“At 50, everyone has the face he deserves.” Or so George Orwell said. But he couldn’t have anticipated the plethora of options women today have for both stopping the clock or gilding the lily to baroque proportions.
The proliferation of plastic surgeries, lasers, radiofrequency devices, and myriad rejuvenating fillers on the market—Restylane, Belotero, Juvederm, or your own fat from fat grafting—has morphed a certain part of the population practically into mutants.
These days, sporting giant bug eyes, tiny noses, and trout-pout lips is about as old school as the Nehru jacket. In fact, it’s just old. Somebody please tell Kris Jenner.
Looking fake now is looking old.
The best dermatologists and plastic surgeons practice what they call “under-correcting,” leaving some lines because you’re supposed to look like you never did anything at all. Top Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Peter Kopelson now spends a lot of his time making “done” look a little less done.
“Looking fake now is looking old,” Kopelson tells me. “Today’s goal is looking like you haven’t aged—much. Women come in with jutting cheekbones, square jaws, and big lips. They’ve got really exaggerated, severe features—so I soften them. They’ve been over-injected. And I never put filler inside their lips, like many doctors have—fish lips are old, too. I only dot the vermillion outline. And when it comes to Botox, I might do every other line.”
Which is just smart. A “mini-lift” done every few years makes much of the nipping and tucking indistinguishable. And let’s face it, too much plastic surgery is the opposite of pretty.
An Up-Close Look
I’ve been an entertainment/fashion writer/editor for publications like W Magazine, Women’s Wear Daily, Bazaar, and The Hollywood Reporter for years. Which means I’ve seen many female actresses up close: Julia Roberts, Julianne Moore, Susan Sarandon, Annette Bening, Jennifer Aniston, Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, even Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric. I’ve sat across tables from the older but close-to-ageless Jane Fonda, Helen Mirren, Candice Bergen, and Diane Keaton—can you tell what they did?
I couldn’t, and I’ve got a trained eye: I often write about dermatology and plastic surgery. You wouldn’t say any of them look pulled or disfigured—or particularly different from their beginnings. That’s the point. But it’s not as if they’ve had nothing done, trust me. I once observed another journalist dare to ask the self-deprecating Streep if she’d “done anything,” to which she guffawed: “Would I look like this if I hadn’t????”
Let’s hope the days of ‘go under the knife or you’ll never work in this town again’ are ending.
My boyfriend forbids me to get a facelift: “You’ll look pulled and scary.” But I believe he’s thinking of some of the cautionary tales. Renée Zellweger and Uma Thurman looked unrecognizable when they came back from Hollywood “hiatus.” God knows the pressures they are under to stay looking “fresh”—or how they feel about the results. Let’s hope the days of “go under the knife or you’ll never work in this town again” are ending.
Before-and-after pictures are a dead giveaway—and all the tabloid magazines nastily run them. Faye Dunaway, Kim Novak, and even the younger Meg Ryan and Melanie Griffith—all of them are from the Joan Rivers taut “wind tunnel” school of beauty.
Trying Too Hard: A Line in the Sand
So, ladies, where’s our line in the sand? How do we know when—or if—we’re trying too hard? When is it too much plastic surgery? Who gets to determine it? Vogue? Instagram? It would be nice to trust the mirror, but the mirror’s in our own heads. It would be nice to trust the doctors, but doctors are greedy.
The quest for “perfection”—whatever that is—goes with the territory of one’s insecure salad days. We’re so gullible then. We think no one will love us unless we look like Cindy Crawford—at 25. But over 45, the obsession with a youthful, firm, symmetrical Covergirl face makes one look like a victim: self-hating, unbalanced even—undignified qualities at any age.
The obsession with a youthful, firm face makes one look like a victim: self-hating, unbalanced even—undignified qualities at any age.
To appear, well, ageless, takes a barrage of (expensive) work all the time. Sharon Stone, at 62, is still an icon of beauty. She once told me, “Nobody wants to see a fat, old Sharon Stone.” If Stone’s had work done—and it’s hard to believe she hasn’t—she’s certainly done it subtly and done it right.
But that’s her job, and she works damn hard at it. As she once told me a few years ago, “I’ve even given up fruit. I gave up wine a few years ago.” That’s dedication. But if she hadn’t, would she still be getting parts and flirting with Stephen Colbert? And how many women who never grace the screen feel they have to do something, maybe something drastic, to portray the younger look that society dictates?
The Light Touch
So here’s my idea of what sets “right” apart from “too much” plastic surgery: restraint, a light touch. The great Coco Chanel once proclaimed, “Elegance is refusal,” but she didn’t have plastic surgery or fillers as an option. She also said, “A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.” That means a girl should also do due diligence on prospective dermatologists and surgeons. Look at photos of work they’ve done—and have realistic expectations and conversations, instead of letting them turn you into Michael Jackson.
So who occupies the midpoint—between too much and nothing at all?
Of course, there are plenty of admirable women who stay away from any sort of knife or needle. Nora Ephron published I Feel Bad About My Neck in 2006, but the distinguished writer/director didn’t do anything about it. Joan Didion never spackled one wrinkle.
So who occupies the midpoint—between too much and nothing at all? Well, how about Michelle Pfeiffer? Beautiful still, but with a few wrinkles.
Yes, for me it’s Michelle Pfeiffer. Tasteful restraint. A woman who looks accepting of her lot. Which includes aging—or at least, some aging. And, hey, it beats the alternative.
So can we all agree that it’s great to have tools if we don’t want to look like a grandma straight from central casting as long as trout pouts, chrome domes (too much Botox), and the deer-in-the-headlights look are finally, happily, anachronisms?
There’s nothing wrong with slowing down the clock. But throwing it out entirely can make you very late for what’s become the almost-ageless party.
A version of this story was originally published in May 2018.
Merle Ginsberg is an award-winning West-Coast-based culture journalist and essayist who has been a writer/editor on staff at Rolling Stone, MTV, Women’s Wear Daily, W Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar and The Hollywood Reporter. She’s also a New York Times bestselling author, a published poet, a public speaker and a tv on-air commentator for such outlets as GMA, Today and CNN.