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Comfortable in my (sagging) skin? Not so fast

Posted in Aging, Beauty, Health, and Women's issues

Graffiti by Anastasia Brennab
Graffiti by Anastasia Brennan

Some of the advantages of living in Los Angeles: nearly perfect weather; a vibrant culture; access to a variety of fresh produce all year round ; being able to be steeped in nature if one so chooses; the beach; great restaurants; a laid back live and let live attitude.
Some of the disadvantages of living in Los Angeles: traffic with a capital T; a size that requires detailed planning for every outing; no winter; not being able to see your friends as often as one would like (see size); celebrities.

Celebrities? As out of town guests often point out, it’s fun to come up close and personal with the famous, the infamous and the beautiful if you spend enough time here: Julia Roberts in the car next to you at a light; Dustin Hoffman retrieving his vehicle at the same valet; Nicole Kidman at Wholefoods; Gwen Stefani at the park…you don’t even have to shell out for the latest hot spots if you are into that kind of celebrity spotting. Bumping into people whose line of work includes having their faces enlarged on screens and posters can make you feel inadequate, in the looks department, and it has spawned a beauty enhancing industry on which American spent $12 billion dollars in 2014. In L.A., you can have botox injected over your lunch break, or sit at home for a week waiting for your skin to slough off after a chemical peel; you can have a $ 500 facial from an aesthetician known for vilifying her clients to their faces (oh, but she works miracles, they coo!); and then there is the pecking order of the most jettisoned (and most expensive) plastic surgeons whose credentials are the very faces we see on screen when we go to the movies.

I have often wondered about Donatella Versace's aesthetics sense
I have often wondered about Donatella Versace’s aesthetics sense

Last week I found myself at a fundraising lunch where the attendees’ average age was mid to late 60 and I estimated a good 70% of the women had their faces retouched, more or less successfully. The week before I came very close up with three celebrities: Jane Fonda, 77, whose cosmetic surgery has left her familiar features untouched; Helen Hunt, 51, whose skin is porcelain white but a bit too taut and Maria Shriver, 59, who doesn’t appear to have done much at all.

Of the three, I gave my inner kudos to Ms. Shriver. But as I put my face under the microscope of my scrutiny day in and day out, trying to reach a definitive conclusion on whether I want to intervene in some fashion (fillers on the side of my mouth? Botox to eliminate the line between my brows? Or just go for the whole shebang? Or maybe stop obsessing and accepting change with equanimity if not grace?) a comment from blogger Jackie Mallon landed on one of our pages:

I guess if we’re talking about age and not caring about attracting the opposite sex etc I would like to think that being brave would mean not turning to plastic surgery to preserve the illusion of youth. I know many women would shoot me down for saying this but I find figures like Helen Mirren, Vivienne Westwood, Judy Dench, Maggie Smith, Patti Smith more courageous in these times and more especially in their industry…I know people say “If cosmetic surgery makes you feel good, then do it,” but wouldn’t owning how you look after all these years on the planet feel even better–if it didn’t make you feel inferior..? It’s this last bit that we as women need to wrap our heads around and it would be amazing to have more role models who help counteract this sense of inferiority…

Any visible difference?
Any visible difference?

The comment gave me pause. I always considered myself a feminist. I teased mercilessly my mother’s friends who resorted to all kinds of procedures and ended up with inflated lips and new cheekbones. I always said I would never….very easy to think from the perch of your 30s when having to contend with saggy skin and very few obvious returns on aging feel like a lifetime away. Then I justified this latest inclination to ameliorate my looks to wanting to feel good about myself and not letting others influence my personal decisions or, worse, telling me how I should feel. Sofagirl and I have always been in the camp of “if it makes you feel good, it’s up to you”. Lately, though, and Jackie’s comment has helped crystallize my feelings, I am not so sure it’s about how I feel or how I feel I should feel. How much is my need to wake up in the morning and being met by a refreshed appearance (all I am looking for, not pumped up lips or new cheeks) in the mirror and how much is involuntary outside pressure weighing on me. Would I feel different if I lived somewhere else and not perpetually confronted with women whose aging process stopped somewhere between 40 and 50?

Would being brave in a more natural approach to aging make feel, indeed, revolutionary? Or would it just make me avoid mirrors? Two people I hadn’t seen in thirty years, whom I met over the course of the last six months, both said to me “You look more beautiful now than you did at 19”. While I don’t believe the objectivity of this statement for one second, I know what they mean: I exude a hell of a lot more confidence, I know who I am, hence I am more attractive. Yet, when I look in the mirror, all I can focus on are the lines and the sag, as if I never grew out of the insecurities of adolescence. Perhaps I never did.

Graffiti art by Akse
Graffiti art by Akse

So I am adding acceptance of my wrinkles and tired eyes to the list of things about myself I need to make peace with. See how it goes. If I can come to terms with my personality flaws why not the progress of time writ large on my body? The way we look should go hand in hand with the aging process that happen on the inside but, more and more, it grows out of synch: as we age more vibrantly, as we stay healthy longer, we also want to hold on to our sexuality, our desirability the society we live in prize so much. I understand that.

I also understand that what happens on the inside cannot be frozen in time by surgery or fillers: our expressions change, our eyes no longer open wide in wonder but more reflective of our experiences and our wisdom.

As far as I am concerned, for now, the jury is still out. If I get to the point when facing the mirror becomes a struggle, well….I sure live in the right place…

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6 Comments

  1. Great post! I really admire women who do nothing to their faces – embrace aging with confidence like the women you mentioned. They of course all started out ‘beautiful’. At 51 I find it hard to focus on the crepey saggy bits when I look in the mirror too and darn those vertical upper lip lines I see creeping in; I’d do anything not to have them only they haven’t invented a failsafe cure yet. Duck lips are just not me. Yet!

    May 21, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      I am considering installing antique mirrors all around the house, you know, the ones covered by a patina of time, into which anything reflected looks better? Thank you for taking the time to comment and “duck lips” made me smile.

      May 21, 2015
      |Reply
  2. You make me sound somehow wise! Well, gee, that’s never happened before so thank you. 🙂

    May 15, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Time to give yourself some credit (although we will revisit this issue in about 15 years and will see if you still feel the same. Hope you do)

      May 15, 2015
      |Reply
  3. Katia
    Katia

    I’m One of the two, and I really meant it!

    May 15, 2015
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Thank you! It was wonderful to see you again, and you haven’t changed a bit

      May 15, 2015
      |Reply

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