I had dinner the other night with three feisty, successful, attractive women in their early forties. Think Surrey Sex in the City. Two of them (let’s say Samantha and Miranda) were discussing which fillers they will have as they get nearer 50 – both laughingly certain they will fill in the lines demarcating their cheeks from nose/mouth area and probably some kind of double chin eliminator too (assuming they get one). (Picture courtesy of Paramount Pictures)
Not if, not why, just what and when.
Really? Two of the most intelligent, attractive, independent, articulate and confident women I know and respect want to have cosmetic work done? For themselves too, I might add, not for a man. And there was I with a (relatively uninformed) world view that women who indulged in it were bonkers publicity-junkies, women with very low self-esteem, and those in the public eye unable to resist our society’s gender and ageing stereotypes. Oh, and the women who have it for very understandable reasons, where medical issues or accidents mean it can genuinely change their lives through their own and other’s perceptions of them.
I was shocked, naively, perhaps. These women’s, this type of woman’s, choice left me wondering whether I’ve come to a considered enough opinion.
Why does cosmetic surgery feel an order of magnitude different to wearing make-up, dying grey hair or using skin pigmentation-reduction face creams? Particularly now we have short-term, less invasive treatments like Botox – the so-called ‘lunchtime’ treatments. Yet it still feels like a big line to cross.
Analysing my feelings, I struggle to justify why it seems so different to these accepted age-defying measures that virtually every woman engages in, in some way, as they get older. It is more expensive, yes. It is going under the skin, so feels a more serious decision, yes. Infection or other problems might be more likely, yes. But is it any more vain or less acceptable?
Personally, I do believe it is still less socially acceptable, a bit of a taboo.
Although cosmetic surgery is often in the media, I think it is mostly as an object of ridicule, or indulging our fascination with celebrity appearance.
That is counterbalanced somewhat by ageism debate and commentary such as that about the pressures on female TV presenters to look younger than their male counterparts (see here, here or here), or indeed this article about increasing numbers of professional men getting Botox to get ahead.
Whatever the media profile, ageing is a difficult concept to embrace given it is a constant reminder of the diminishing time to do the things with your life your youthful self so animatedly set out to do. And our society’s obsession with youth makes us feel further and further from that ideal once grey hair and wrinkles force themselves on us.
I do also wonder what message cosmetic treatment sends to our children. A woman’s body is not ok unless it looks youthful. Feeling under-confident? Not getting ahead in the workplace? Get a shot of Botox and all will be better.
If an idea or image is presented often enough, in enough guises, it starts to feel like a truth, an accepted belief or norm. I think that’s a bit scary for my daughter’s generation. Or indeed, my son’s.
One of the commenters on my last post said “if you teach your kids discernment they can work it out themselves”. I think that applies here, too. All we can do as parents is help our children build a strong base of belief in themselves and who they are, and teach them to think for themselves. Even with my kids so young, they often ask questions for which the honest answers are uncomfortable – “Mummy, why do you wear make-up?” for example. I can choose whether I answer or not, or how truthfully, but, as is the case so often, children hold the mirror up to our / our world’s uncomfortable truths in all their glory.
I can’t think of an answer I would be happy with myself giving to my daughter if I had cosmetic work done. Either I’m too vain or too weak to resist societal norms of appearance. But, to be honest, the same could be said for most of the appearance-changing things I do to myself. So I’m not judging my friends for their choice – who’s to say I won’t feel the same way as my own lines deepen – I’ve certainly found greying hair enough of a trauma, and there’s nothing like an absolute statement of principle to make you look silly a few years later.
It’s more that I’m interested to understand whether there is a growing cohort of intelligent, thinking, confident women in their prime thinking like this.
What’s your view?
PS As a slightly silly footnote, while discovering that breast augmentation is the top British plastic surgery procedure, I also discovered that one of the industry bodies is called baaps. He he he.