This past Sunday’s New York Times (9/25/16) ran the essay “Aging and the Beauty Dilemma” by Debora Spar, the President of Barnard College. Spar who is 56 (a youngster compared to the average WOW reader who is around 65) confesses to her ambivalence over plastic surgery.
She admits it’s at odds with her feminist beliefs, but finds it tempting when most of her post 60 colleagues have had face-lifts, Botox or fillers, and when the prevailing image of older women in the media is one of a wrinkle free face.
Spar’s public agonizing over whether or not to go under the knife seems to leave out a few solid reasons for not succumbing to an altered face. For starters, doesn’t she feel pressure, as president of a leading women’s college, to model aging in a way that validates her feminist beliefs?
For a public figure like Spar to display an aging face would be a solid contribution to the image of aging naturally while representing an egalitarian view of aging. Many of the older women I know barely get by from month to month on their limited incomes. For them, plastic surgery is very much a privileged option, one reserved for an elite group of women.
As a feminist who came of age during the 1970’s, I’m appalled at how whole generations of women, both young and old are caught up in their physical appearance. We worked hard to claim women as subject. Today the objectification of the female form seems to be at a new high.
Teenage girls seek popularity by posting highly sexualized instagrams of themselves. College students confess to hooking up when it’s not always their preference, but they go along with easy sex rather than risk being labeled a “nerd.”
We have a whole generation of older feminists who should be challenging the new obsession with body image among their younger sisters, but who instead are responding similarly in the form of engaging in one plastic surgery after another.
I find it telling that dermatology is enjoying an unprecedented growth among medical students while geriatric medicine is the least popular choice for new doctors. Has the cultural message become, “Let’s make everyone look young; to hell with the old!”
I live in Maine, considered the grayest state in the nation, because it has the highest number of older adults. My role models for aging can be found all over the state, where many older women live independent lives, baring their gray hairs and wrinkles proudly.
The women I most admire not only look their age but also own their hard-won wisdom. They often report being more contented in their later years then when they were young.
At a recent political gathering I observed three women I know, all just past 80. I was drawn to their wrinkled faces, seeing something I don’t see in younger faces: a contentment and soulful sense of being at one with the world. These expressions are reserved for a life well-lived and are often absent in the faces of younger adults.
Plastic surgery’s tight facial masks erase a fully expressed face where the soul shines through. It just feels plain soulless to alter the beauty of an aging face.
Where do you stand on plastic surgery?
If you’d like more conversations with like-minded women, we have a Facebook page for you: WOW (Women’s Older Wisdom)