Wednesday Bubble: Want to look years younger? Consider the knife

Posted by on Feb 22, 2012 in aging, anxiety | 4 comments

This headline, which appeared in the LA Times on February 20, says it all:

Plastic surgery does make you look younger, study finds. 

Earth shattering, right?

Actually, what struck me most about it is that on a day when scientists were reporting that the reasons that certain conditions associated with aging may be due to changes in the eye  (e.g. narrowing of the lens and pupils) responsible for controlling our internal clocks, that headlines touting more nip and tuck were stealing the show.

Not too long ago, I wrote about a survey that was conducted in England that showed that a third of women would give up a year of their lives, forgo part of their salary or a promotion or sacrifice time with their partners to achieve an ideal body weight and appearance. Shortly thereafter, I featured an incredible piece by author D.F. Wolf about ‘anti-aging,’ in which she questions the need to appear young and literally erase our appearance. And right after that, we learned that ‘make-up makes the woman.’

What a perfect trifecta of misconstrued values about our worth as women.

That’s why this particular study is drawing a few questions in my mind. Published online in the Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery, it reviews an investigation of 60 patients (of whom 54 were women) between the ages of 45 and 72 who had undergone three different combinations of plastic surgery:

  • face and neck-lift
  • face and neck-lift, and removal of bags and sagging around the eyes/eyelids
  • face and neck-lift, removal of bags/sagging around the eyes/eyelids and a forehead lift

The goal of the study? To prove that facial surgery not only makes you look better but definitively alters how others perceive you.  To achieve this, they asked first-year medical students to view the before and after photos of the patients and then estimate their age. The researchers found that prior to surgery, the students estimated that on average, patients were 1.7 years younger than their actual chronological age, and after surgery, 8 years younger. By group, the raters perceived patients who had had the most facial surgery as the youngest.

The researchers claim that this study was conducted in order to provide a means by which facial surgery can be quantified  However, what it doesn’t address is the degree to which attitude, self-awareness and a general sense of wellbeing also influence how we look and how others perceive us. Moreover, while surgeons now have “the ability to resuspend, excise, tuck, inject and augment, the question remains: ” how do you achieve a ‘look’ without robbing that person of their unique attributes or characteristics?

We live in a society where aging is a four letter word and fountain of youth is an abused. elusive goal, where teenagers often model in lieu of actual adults and where photoshop and air brushing is the rule and the exception. The message inherent in this study and in the headlines that appeared on the web that day is that more plastic surgery= more pleasure. However, how many of you recall news of Madonna’s new, new face or Jocelyn Wildenstein’s frightening New York Magazine cover photo in 1997?  When does ‘more’ become ‘too much?’

Admittedly, there are days I look in the mirror and am shocked by the reflection staring back at me. And days I’d consider a nip and a tuck. But to what end? Am I trying to achieve a youthful glow or a bonefide bonfire of juvescence?

Maybe it’s time to step back, really step back, and consider the message that we are sending to ourselves and to the girls and young women in our lives. Don’t we owe it to us..and to them?


  1. 2-22-2012

    Maybe I’m in the minority, but I happen to be fine with women, and men, aging. It’s part of the cycle, after all. I’m not supposed to look 20 when I’m 40. And while society as a places a premium on youth and taxes the “old”, it’s superficial, no pun intended.

    There has been study after study about how the younger looking person gets the job, or the date. They’ve made the same person look older in the situation and the younger looking one always gets picked. I get it, people are superficial. However, there’s no replacement for wisdom and experience.

    • 2-22-2012

      Matt, could not agree more with your comment that there’s no replacement for wisdom and experience. The trouble is that as a society, we place a higher premium on appearance. Until that changes, many 40 year olds will continue to try to look 20. What a sad state.

  2. 2-22-2012

    There are things I do to keep myself looking… I don’t want to say “young,” but feeling like “me.” That includes highlights in my hair, working out/losing weight (as you know!), and so on. But the thing is that as I grow older, I LIKE it. I’m more experienced, I feel better, and I’m proud of what I’ve been through to get to the age I am now.

    Certainly there have been days when I’ve looked at plastic surgery “before” and “after” photos and wondered, “What if…” but so far at least, that’s always been a passing thought. Like Matt says, in my 40s, there’s no reason to look as if I’m in my 20s if it takes a knife to do that. If it happens naturally – I believe I look younger than my age – that’s one thing. But to cut up my body to do so… no thank you.

    • 2-22-2012

      Love that Shonali – you do things to keep you looking like you. And that’s the way it should be. Kudos!

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