Amy Larocca, "The New: Agelessness," Allure, vol. 18, no. 4, April 2008, p. 174. Copyright © 2008 by the author. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission.
"Women are battling time—and sometimes winning."
In the following viewpoint, Amy Larocca claims that cosmetic surgery and anti-aging procedures help women maintain an "ageless" look. She insists that women in their thirties and forties battle wrinkles and other signs of aging with Botox, fillers, lasers, and the surgeon's scalpel, often passing for a decade younger. Nonetheless, Larocca counters that the availability of these treatments creates pressure on women to maintain a youthful appearance and stigmatizes aging. The author is a contributing editor to New York Magazine and coauthor of New York Look Book: A Gallery of Street Fashion.
As you read, consider the following questions:
- In the author's view, how have the appearances of mothers and daughters changed?
- What is the biggest reason why women want to remain youthful in appearance, in Larocca's opinion?
- According to Terence X. Bogan, why are women in their thirties and forties dressing younger?
Does anyone really look their age anymore? Women are battling time—and sometimes winning.
A couple months ago, my boyfriend came home from a work trip to Los Angeles, walked into our apartment, and made a sudden announcement: "Botox is the new wrinkles," he said.
I knew exactly what he meant. Traditional markers of age—wrinkles, brown spots, that general dullness—have lately ceded to something tight, smooth, expression-free. I've noticed it, too, and not just in Los Angeles. There's a new age out there, and it looks like no age at all. It's a suspended netherworld inhabited by women who might be 28, or 35, or 42, or 50. It's an age we arrived at by way of Botox and fillers—not to mention constant exercise and a new dress code comprised of clothes that at one time would have been considered appropriate only for adolescents. A judicious amount of this stuff can indeed make you look younger, but the trouble is that too much winds up adding years in a "What the hell is she trying to hide?" way. Old-fashioned wrinkles can be far less damning than desperate attempts at patching them up.
Sometimes I find myself strolling on a sidewalk behind two girls with matching perky butts in skinny designer jeans and that lush, highlighted, Gisele-esque hair. I assume the girls are classmates (and best friends/mean girls) at some very fancy high school, only to realize on closer inspection that they are actually mother and daughter. They don't look alike exactly, but they are no longer different in the ways that mothers and daughters have historically been different: The daughters often are the ones who look far more sophisticated and groomed, while their mothers look, frankly, kind of confused.
Name a sign of aging, and a dermatologist can likely proffer a fix. Tired eyes? Shoot a little filler underneath. Crow's-feet? Inject just a bit of Botox. Spotty skin? Expanding pores? Zap them with lasers. "There's a ten-year—or more—standard deviation when it comes to aging these days," says Jeannette Graf, a Great Neck, New York, dermatologist who specializes in anti-aging treatments. "If someone does all of these treatments, she can take 10 to 15 years off. When someone is 40, there's no reason she can't pass for 30—or even younger. It's an ageless look." Graf points out that she and other dermatologists aren't aiming to change patients' essential features—just to turn back, and then, fingers crossed, stop the clock.
But even when these treatments are done well, they may still have one major ramification. Stopping the clock for some can seem to speed it up for others: After all, the younger your peers look, the older you do. And in this way, these treatments are driving a more widespread preoccupation with appearing as youthful as possible. Women are feeling increasing pressure not just to look good for their age, but to actually never age at all. As Phyllis R. Koch-Sheras, a Charlottesville, Virginia, clinical psychologist who has studied the effect of aging on women, puts it: "We tend to have much more help denying aging than we do accepting it."
In college, and during those delirious years after, I considered aging to be something weird that happened to other people—"a rumor," as [British author] Martin Amis famously put it. I'd always figured that when the time came (which, if I'm being completely honest, I never thought it would), I'd slip gracefully into gentle white hair and a kind, lined face. I imagined, from the poreless perspective of 23, that softening hips and sagging skin would feel like the emblems of a sage-like wisdom I hoped to gain. I felt pity for women who couldn't accept nature, and thought the mad scramble to arrest time was embarrassing and sad.
But then 30 arrived, and evening cocktails started causing morning bags beneath my eyes. Ancient sunburns came back to haunt me in the form of blotches and dark spots. Panic set in. "But I am still young!" I wanted to shout to the mirror. "Wait!"
I guess, if I'm being honest, the panic comes from feeling that I don't deserve the little crow's-feet that have begun to work their way toward my temples. There's still so much to do, see, live. "We feel younger inside than we look," says Leslie Baumann, a Miami dermatologist who starts many of her patients on Botox at age 25. "It can be disturbing." She's right. A recent survey from the Boomer Project, a market research and consulting firm, found that on average, female baby boomers feel 12 years younger than their chronological age.
Despite the fact that in our minds, most of us feel like we're barely adults, the biggest reason why I think women of my generation are so intent on looking young is simply that we can afford it. We earn much more of our own disposable income than our mothers and grandmothers did, and are free to spend it on vanity in a way women never were before. The treatments exist, and we have the money to pay for them.
I often wonder whether our fitness-crazed culture also has something to do with our generation's collective horror at getting older. My mother and grandmother have always maintained their slim figures with strict diets and light exercise, like walking in the afternoons. I don't think either of them has done a sit-up in her life. I, and all of my friends, huff and puff and lunge and squat in a sweaty attempt not to defy aging exactly, just to delay it a drop.
"Forty for us was 30 for other generations," my trainer, David Kirsch, owner of the Madison Square Club in New York City, tells me one morning when I ask (while performing a spastic set of high kicks with weighted bands Velcroed to my legs) if I should expect my butt to age differently than my mom's. "It's going to be a whole different thing," he says. Robyn M. Stuhr, an exercise physiologist and the executive vice president of the American Council on Exercise, says that working out often can indeed keep your body looking young. "The research clearly shows that regular exercise can prevent loss of muscle, bone, mobility, strength, and stamina—and keep excess fat from creeping on, particularly around the abdominal area," she says. "All of those effects are associated with youth." Plus, it may make you just seem younger. "It can boost your self-esteem, physical function, and energy while decreasing any anxiety and depression," says Stuhr, "which can lead to having a positive and vibrant outlook on life that tends to come across as more youthful."
I do think that all the running and Spinning and yoga and Pilates and Yogalates we're up to all the time is having a psychological effect to match its physiological one. If we can keep our bodies supple, shouldn't our faces—and lifestyles, and mentality—match?
And as bodies become toned, rather than merely slim, women have stopped wearing modest, "age-appropriate" post-30 clothes. Terence X. Bogan, a vice president at Barneys New York who is responsible for the store's Co-Op division, where jeans are sold, says his customers are getting older and older. "At the inception of Co-Op more than 15 years ago, we thought our customer would skew young," he says. That idea is, increasingly, wrong. "We've started seeing skinny jeans on women of all ages," he says. "Bell-bottoms, minidresses, things that are very body conscious. Our thirty- and fortysomething customers work really hard on their bodies; they pay a lot for their bodies at the gym—and in the plastic surgeon's operating room—and they want to show them off."
And we have the sheer time to spend in the gym, in the store, in the dermatologist's office—to, in short, be consumed by vanity—because so many of us are delaying getting married and having kids. The absence of that kind of responsibility also leads to a younger mind-set. By 32 (my age now), my mother and grandmother had both married and had (multiple!) kids. They lived in real houses, where the refrigerators were always stocked with orange juice and leafy greens. They had such mature lives that accepting a maturing body and face must've seemed like it was part of the deal.
I trudge up four flights to the one-bedroom apartment I share with my boyfriend, and perhaps because we do our dishes by hand (or, too often, don't), sleep too late, and are almost always out of milk, I feel like I should look young enough for such a laid-back setup. A life marked by so few real responsibilities should have a worry- and crease-free complexion to match, right? Or do I keep up the lifestyle because bounding up those four flights is easier now than it would've been for someone who'd never been to a gym? Koch-Sheras sees the delayed maturation as an attempt to postpone aging and points out that you can't put it off indefinitely: "Time does catch up with you eventually." Doesn't mean we can't try to outrun it, though.
But it's not only single women who are resisting age: Women who marry and have children when they're young are taking cues from their untethered counterparts and are becoming serious time-fighters, too—moving directly from the maternity ward to boob lifts and tummy tucks. Plastic surgeons now offer special postpartum packages to the new moms stunned by pictures of Heidi Klum modeling lingerie weeks after giving birth or Gwyneth Paltrow's board-flat abs, made to feel that even motherhood is no longer a valid reason for, well, looking like a mother.
The Botox No-Age
Which brings us to this: Despite the books and TV shows glorifying stunning fortyish singletons ... it's not all shopping sprees and Botox parties. Despite the fact that we've had things pretty easy compared to women who've come before us, all the opportunities we have create very high expectations for us. And let's face it: We're entitled. We're the first generation who grew up not just thinking we could be, but expecting to be, a famous fashion designer, an astronaut, a brain surgeon, or the president of the United States—all the while looking gorgeous and staying eternally youthful. We're accustomed to getting our way. But the fight against aging, while not impossible to win, is a serious adversary—and that is unnerving to us.
A few weeks ago I went to a screening of an independent film and then on to a dinner party. At the coat check, I was chatting with a friend when a (much older) man butted his head between us and asked, point-blank, without a softening introduction, how old I was.
I'm embarrassed to report that I instantly got completely, outrageously defensive. I felt angry that he would make me reveal my age in front of others, even my friends. "What?" I shouted, far louder than was necessary. "What's the matter with you?" I called him "creepy and rude," turned huffy and crimson, and was eventually calmed down by his mortified wife. "We have a daughter," she reasonably explained. "We were wondering if she'd like the film." Oh. Never mind.
Over dinner, my friends and I discussed why I'd gotten so upset. Everyone—male and female—agreed that "What do you earn in a year?" would've been a similarly rude and presumptive query. The man was not evil. Socially awkward, yes, but not evil.
For days afterward, I winced when I thought about my dramatic response. I kept replaying it in my mind. Why couldn't I have just smiled, answered proudly, and calmly questioned why he asked? I hated the idea of being ashamed of my age; I hated that I was suddenly hoping to conceal it, to enter into that liminal Botox no-age.
So far there have been no needles, no knives, no pulsing beams of infrared light aimed at my face. I take what I consider to be reasonable precautions: I try, when I can resist it, to stay out of the sun, and my medicine cabinet is like a clown car of creams. I still like to think that I won't make clock-stopping a top priority in my adult life, but I no longer feel critical of women who do. And I no longer declare that I never will. But if I ever do, I hope I'll keep my objectives in check, because when it comes to 25—been there, done that. Why in the world should I try to do it again?