Sunday, December 7, 2008

Age before beauty: time to grow old gracefully

Is the cloned-youth look favoured by many celebrities really that attractive, or has the time come to grow old gracefully?

Celebrities, a word of warning: it’s not the bitter old hackettes writing about your grey hair or your wrinkles, or how your arms are looking a little lardy these days, you need to fear; it’s the comments from “normal” readers online.
Thus it was for poor Nicole Kidman, who bravely let her rather beautiful silver-grey hairs blend naturally into her blond locks — and didn’t care that the red-carpet paparazzi were there to zoom in on the offending/empowering strands. But for the hundreds of internet comments applauding or decrying the grey, there are hundreds more criticising her “scary doll”, “wax dummy” face. The irony of Nicole, so known for her frozen face, suddenly letting her dye job go raised an interesting question: what’s the properly elegant way to age now?
Today, we are surrounded by contradictory images of preternaturally young women. This month’s cover of the new American anti-ageing magazine New Beauty features a strangely plasticised image of Christie Brinkley as a role model for “ageless beauty” for women in their fifties. Alongside is Jennifer Aniston — the example of how we should be looking in our thirties. Brooke Shields is the forties pin-up. There’s just one problem: they all look the same. Looking young at any age? This isn’t beauty, it’s cloning.
Celebrities are not the only ones to fall prey to the cloned-youth look. The freakometer is at breaking point on the fashion circuit too, with editors, who, frankly, should know better, overdoing it on the weird-surgery front. Age has not so much withered them as puffed them up and given their skin a kind of post-shingles texture. The “work” to make them look younger, prettier and fresher is in fact having the reverse effect; instead, they are the waxworks that escaped from Madame Tussauds.

“It’s not surgery madness,” says Dr Sherrell Aston, arguably New York’s best plastic surgeon. “It’s actually injectible madness. It’s impossible to overemphasise this point.” Aston blames the front-row freakshow on an unspoken battle for business between dermatologists and plastic surgeons.
“The media has been pushing the concept of the nonsurgical facelift, done by doctors who don’t offer surgery. They’ll say, ‘You don’t need a facelift, you just need some fillers in your cheeks to replace the volume that has sagged, and injections in the naso-labial folds to get rid of the lines that run from nose to mouth, and more injections along the jaw line.’ The result is a lady in a size-four dress with a face that’s round, full, tight, shiny and abnormal. They get broken capillaries and scarring where they’ve had too many injections, and they can’t get back to where they started.”
He would say that, though, wouldn’t he, being a plastic surgeon? “Doing injectibles would definitely be much easier work for me,” he answers. “But some women are having so many, they’re spending as much money in the long term as they would on a facelift, and the sad thing is their faces will never be the same again.” Quite why they keep going back for more is a mystery. “I’m dumbfounded,” he says.
“I call it fillorexia,” says one A-list make-up artist who asked not to be named. “I’ll be making up a face that I haven’t seen in a couple of years, and I’ll notice that the lips are weirdly plumped up, bigger than they were the last time we met. The skin is sometimes raised around the cheekbones, bumpy around the mouth, with a glassy finish. But I can’t name names because stars don’t want to admit they have made a mistake and had too much, or that she isn’t 100% naturally beautiful, even though it’s so obvious. It’s the elephant in the room.”
Perhaps what we really need to do is rethink our attitudes to ageing. I know: easier said than done, but a cultural shift may be on its way. Next month, Skin Deep, Opera North’s eagerly anticipated operetta about cosmetic surgery opens. It is a satire on our obsession with celebrity culture and cosmetic surgery, penned by the comedy writer Armando Iannucci — who created Steve Coogan’s masterpiece, Knowing Me, Knowing You — with music by David Sawer. The surgery is there for comedic value, but the moral is that, really, it’s great to have wonky cheeks or hairy arms: at some point we have to accept who we are. “There’s so much pressure on us to look young, and I wonder if this will change with the credit crunch, as it’s an expensive business,” says Iannucci. “It’s a never-ending process. You start with a facelift, but then you discover your wrists and hands need doing, because suddenly they look old. You end up looking like Michael Jackson in a blender. The more you try to make yourself look young, the older you look.”
Opera North’s own survey revealed a worrying trend — that the surgery obsession has spread to non-celebrities. And we should be worried. A shocking one in four of the 2,000 men who were asked said they would like their wives to have some kind of cosmetic surgery, with a staggering 19% saying they thought it could save their marriage. My own suspicion is that women, had they been asked, might have liked to see those same husbands get their potbellies repotted, their saggy arses lifted (preferably far away and overseas) and their lips permanently sealed. Which is probably why they weren’t asked.
Quit while you’re ahead. Lulu, who is now 60, has sworn she won’t touch Botox again and stays away from invasive procedures generally. “I used to see platypus lips only in Beverly Hills, but now they are everywhere, and it certainly doesn’t make women look young,” she says.
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