I've always been in favor of making the most of who I am, living every day to the fullest, and being the best I can be. That's why I exercise, drink a lot of water, and write topic sentences that sound like a blend of advertising for Geritol and the United States Army.
But I'm becoming increasing aggravated by the constant cosmetic-surgery messaging directed primarily at women — urging us to plump our lips, ease our wrinkles and lift our eyebrows — right on up to the advanced age when we'll need to use a wheelchair on the way into the operating room as well as on the way out.
Oh, I've thought about cosmetic surgery, to be sure. I've shocked myself more than once with my reflection in the harsh lighting of department store mirrors, thinking I've glimpsed the ghost of my wizened Great-Aunt Hazel (who, frankly, was not that much of a looker to begin with). And I almost made a cosmetic surgery appointment once, because more and more frequently I seem to be the only woman who shows up at public events with visible laugh lines and droopy eyelids.
Here's what happened to me gradually, almost imperceptibly, as a result of the bombardment of messages from the facially flawless. I started to see myself in every plastic surgeon's "before" photo in magazine ads. I found myself nodding my chins knowingly when the woman announcer on the radio talked about her sagging neck skin.
Then, I started to think about how many people I knew and admired who have had face lifts and tummy tucks and Restylane injections — people who are strikingly honest about their multiple surgeries. More often than not, their procedures were spoken of in self-improvement lingo, as if the particular surgery itself were rather like picking up an extra yoga class or buying a juicer or joining a weight-reduction program.
Indeed, cosmetic procedures are becoming not only popular but downright commonplace. According to the "2009 Quick Facts" posted by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the total number of cosmetic procedures is up 69 percent from the year 2000, with Botulinum Toxin Type A (Botox) injections up 509 percent. Not coincidentally, my age group — the 40-to-54-year-olds — makes up the largest segment of cosmetic procedure-takers, a full 47 percent of the total performed.
So, there I was one afternoon, sending an e-mail to a doctor friend of mine who now specializes in "facial aesthetics," requesting a consult. Immediately after pushing "send," however, I figured out what my real problem was. (That's always the way with doctor's appointments: You make the call, and you suddenly feel a whole lot better.)
I was cured. Because the problem I discovered I had was that I am growing older. This, when you consider the alternative, is not really a problem at all.
I never followed up on my call.
As a result of my epiphany, I hope that I may offer up another way of looking at cosmetic procedures specifically designed to slow the signs of aging.
This is how I see the issue, now — yes, even beneath eyelids that are more and more like Sylvester Stallone's. We can do as we are told ad nauseam, and view the wrinkle-erasing, breast lifting or thigh-slimming procedures as merely confidence-boosters, a new way to "look our best."
Or, we can reject this sort of cosmetic surgery on the grounds that it is like affixing a label to one's face or body that declares: "I don't think I'm good enough." Or, how about: "Old is ugly." Or even, "I believe that most of my value as a person is in how I look."
Let's keep it real, and send a message to our children that we are deeper, indeed, than even the lines on our faces.
Janet Gilbert works in Baltimore and lives in Woodstock. Visit her at http://www.janetgilbert.net.