The other night I couldn’t sleep, and it was because of plastic surgery. Or, more specifically, it was because I had recently seen a photo of a celebrity (actually not Renee Zellweger) and it had made me feel all sorts of strange inside.
Okay that sounds kind of creepy. But you know what I mean. The photo I had seen—of a beautiful famous woman who’s about fifty—was of a face I didn’t recognize from my childhood years, when I had watched this lovely woman on tv: she now had those lips that looked puffed and cartoonish and duck-ly, and those very open fake-looking eyes. Staring at the picture I felt a weird combination of confused, embarrassed, and sad. What is that, I thought. Meaning both this woman’s face, and my strong reaction to it.
Now, right off the bat, I’ll admit that I probably shouldn’t be writing anything about plastic surgery. I’ll be 30 in a couple months. It’s probably unwise, and a little tasteless, to discuss famous women twenty or so odd years older than me messing with their faces. But alas, I am not wise, nor do I have taste. Plus, this isn’t even about “older” women, anyhow. Tons of women in their thirties (what the hell Mary-Kate Olsen!) seem to be doing it too. And it freaks me out on so many levels. The first of which is not P.C. at all to say.
Because it just looks, awful. Right? Sometimes, I feel crazy thinking this. I don’t know, maybe there is something different in L.A. and New York, something they put in the water that changes what people think looks good, but I just don’t understand how having a look that screams “this is all completely fake, and also my unmoving forehead is actually a baby’s ass I bought on Craigslist and then rubbed with Crisco and attached to my skull” is supposed to be sexy. When I see these women I just think, wow, you not only ruined your beauty, but you ruined your face! I mean, your face, man! YOUR FACE. And honestly, every single time, I think, you just...really don’t look younger. (Which was the point? I think?) Instead, you look crazy. You look worse, sitcom star I once loved! It makes me sad. Do these women think they look better? Do they look better? (They don’t, right? I remain seriously confused.)
And of course to think I have a right to talk about plastic surgery at all, never having had any, is again, probably stupid. I do want to be clear that I’m not talking about the kind of plastic surgery (often done earlier in life, it seems) that truly makes someone feel better about a specific thing. I’ve had a friend get a nose job, and being a woman blessed with the gift of barely having an A cup (true story) the idea of getting breast implants has passed my mind many times. For example, it passed my mind when, as a freshman in college in Virginia, I was standing by a keg in a striped halter top from H&M that I thought I looked super fly in, and a guy walked up next to me and told me he was cutting in front of me for a beer “because I had no tits.” (The only plus side to this story is that he was a pale white dude wearing a sleeveless Celtics jersey, so even though I was on the verge of bursting into tears, I at least didn’t feel homesick!) But honestly, if you’re unhappy with something about your body, and you have the means to do something about, and you’ve thought about it a decent amount and also hopefully talked to some people about it who love you, then “you do, you!” right? I do think that. Or I want to think that. I really do, because it seems open-hearted and feminist and 2016 and all that other important shit. But at some point a line should be drawn. Like, if I ever get breast implants (which I probably won’t because they’re expensive, and also surgery is scary, and also that 2004 guy standing by the keg SUCKS) it’s not because I don’t think I am a mortal human. Likewise, if someone is unhappy with their nose and would like to change it, that doesn’t mean they now think they’ll never die. But when I see a woman who’s changed multiple parts of her face, in what appears to be a (failed) attempt to look like a younger, bionic steel-cheeked-boned version of herself, it starts making me think all these Dr. Phil-ish thoughts. Like, last time I checked, isn’t life a blessing? (It is, right?) Isn’t it a good thing to make it to 50 or 60 or 70 or 80? Isn’t it nice to have a face and be alive?
And even beyond feeling sad when I see these photos (and scared of what aging will ultimately do to my psyche one day) I feel kind of embarrassed, too. Because these women are just putting their vanity on display so God damn openly. Now, believe me, I am a vain person too (potentially very vain if I’ve been doing a lot of yoga recently and just had a bikini wax and a blowout and am avoiding my usual diet of frozen pizza, breakfast tacos and seven Babybels just for fun) but that is something I like to try to keep in the dark. It’s tacky. It’s the same reason selfies weird me out. I understand the idea behind them, but why do you ever want people to know that you’re by yourself, sticking an arm out, and then pursing your lips, and posing for a camera phone. Again: BY YOURSELF. It’s so embarrassing! Frances McDormand would vomit all over you if she saw you doing that, and she’s the best! The BEST! If one must, pose alone in the mirror while putting on your firming body cream and dancing to “Check Up On It” or whatnot, but otherwise, lock it up. I can only imagine what it would be like to walk around with an entire face screaming to everyone “I am so vain!” at all times. I look at some of these stars, and it feels both so personal and so public, like you can feel all their self-loathing about themselves and about how confusing fucking life is and then they’re in the parking lot in front of the plastic surgery place spilling coffee all over their pants and muttering about their mothers. (Do stars spill coffee on their pants and mutter about their mothers?)
And of course this isn’t just about women. Nor is what I’m talking about anyone’s “fault”, especially not the famous women who feel pressured into mauling themselves in order to get roles or stay relevant. I don’t know who’s fault it is. (The founders of Instagram! Kim Kardashian!) I do know I’m part of the problem. About a year ago, I was sitting in a restaurant with my father, doing the same song-and-dance I’ve done for about five years now. You need to lose weight. You need to drink less. You look tired. You look really tired, Dad. At one point, my father just stabbed his eggs with his fork and looked up at me and shrugged his shoulders and said, “Yeah. I’m getting old.” (Subtext: Fuck off and let me eat my breakfast.) I remember in that moment feeling very foolish, and selfish, and of course, sad, too. I mean, my father is getting old. He’s 63. His hair is 100% grey. We’re no longer stopping in the parking lot of a Fleet Bank so that he can check his beeper on our way to go see D2: Mighty Ducks. Likewise, I no longer am capable of feeling that all my happiness in life comes down to the fact that I own a baby blue lava lamp. (Life, man, am I right?) But, what are we going to do? Be constantly giving any one who openly displays the fact that none of us will live forever tremendous amounts of judgement and ridicule?
Which brings me to my boyfriend’s grandmother. She’s 80. And she looks amazing. This is partly good genes. A lot of it is style. A lot of it is care. She takes the time to put together amazing outfits. She wears make-up and jewelry and scarves and perfume. So of course, there’s vanity, but to me, it’s the healthy kind. She doesn’t have some fake, distracting, semi-terrifying plastic face. Mostly what makes her so attractive though, is who she is. I’ve known her for six years now, but I know when she’s sitting across from me and laughing until she has tears in her eyes, it’s the essence of who she’s always been—at 15, at 45, and today. She’s a riot. She’s fun. She’s the opposite of invisible. She’s happy to be alive, to have a vodka tonic and listen to a joke and make conversation, which is not an age thing. When she is in a room you want to be near her. I don’t think you can implant that in your face.
There’s no way to write about this stuff without pissing someone off. I’m pissing myself off writing this. I should be writing about the dangers of texting while driving or whatever. But, alas, this is what happens when you’re on People.com at two a.m. in the morning and you can’t fall asleep. And who knows, maybe I’ll win the lottery and get a new forehead in ten years because I can’t stand looking almost forty and then I’ll finally get boobs that look like Blake Lively’s (le sigh) and I’ll just be walking around with my giant Kylie fish lips (OH KYLIE) and perfect boobs and my hypocrisy. But I hope not. And seriously, Meryl Streep if you mess with your face, well….I don’t know I’ll probably just write a rambling blog post about it. But then I’ll cry.
Hi! I'm Caroline.