Friday, March 26, 2010

Is Plastic Surgery a Sin? (Re: My Vogue article)

The April issue of Vogue is out with my article on page 112 under the title “A Facelift Revisited”. There is a cover line that reads: “My Three Facelifts A 20-year Nip & Tuck Diary”.

That cover line really gave me a start when I saw it, because I have had two facelifts, not three – one when I was 51 years old —18 years ago -- another ten years later when I was 61. Last year, when I was 68, I had a third procedure that was NOT surgery but Fraxel - fractional laser re-surfacing-- using the new CO2-powered laser called Fraxel Re:pair.

If you want to find out how that worked, and how long the facelifts lasted, and if it hurt (which is the first question everyone asks) you’ll have to buy the magazine.

I’m expecting that this article will lose me some friends and will also label me as the poster child for plastic surgery. As I’ve already remarked to some, I suspect that the words “three face lifts” will appear on my gravestone (although, like I said, I’ve only had TWO.) In my defense, I am not Heidi Montag, a 23-year-old actress who made the cover of People because she decided to have ten surgical procedures in one day to improve what was already an excellent face and body.

Above are the medical photos (sans makeup) taken by Dr. Dan Baker back in 1992, before and after my first face lift. I was 51 and, as I think you’ll agree, looked considerably older than my real age in the “before” picture. The “after” photo looks quite a bit better. My goal in having that face lift was to stave off the jowls which I was certain were my inheritance from my father (while my mother never drooped or sagged or looked less than stunning until she died at age 74.)

Dr. Baker said the face lift would last about ten years and he was right. So I had another one, with a Boston surgeon, a decade later when I was 61. I was less pleased with the results, as I explain in the article. There were scars left on my eyelids and pull marks on the side of my cheek and, as I passed age 65, brown patches appeared on my jaw line. So I was in the market for some solution – although I didn’t want another surgery — when I learned about the new kind of laser and decided to try it and write about it for Vogue – to help off-set the cost, because by age 68, I had a lot less discretionary cash to pay for it than I did at the age of 51.

My New York friends (I lived there for 14 years) are okay with the idea of plastic surgery —many have had some experience with it—but not so my friends in Massachusetts. I belong to a woman’s group that meets in the Worcester area about once a month, and as soon as the rumor came up that I would do this article, about a year and a half ago, my closest friend in the group told me I should not even consider it. “All your sisters are opposed to you doing this, Joan!” she scolded me.

“All of them?” I asked in surprise, because I knew one or two had already opted for plastic surgery.

“Every single one!” my friend whispered, in a voice heavy with warning.

Well, I never considered rejecting the opportunity. I’ve been a journalist for nearly 50 years and have done a lot of strange things in the name of “research”. Also, I had been trying for several years to figure out a way that I could afford a “fix” for my brown patches, fine lines and those deepening parentheses on either side of the mouth.

Furthermore, I feel it’s my face and body, and now that I’m nearly 70, I can do what I want with it.

But that conversation did give me flashbacks to my high school days when my concern for the majority opinion of the other girls would have carried a lot more weight.

In high school, I was not pretty, athletic, nor self-confident. I did get high grades and academic awards. All these factors consigned me to the table in the cafeteria with the oddballs and outsiders, far from the table where the “Gang” held forth.

I’m still not pretty, athletic, etc. but somewhere around the age of 60 I decided I’d earned the right to do what I wanted without listening to the opinions of the “mean girls”. (This is one of the many good things about cronehood. As one former high school classmate remarked at our 50th high school reunion “Just by staying alive you level the playing field.”) Even in college I began to realize that there were places where good grades and talent did not make you a pariah. And life improved a lot.

So I’m not going to justify or explain to my women’s group the Vogue article and the laser re-surfacing procedure. And I do not feel plastic surgery is a sin.

(Although I was convinced, 19 years ago when I went to the hospital in New York for my first face lift that God was going to strike me dead as punishment for my vanity. He didn’t. But in the same hospital, in the years after my surgery, two or three women did die while undergoing elective face lifts. And one of them was Olivia Goldsmith, who wrote “The First Wife’s Club.” I heard that these tragic cases were mostly due to reactions to the general anesthesia. I think that’s better controlled now—and with laser resurfacing, there is no general anesthesia, just topical.)

Anyway, if I wanted to explain my latest round of plastic surgery to the women in my group, (which I won’t -- everyone is too polite to mention it) I would repeat something that I wrote in the Vogue article.

I am not undergoing “maintenance” on my appearance every decade or so with the purpose of looking younger than my real age. I have never lied about my age and everyone who reads Vogue or looks up my profile on Facebook knows that I was born on Feb. 4, 1941. Next year I hit the big seven- oh.

I do it for the same reason I try to exercise on the stationary bike an hour a day and go to Pilates twice a week – although I hate exercise.

As I said at the end of my Vogue piece:

This is an ongoing process, not meant to hide or deny my age, but to let me wear the years gracefully.
“You look good,” [Dr.] Baker told me as we said goodbye. “Fifteen years younger than your age.”
So that means I look….53. Or maybe, to paraphrase Gloria Steinem: In the twenty-first century, this is what 68 looks like.


Anonymous said...

I thought it was a great article-- although I have to be honest the girl at the little newstand gave me a strange look when I asked for VOGUE.

One of the most interesting aspects of it is what you've written here, that the peer pressure girls exert on each other never ends.

As a guy working with school age kids on occasion I see this over and over-- girls trying to be cool within their group, while guys don't really give a hoot.

That's not to say that there can't be guys who are snarky like this-- but the norm is to bounce them out of the friendship circle.

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