every day, and I’m grateful for each day I’m here.

  • Sandy
    REPLY

    Great article! I’d love to read more like it. In fact a comparison of “aging” faces from around the world would be interesting, being that most cultures wouldn’t consider such extreme measures, but appreciate happiness a fabulous beauty treatment. I think then folks would see what mutilation is occurring both inside and out, and it’s really not a pretty thing. Linda, keep up the writing… love the read!

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Hi Sandy,

      I really like your idea of a photo essay about aging faces from around the world! I think you are correct about other cultures, too. You also raise another serious topic — mutilation. Thanks for your perspective, and the kind words about my piece.

  • Cindy
    REPLY

    Joan Rivers is a walking poster child for every reason NOT to get repeated plastic surgery! Notice I said “repeated”. I believe a single plastic surgery procedure has it’s place for those who become disfigured or desire a self esteem boost. But when people get repeated things done to their bodies they become a plastic surgery train wreck! I actually feel sorry for people who have extensive work done because it’s obvious they don’t feel comfortable in their own skin (pun intended!) Great article Linda!!

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Hi Cindy,

      Yes, I hear you and several other readers have mentioned this point, too. Repeated plastic surgeries is also what worries me, plus the culture we live in now baed on surface beauty where teenage girls are even getting boob jobs as Sweet 16 gifts from their parents. Ugh! Thanks for your comment.

  • Tori
    REPLY

    Excellent points. I look at my hands that show my 63 years. I am proud of every age spot richly earned by hours of fun in the sun with my children, because they show I have lived my life, cared for children and grandchildren and not avoided meaningful experiences because i might end up with wrinkles. I had one aunt tell me not to smile because you’ll get wrinkles. She lived a very unhappy life. Guess what the best way is to give yourself a natural faced lift- smile and laugh!! Here’s laughing at ya and with you!

  • ShariR
    REPLY

    What a great article! Although it will be hard for me, I will try to “re-frame” my thinking and embrace my wrinkles. I must admit, it will be difficult, but I will try!

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Hi ShariR,

      Thank you for the comment. See, we’ve already been so brainwashed against aging, what normally we might never think about (wrinkles as we age), we seem to stress out over! Hope the aging process will be easier than you expect.

  • PhyllisNY
    REPLY

    Well said, Linda. And for all the 60+ ladies out there: wait as long as possible before you have cataract surgery. Funny how the wrinkles suddenly appear in your bathroom mirror after your eye surgery!

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Hi PhyllisNY,

      OMG — I’ve never thought about what cataract surgery might change! It’s like suddenly seeing yourself on HD TV. Thanks for the warning. :-)

  • Tina
    REPLY

    “Racing stripes on a snail shell” I wish I wrote that! Great article, Linda. I have to confess, I am surprised every time I look in the mirror. I feel like I did when I was 26 but that is not the face staring back at me. I have not yet made peace with my wrinkles or grey hair. I am far too vain but I am learning to laugh at the futility of turning back the tide. Laugh lines are sexy, right?

  • cjbruin
    REPLY

    I agree but sadly most people don’t. I’m not a very religious person but I think the phrase, “Don’t mess with what the good lord gave ya.” is spot on. It’s one thing to be well groomed and take pride in your appearance…it’s another thing altogether to surgically change it. Fake breasts look fake and feel worse…what a super turn-off. Face lifts, yuck. Even Botox. Sure, what person doesn’t need a little botulism in their body? Good on ya for staying true to who you are.

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Hi cjbruin,

      Thanks for taking the time to write and endorse my stand. I really have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that people choose to put botulism internally to get rid of wrinkles. No way, no how for me!

  • Sandiegoelman
    REPLY

    Here, here. Besides that, almost any artist will tell you that an aging, scarred, wrinkled face tells a much better story & is more interesting to paint/draw than a pristine one. My favorite painting is a scarred up “old” African man with a huge smile on his face. Your smile is your inner beauty & he makes me smile whenever I look at or think about him.

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Hi Sandiegoelman,

      “Your smile is your inner beauty. . .” Agreed!

      It’s interesting how art can also be a reflection/commentary about our aging lives. Thanks for adding this perspective about our cultural heritage.

      If you’re not familiar with his work, Ari Seth Cohen’s site is a great proponent of your idea:

      http://www.advancedstyle.blogspot.com/

  • sunflower
    REPLY

    Linda, I couldn’t agree with you more. I have never done anything to my face, or anywhere else, for that matter, and I’m always getting compliments on my face. I am almost 82.

  • 44.9 Year Old Down Under
    REPLY

    What an Excellent Article!
    A radio host in Melbourne, Australia likened plastic surgery to the “cheap toupe of the Eighties – where the wearer was the only person who thought the hair looked real!”
    What an awful culture we’ve developed where life experience and wisdom and the package it comes in are now shameful!
    I won’t be getting an upper lip that comes out further than my toes or lumpy skin pulled so shiny that it almost blinds other people in the sun!

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Hi 44.9 year old Down Under (love your screen name!),

      Thanks for sharing the radio host’s comment about plastic surgery looking like a cheap toupe! Perfect analogy! By sounding off, I’m hoping to make the outer package not so shameful. Thanks for your support.

  • Kat
    REPLY

    Unfortunately this does not surprise me. It seems like many boomers continue to refuse to accept the fact that we are aging and will do anything to avoid it. Great article and thank you for saying it. I am embracing the wrinkles right beside you!

  • Michelle
    REPLY

    While I, too, love her humor, Joan Rivers’ plastic surgery is beyond “beyond.” That said, I’m open to some elective surgery for myself that is within reason. My mother got one facelift in her early 70s and it was a dramatic improvement (she had “chicken neck”)– she looks and feels significantly better. That said, I agree that a compulsive attitude about surgery– kind of like someone who likes his/her first tattoo and keeps going– is harmful. I do think something reasonable is still on the table for me. I love me some Linda Abbit!!!

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Thank you, my friend and colleague! Yes, there can be a “happy medium” on this. You, my dear, don’t need it as far as I can see. I also understand the benefits your mom and others can derive from some plastic surgery. But I won’t be going under the knife unless it’s medically necessary. Thanks for being a fan!

  • Diane Bucka
    REPLY

    This article nails it! So many people – of every age – fall victim to the notion that some superficial fix will cure all that ails them. What it really does is reinforce stereotypes and perpetuate wrong-minded notions of beauty. To say nothing of the mockery it makes of truly needed medical care that is out of reach for so many.

    • Linda Abbit
      REPLY

      Thank you, Diane, for raising another important issue I hadn’t thought of. I agree with you! Wouldn’t it be nice if some plastic surgeons would perhaps donate their time and skills to helping people who need their care, rather than for doing elective procedures?

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