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The Face of Change: Plastic Surgery Between Friends

A woman’s friend gets Botox, while she embraces aging, wrinkles and all.

By Joanne Kaufman

My Buddy and BotoxA few years ago, a close friend wrote a comic novel that attracted considerable media attention. Because the book dealt tangentially with the subject of cosmetic intervention ("gateway" drugs — collagen and such — as opposed to the hard stuff, by which I mean adjustments involving a scalpel), a reporter who showed up to cover the splashy book party quite reasonably asked my friend if she herself had sampled the goods. "Some Botox," she allowed cautiously. I learned about this admission the next day, when it was mentioned in a gossip column. Why I was so shocked I cannot tell you. My friend spends most of her time in Los Angeles, for god’s sake. To be of a certain age in L.A. — she’s just past 50 — and not to have had some roadwork done is as likely a situation as belonging to the von Trapp family and being tone deaf.My distress at having learned about my buddy and Botox after the fact precisely mirrored my reaction when, during our sophomore year at college, I overheard my best friend, Jill, talking about having lost her virginity the previous weekend. Why hadn’t she told me? Was she going to tell me? Hadn’t we agreed that we wouldn’t go all the way without discussing it with each other first?The overriding emotion in both cases — making over and making out — was abandonment mixed with betrayal. My friends had moved on, had become people I didn’t quite know anymore. I could have hardly felt more adrift if they’d suddenly decided to change their names.I have tried to keep quiet about my feelings, not so much because I’m embarrassed about them (although I am, a little) and not because they make me sound holier-than-thou (which I guess they do, and probably more than a little), but because revealing them draws me into relativistic debates from which there is no escape and certainly no victory. "Do you use moisturizer?" my friend Laura asks by way of an opening salvo."Of course.""Do you have your legs waxed?""Yes." "Your eyelashes colored?""Well, yes.""You’ve had electrolysis?""For years. You went too. Remember?""And what about facials? Don’t you get facials?" "Occasionally.""Well," she says in a triumphant, case-closed, we-already-know-what-you-are-now-we’re-just-dickering-about-the-price tone: "How is what you do any different from getting Botox?" Well, of course it is different. I’m trying to make the best of what I’ve got, not turn back the clock. The Slippery Slope of Plastic SurgeryI can’t ignore the role that terror has played in my attitude. What if I got a wee little injection of something, was amazed at the results, headed back to the dermatologist for more, and then more and then all of a sudden, hell-o, Joan Rivers? This is exactly, but exactly, why I never dabbled in drugs.And I can’t ignore what I think of as the renovation pitfall: You redo the kitchen and then all you can think about is how lousy the living room looks by comparison. If I do something about my smile lines or crow’s-feet, all I’ll notice is the crepey wreck that once was my neck. And I certainly can’t put aside the God-will-punish-you factor, as embodied in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story "The Birthmark": A scientist marries a beautiful woman with the tiny imperfection of the title. He becomes progressively more obsessed with excising her only flaw, finally concocting a potion that destroys the birthmark but also kills his wife.Some while ago, I was having lunch with a friend in her early 80s, a well-known socialite who, halfway through her stuffed artichoke, gave me a rundown of her various cosmetic procedures — her nose (three times), her eyes (twice), a full face-lift (twice) — and offered me the private number of her surgeon. I thanked her and mumbled something about how great she looked but that I wasn’t going to go that route.She gave me a quick, appraising look as she called for the check. "You’re telling me that now, when you don’t need it," she said, smiling. "Let’s see what you say in a few years." Maybe she’s right. I am hardly without vanity; I haven’t missed a day of exercise in years. But I don’t wear and never have worn makeup except on state occasions. This is partly because I am an extremely pale blonde and just about anything I put on my face makes me look as if I were going to clown school and partly because I haven’t a clue how to apply it. But it’s mostly because I have this take-me-as-I-am-or-don’t-take-me-at-all attitude. To start with the eye-lifts at this point would make me feel very — you should pardon the expression — two-faced.Age AcceptanceAs I go down the list of friends who’ve had Restylane, Botox, and what have you, I find that one thread unites them: They all had the distinct pleasure of going through life beautiful, and they keenly feel what they view as the loss of that beauty. I have not had that particular satisfaction. I am waiting ever more eagerly for what my late mother assured me would happen someday: my growing into my looks. This is not me being charmingly self-deprecating. I am perfectly willing to say I have a good figure and am quite amusing at parties. But the bottom line is that because my looks never paid big dividends, I was never hugely invested in them and thus have no particular incentive to make capital improvements at this late date.It’s all in how I look at it — or don’t. While I have generally regarded my extreme myopia as a liability, as I’ve pushed past 45, it’s become an asset: Unless my nose is touching the mirror, anything that may be happening — marionette lines asserting themselves, stripes tromping briskly across my forehead — is a lovely blur. The fact is, thanks to some decent genes and a well-worn sun hat, I have a fairly young-looking face. That — presto! — others can have one too simply by spending a few minutes at the dermatologist’s seems like cheating. The late great prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn was once asked during an interview whether she would ever have a face-lift. "I suppose I should," she answered. "It would be much kinder to my friends."Friends, don’t be kind to me. You know I won’t be kind to you. Joanne Kaufman also writes for the Wall Street Journal.Originally published in MORE magazine, March 2007.

First Published Mon, 2009-04-06 18:37

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