Plastic Surgery: Six things I learned about this emotionally loaded, spiritually conflicted choiceBy:
My friend Wendy has always been the envy of our group of women friends. Willowy-tall, she has legs that go on forever, naturally blond hair, and a face like a model’s. Yet when she turned 50, she began to notice those little flaws that vex every woman of a certain age. In her case, droopy eyelids became the focus of intense dissatisfaction.
“Look how this lid makes it hard to open my eye all the way,” she said a few years ago, as I drew close. “I’m thinking of getting surgery to correct it.”
I was taken aback. Wendy was gifted with so many physical charms, and to risk going under the knife for one tiny imperfection seemed vain. Why meddle with nature’s course?
And yet soon after, I felt the sting of judgment myself in the office of my dermatologist, an opinionated, hilarious gay man. For 15 years we had bonded over my precancerous sun spots. But on this particular day, he looked into my face and frowned. “You know, I can take care of those crow’s-feet,” he said. “And you might want to consider some lipo for your tummy.”
Indignant, I replied: “Why would I want to do that?”
He smiled: “Um, so you could get a date? And look less matronly?” He hugged me as if to say, just kidding ! But his words stung. As I passed through his posh waiting room, I stared at the perfect beauties waiting for their next Botox fix with a bit of scorn . . . and a hint of jealousy. And in turn, they seemed to look at me with curiosity. Look—a woman of 60 who’s had no work done! Doesn’t she care how she looks?
Welcome to the Great Plastic Surgery Debate—between women who do and women who don’t, and between the pressure to look 25 no matter the cost and our desire to be true to ourselves and lead authentic lives. It is a quiet, undeclared war, in which we sit at the table facing each other, judging, woefully self-critical, and contorting ourselves to fit into a culture where youth rules and age makes you invisible.
Only a few decades ago, plastic surgery was limited to socialites and other women with money and a big stake in looking perpetually 25. Now it’s positively mainstream. Even in enlightened circles—at yoga and meditation classes, and at ashrams and Buddhist temples—you can see the strangely tight faces, the too-pouty lips, the breasts that defy gravity. If plastic surgery has confounded me in general, the indulgence in it by those following a spiritual path—a path that emphasizes transcendence of the ego—leaves me flummoxed.
No fewer than 14.6 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures—both minimally invasive and surgical—were performed in this country in 2012. In order of popularity: breast augmentations, nose jobs, liposuctions, eyelid surgeries, facelifts, and tummy tucks.
Yet some indicators hint that a backlash has begun. In Hollywood, Isabella Rossellini has referred to cosmetic surgery as “the new foot binding”; Salma Hayek blasted it as “the uniform of a generation”; Halle Berry calls its proliferation “really insane, and I feel