When Marc Jacobs documented his recent facelift on Instagram and for Vogue, he normalised it in a way that was heralded as honest and brave. “Yes, I’m vain. I find there is no shame in being vain.” It is undoubtedly shockingly refreshing to see such candour in the space.
But one wonders if a woman would be treated in the same way.
It’s a hard notion to ponder; just last week a 48-year-old actress with smooth, unblemished skin, gave an interview in which she declared that she’s never had any cosmetic procedures. To be clear, I’ve never met this actress and she may just filter her social media images. I’m also aware that celebrities with money and access to the best aestheticians in the world can essentially purchase ‘good’ skin (I sold Kylie Minogue a pair of Manolo Blahniks in 1999 and still can’t unsee that translucent glow).
But I have to say - knowing it is distasteful and anti-feminist to speculate on people’s appearances and choices - I’m sceptical. However I’m not surprised at her reluctance to buck the status quo. Because firstly, ugh how gross to be talked about like this. And secondly, when it comes to women, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
Nicole Kidman, aged 53 and lauded as one of the best actors of her generation, is crucified by many for her seemingly ageless face. Paul Rudd, aged 52, is hailed as some kind of a demigod for the same.
Women’s faces and bodies are picked apart by media headlines and our deepest shames used to instill fear. Making fun of Joan Rivers’ predilection for plastic surgery takes away from the groundbreaking work she did for women in the misogynist world of comedy. Deriding Jocelyn Wildenstein, AKA ‘cat woman’, for her appearance deflects attention from the emotional and psychological abuse that may have been inflicted on her during her marriage.
An Instagram hero of mine is Justine Bateman, aka Mallory Keaton from Family Ties and the sister of Ozark’s Jason Bateman. Justine is somewhat of a radical in Hollywood, posting unfiltered photos of her ‘natural’ face. She’s undeniably beautiful (those cheekbones!) but it’s shocking when placed in the context of her peers (Justine is 55).
“What fears exist in society,” she asks in her book Face: One Square Foot of Skin, “that are acting as anchors to bring in this idea that older women’s faces are to be fixed or erased?”
Where Marc Jacobs’ facelift was met with gushing accolades, Justine has comments limited on her Instagram to limit trolls telling her how vile she is.
No shame, no judgement. Science is amazing! But what is secrecy around our faces doing to those of us who innocently believe our lines and blemishes are due to genetic misfortune, or a lack of hydration?
I have been that woman, despondent at ageing faster than my peers only to realise they were having treatments. But being part of a conversation with them about it was empowering and made me realise that I had a choice.
(For the record, after that conversation I tried Botox once, three years ago, and decided that it’s not for me. I do, however, buy and consume an expensive skincare regime, put collagen and reishi in my smoothies and eat lots of oily food in an attempt to feed my 45-year-old complexion. I also paid to have the hairs on my chin lasered off, which made me feel much better about myself than Botox did.)
“It’s more peels and micro needling that people I know get,” says May Thompson (not her real name), aged 26. “They all say it’s the Emma Lewishman skincare they’re using but you know they are getting some extra help. We’re all heading into our 30s and everyone looks like a teenager again.”
With injectables and enhancement treatments becoming increasingly commonplace, it is time to stop the whispers and step into the glow without shame - if that is your choice. It’s interesting to note that Caci is sponsoring the retrospective show at NZ Fashion Week later this month, perhaps a sign towards normalising these advanced procedures.
“My friends are a real mixed bag,” says another 26-year-old we spoke to. “Half my friends are getting filler and Botox and the other half aren’t, but will likely start the closer they get to turning 30. One of my friends started when she was about 23.”
She says that her friends are completely transparent about it and openly discuss their treatments.
Yes it’s alarming to consider people as young as 23 getting ‘preventative Botox’, but when I cast back in the recesses of my mind to remember what I was spending my disposable on back in those heady ‘good income no kids or mortgage’ days, all I come up with is cocaine and vodka. So who am I to judge?
Also, what kind of society did we create for these women that has them seeking out perfection, whatever the cost. That monster is on all of us.
But I’m still conflicted. Did we all fight so hard for pay parity just so we could go spend it all on serums, lotions, botox and fillers? I mean, if that’s important to us why not? I love makeup for the adornments it gives me and its ability to change my moods. Makeup and plastic surgery have also long played a part in gender exploration and creative freedom in a way that cis men can’t participate in. (Except to financially benefit from within a capitalist, patriarchal system, perhaps.)
In a world where women are forbidden from ageing publicly and everyone is trying to look like a social media filter, blemished skin, uneven skin tone and lines and wrinkles are the ‘enemy’.
Women are under ridiculously unrealistic pressure to conform to an ideal of ‘natural’ beauty (a racist concept, and problematic in many ways) which is creating a scene of (predominantly) women who use an expensive regime of ‘clean’ beauty products, consume collagen, organic green powders and multivitamins and then turn to injectables and fillers as the finisher.
Do I wish cosmetic surgery wasn’t so predominant in our culture? Yes.
But I’ve had two mastectomies, I’ve benefited from the science that allows this industry to flourish. I also have empathy for the culture of shame women live under, especially as they do something as radical as age. But let’s stick together and normalise these decisions and conversations, to remove the shame from vain.