Age Defying

Traditionally, the August issue of Vogue has been one of my favorites – the splurge – even when the budget has been tight, tight, tight.

Even back when my own skin was tight, tight, tight.

Featuring women of many ages who gracefully defy age stereotypes, this year’s issue doesn’t disappoint. The women included are a striking mix – beautiful, “handsome,” and more importantly – accomplished.

But p. 184 offers a concerning (and much appreciated) report – forehead-numbing statistics highlight the numbers of women indulging in anti-aging procedures – in particular, a younger demographic than we might expect.

In “Fast Forward,” Janelle Brown sums it up:

This new face of indeterminate age is sculpted with heavy-handed injectables and surgical nips. It’s angular but puffy, tight but with exaggerated, baby-like features… Forty-year-olds look 20; 20-year-olds look 40.

The article goes on to cite the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery: patients aged 19 to 34 now account for 18 percent of nonsurgical treatments (filler, Botox, lasers).

And while they’re at it, plenty are asking for the bobbed nose, the sharply chiseled cheekbone, not to mention “supersized breasts and lips.”

To Cut or Not to Cut

Whenever I ponder the question of cosmetic procedures or plastic surgery – the tangle of issues is anything but simple.

Shouldn’t this be an individual decision? What about the collective impact on society as a whole, and our views of “beauty” as well as ourselves?

How much is too much? And how have we arrived at this place where it seems like there’s no compunction about slicing into perfectly good skin (and tissue, and muscle) – in order to arrive at an altered shape or appearance?

I wonder if those who were great beauties in their youth and their prime feel the fading of their glory more keenly than the rest of us.

I applaud their courage, when they choose to eschew this sort of age defying intervention.

I also recall last year’s controversy over French Vogue’s 10-year old models, whose provocative poses not only disturb sexually, but these are children being used to sell a youthful glow that will always be out of reach to the adult woman.

Women, Beauty, Body Image: Supermodel Surrealism

How many of us compare our present day “maturing” selves to younger days, only to beat ourselves up over the natural consequences of living a life?

How many of us spend decades comparing our lovely, human, infinitely expressive features and form to those represented by supermodels?

I contrast the sense of urgency to “fix” what aging has wrought with supermodels who apparently say no – no to the many procedures they would have ready access to, choosing instead to age naturally, or afford themselves the lightest of touch in whatever intervention they do undertake.

And those women who cannot see themselves clearly?

We’ve all heard the Heidi Montag story. We’ve seen others – celebrities – transform from what most of us would consider “normal” to something plasticized and freakish. Who doesn’t miss Meg Ryan’s “before,” or Renée Zellweiger’s for that matter? Do we really want our emotions erased from our faces? Am I the only one who shudders when the Beverly Hills Housewives hit the small screen?

Is It Media or Is It Us?

Is part of the problem the fact that we become inured to what we’re seeing in the media? That the images of women are in fact girls – or Photoshopped?

Have we always desired the Fountain of Youth, and with so many products and procedures available, we can’t help but drink the Kool-Aid?

On a side note, unlike the West Coast housewife franchises, the New York Housewives seem relatively comfortable with a more natural look, even if they take advantage of whatever their lifestyle can provide in terms of an assortment of cosmetic maintenance.

In fact, in this past week’s episode, a stunning 56-year old jewelry designer, Ranjana Khan, friend of Carole Radziwell, welcomes several of the women to her Miami penthouse. As a side note, she instructs them in facial yoga (in an odd and amusing scene). In my opinion, she is gorgeous – no plasticity, a genuine manner, a real woman’s body, and I suspect her exercise of facial muscles (rather than slicing and dicing) has something to do with her beauty.

Might she also possess a more grounded value system and self-confidence? (In the photograph here, she is the woman on the far left.)

As for cosmetic or anti-aging products and procedures, am I condemning your right to enhance your appearance – or help you feel more energized, more youthful, better about yourself?

Hardly. But when Vogue’s “age” issue includes an article that reminds us just how many young women are undergoing unnecessary and potentially aging procedures, could that be a hint to stop and think? To pay attention to what we’re modeling for our daughters – for their sense of competence, appreciation of unique beauty, and self-esteem?

My Face, My Age, My Aging

Of course we want to look our best, and I’m no different than any other woman at the half century mark. When I glance in the mirror, naturally I see the signs of age. Naturally, I preferred my skin before those signs of age, and naturally, I continue to age.

My “age defying” secrets?

Do I have the body I would like? No. The taut jawline or unfurrowed brow? No again.  The neck I was once so proud of? (I’m shaking my head, no.)

But what you see is what you get, with a little help from Dior on the lips and Chanel on the eyes. I’m real, and it suits me.

I also know that I feel beautiful when I love, and I’m loved. I feel beautiful when I’m exercising my competence, producing work I’m proud of, and connecting with others – in honest and substantive ways.

How much pressure will I feel to do something about softening skin and deepening wrinkles in another 5 years or 10?

Ask me then. I’d like to think my approach will not have changed.


August 2012 Vogue cover, scanned.

Image of Real Housewives of New York, courtesy BravoTV. com (Click image to access original.)


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  1. says

    Great post! In my part of the world, one sees a considerable amount of very obvious (and often freakish) plastic surgery or other procedures. (Trout Pout, facial skin stretched across Materhorn cheekbones, faces that look almost cat-like.) I do know women who Botox with quite subtle results, but I’ve seen other faces that look 25 above the brow bone and 55 below. I’ll pass on the “procedures” and stick with good diet, high SPF sunscreen, a little Retin-A and diligent skin care, and accept what Nature ultimately gives me. Frankly, I’d rather spend my money on shoes and bags! :-)

    • BigLittleWolf says

      The “trout pout” gives me the shivers. I’m with you on good diet, sunscreen, and reasonable skin care. (I’m also with you on the shoes and bags!)

      And I will add, once again, that laughter is essential, even when life tosses us constant curveballs. It’s energizing, sexy, relaxing. If the result is deeper lines around my eyes, then so be it! No doubt, it’s also reducing stress and working the abs!

  2. says

    Totally with you on this. I think about it often but every time I feel as though I am ‘less than’ due to ageing … I realise I owe it to my daughter to show her that we grow out of the ‘me’ phase as we age as long as we do the inner work and find our bliss in life – radiating out instead of focussing inwards. Why should I criticise the younger ones’ obsession with fake tan, nails, breasts, etc., if I am just as intolerant to my own imperfections?
    Anyone looks beautiful when they are happy. My mother turned 80 last week and she is amazing – because she is a strong, independent, loving, positive person. She has not had an easy life and has health issues – but at her party we all marvelled over her strength and energy and I hope I look as good as her at 80.
    Every time a woman says no to a drastic procedure she gives others the freedom to say no, rather than being herded into a category of what is beauty.
    Anyway, where does it end? You can see when someone has had work done, even the young ones – but in time every part of you ages, not just the eyes, face, lips, breasts … it would be exhausting and keep you thinking about the superficial rather than evolving and discovering our true gifts.
    Perhaps I am giving up and just saying it’s too hard to keep up with it all, so I think I will bow out of this eternal rollercoaster of obsession with looks.
    We need to hear more about amazing women who have achieved much – I love to see an older actress who has her character retained, the face is far more interesting and alive.
    We have to accept it is our time to step back and not be the centre of attention.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      You have a non-American viewpoint, as I can tell, Vicki Lee. (One of the pleasures I take in my French “experience” is the release of any delusion that any of us is the center of attention. We’re part of something larger, and as such – it is only natural to reach our time when we begin to cede the stage. That does not mean no longer loving, contributing, speaking our minds, or feeling beautiful and sexual.)

      I don’t think you’re giving up. To me, you’re speaking of aging gracefully which doesn’t have to mean a focus only on “losses” but on gains, as well… our compassion, our sexuality, our wisdom, our humor, our perspective. Yet you touch on that damaging issue of women and our focus on “flaws.” How have we lost the beauty in those imperfections in the past 40 years? How do we turn things around? That “eternal rollercoaster of obsession with looks” as you say?

  3. says

    We have to get real. We have to honour age and wisdom and character and integrity.
    The media has a lot to answer for and so many soak it up like it’s truth.
    It’s a big fat lie. Physical beauty is not happiness.

    It’s our responsibility to find happiness and meaning in our lives, when we are being distracted by the beauty myth we are far from the truth.

  4. says

    For me, Judi Dench is a most beautiful woman – a woman with the courage to be true to herself, to not fear her age, to proudly display the wrinkles and body of a life well-lived, showing character earned over a lifetime. Now if we could just get over what society seems to deem “perfect”.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Carol, You nailed it. The entire notion of “perfect” needs to go by the wayside in anything to do with human beings – including our idealized “perfect mate,” “perfect life,” and so on. No one can live up to that sort of pressure. No one should have to. As if we could even “define” perfect!

  5. says

    I love and “ditto” what you wrote about feeling beautiful when “I love and am loved. I feel beautiful when I’m exercising my competence.”

    And I agree with Vicky Lee Johnston’s comment that we owe it to our daughers (children) to be focusing on doing inner work and finding our bliss in life.

    It helps our children age and mature into adulthood if they see us aging and moving appropriately. Appropriately, to me, meaning without fear and resistance. There’s nothing to fear, kids, there’s nothing to fear. It’s simply life and I choose to embrace it at each turn of the path.

  6. says

    Great post! And great comments, too.

    It is shocking the number of young women that desire to start getting aging-related procedures. Maybe they haven’t seen photos of the celebs you mentioned, who might have lost some wrinkles, but now have faces that lack character and natural beauty. Some of them do look freakish.

    In our culture, there is a belief that there is something less than beautiful about aging. That is a stereotype we need to change.

    I just hope to grow old gracefully.

  7. says

    Excellent post. I always think the Vogue Age Issue is a bit tokenistic. Showing women of a variety of ages throughout the year, rather than in just one issue, would help increase the visibility of older models and is so much healthier than all this ‘slicing & dicing.’

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Now there’s a worthy idea, @ThatsNotMyAge.

      Would you buy a high-end fashion magazine with models ranging in age from 20-something to, say, 80-something? In both editorial and advertising?

      And while we’re (semi) on the subject of appearance, what if the same magazine included more of a mix of models of varying body types and sizes?

      After all, theoretically one could say it’s a matter of supply and demand.

  8. says

    BLW I would definitely buy a magazine like that – even more so if they had stories about their lives so we could learn from their experience and wisdom.

    Often those who focus more on their path in life than their physical beauty forge a road more adventurous and intriguing.

    However in these times of the internet, blogging etc., why not a cyber version – after all I am finding more real people able to speak up on the internet than in the palava we are fed by the publishing giants.

    In fact I think I will go searching for them …. I have met so many real people here in cyberspace – how ironic …
    It’s time for change.

  9. says

    I love it that your number one age defying secret is age acceptance!

    My grandmother used to say, “I’ve earned every laugh line and every frown line. I’m much prouder of the laugh lines.”

    Every time I discover a new wrinkle I think about what she said and hope what I’ve earned is a laugh line.

    (You are aging just beautifully, by the way. Simply beautiful! Inside and out.)

  10. Lisa says

    This is a great post. A few nights ago I watched the HBO documentary, About Face. It was interesting as you saw some of the most beautiful women who graced the covers of Vogue discussing this topic. They had many different views on this matter, and like many women, walked the fine line of what to accept with the aging process and what to fix. One famous (gorgeous) model was quoted as saying, “If your ceiling is falling in your house you fix it right?”. Another, had her eyes done and some refused to have anything done. None of them looked like there was too much done and all looked beautiful. They ALL looked real and represented all levels of comfort with aging and “fixes.” So, they modeled for us again. This time “women of a certain age” were well represented and shown varied levels of comfort and “adjustments”. All of the former models displayed grace and good taste. Thank you HBO and thank you for today’s post.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Pleased you joined the conversation, Lisa. I’m hoping I get to say that documentary. It sounds very worthwhile for those of us who are confronted daily with the sense that we are less worthy as we grow older. Modeling grace and good taste sounds helpful at every age.

  11. says

    How I have enjoyed reading today’s post and comments. Now, before I get distracted I will say that there is a magazine out there today that shows a wide range of ages (not to mention body types) in both the content and advertising: O. And there is often info on the background of the featured women as well. Another magazine that did this was Mirabella, launched at the end of the 80s, at a time when we all felt that we needed to be “glamazons”.

    I’ll just put one little thing out there: I had quite a bit of Botox done when I was an actor. The pressure to look one’s best was insane and in no way was I famous! Casting directors had no compunction in telling me that I was looking old or my agent that I “needed a vacation”. But I realize that is really linked to a specific career, one that is no longer mine. I focused with much blame on the wrinkles between my eyes as they are quite deep for many years and am so relieved to finally be free of that.

    Of course, BLW you know that I am going to mention, as you did, how different things are in France, an idea that has been repeated so much that it seems cliché but really, I see every single day how women behave and feel in their skin as they get older here. How the search for “perfect” (and how on Earth did Trout Pout become ‘perfect’?) is not really the quest that is interesting because these women are too busy just being.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Thank you, Heather. (It helps being surrounded by art books! Who wouldn’t smile and feel good about that?)

  12. Leslie Coe says

    I agree with you. There are so many reasons why women go for plastic surgery. I am sympathetic and would be supportive if one of my friends decided to do it. I believe many women have an image in their heads as to what they hope to look like when they’re done. I have seen a lot of befores and afters. Most of the time, I think the “befores” look better. On the other hand, I have seen women who have had work done and been surprised because the result was so good. I hope some day this will change and the unaltered face will be the most desired. I am in my early sixties and have had laser and botox, but that’s it. I feel comfortable in my skin and like my face despite a few wrinkles. I feel a soft spot for women who don’t feel like they look OK as they are.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I hear you, Leslie. It would indeed be nice if the unaltered face were more appreciated. Ironically, when you watch old movies (1960s or earlier), you see those unaltered faces and I find them interesting. You also see a mix of younger and older people, which I find riveting for its “natural” aspects that we don’t seem to find in film any longer. Perhaps because we see less intermixing of the generations in life?

  13. says

    I’m just so against surgical intervention for the purpose of ‘staying young’. I would feel as though I’d abandoned myself if I didn’t keep my own face, for all its faults. I blame all the photoshopping for giving people unrealistic idea about how they should look. I’m just back from a month in France and one of the museums we visited had a collection of photographs of Sarah Bernhardt. One set showed the same photo with and without ‘retouching’. My parents were professional photographers in the 40s and 50s and I’d forgotten about the retouching Mom did on negatives…

  14. says

    Great post and equally intelligent discussion. I live in a city where plastic is the norm, everything from bubble lips to in your face cleavage. I certainly don’t fit into this archetype and I am comfortable with embracing the beauty I’ve been given. In my opinion, beauty lies in imperfection.

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