Saturday, April 4, 2009

Aging, More Magazine, and Plastic Surgery

More magazine is one of my favorite magazines. It's designed specifically for women over 40, and I discovered it at the gym when I was on the verge of turning 40. It made me feel so much more powerful about entering that new stage in my life. It celebrates the second half of a woman's life.

But.

My one qualm about the magazine is that it seems to be filled with articles about and advertisements for plastic surgery or other trying-to-regain-the-look-of-youth products...at the same time as publishing articles about women reinventing themselves and celebrating their age. The current issue has an article by a woman who was laid off and spent her severance ($33K+) to fix her teeth and get a facelift--supposedly to give her an edge in the dating and hiring worlds. She claims she felt shallow doing it, but at the same time she proclaimed it to everyone she knew (and wrote an article for a magazine). I have a very difficult time understanding the rationale of spending that kind of money on vanity, pure and simple.

I am not averse to plastic surgery...in fact, I was a huge beneficiary of plastic surgery as a baby and child because of my cleft lip and palate. Also in the current issue of More was an article about a pioneering plastic surgeon who performed the world's face transplant. Apparently her work is controversial because some say that a face transplant is not worth the risk of surgery...however, she has strict protocols and she sees the huge benefits that only a face transplant can result in (for example, being able to eat). Her greatest fear is that unscrupulous doctors will use these advances for plastic surgery to make people look younger. Plastic surgery can do so much good.

I just began a memoir called Epilogue by Anne Roiphe, who was widowed at the age of 69 and began dating again. She writes about how devastating it was to become a widow and how difficult it was to throw herself back into the dating scene. These words resonated with me:

"I saw that my body was soft and the skin from my upper arms hung in small ripples. I saw that my legs, once my pride and joy, had blue veins, at least on the back of my right calf. I was old and sagged where once I had been taut and firm. I noticed the folds under my chin. I noticed that my eyebrows had faded away. I saw that a facelift might help. But I would never do that. It's one thing to wash your face and quite another to cut it, or allow someone else to cut it. Each wrinkle, each line, each tilt of the eye belonged to me, contained the life I had led, the sadness of loss, the pleasure of birth, the wonder of the landscape, the pleasure of flying in the clouds in a four-seater plane at sunset, the cold of the lake in Maine where I learned to dive. Many of my friends had (what they called) work done, pouches under the eyes removed, excess fat pulled off and tucked behind the ears. They did look younger than I but they also did not look quite like themselves. Their expressions seemed pulled across their face as if they were on strings."

I like this--viewing each wrinkle, each sag, each line, as pieces of who we are, as part of our own unique history. I realize I'm only 44, and I might feel differently at 64. But the thought of spending thousands of dollars to erase a few wrinkles--especially if I would have to repeat the procedure again later and spend more money (like with Botox, or facelifts)--is anathema to me. Then there are the medical risks involved with going under the knife purely for the sake of vanity.

If given my druthers, I'd rather spend 6 months traveling with that money. Just think of what could be done with $33,000. Think of the cultural enrichment, or how many people who could feed or clothe their children. Is it really more important to erase a few wrinkles or lift a few sags, than to feed or clothe the poor, or enjoy oneself on a glorious, memorable vacation? Or even to just put the money aside for a rainy day?

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