Tuesday 24 April 2018

Sisters are doing it to themselves

In our efforts to hold back the years, we don't necessarily become better looking or younger looking - instead we become slightly wrong-looking versions of ourselves

A newly demure Pamela Anderson earlier this month. Photo: Neil Mockford
A newly demure Pamela Anderson earlier this month. Photo: Neil Mockford
Sharon Osbourne backstage at the x Factor in January
How does the evergreen Louis Walsh do it?
Kylie Jenner admitted to having lip fillers
Nicole Kidman at the LA premiere of Big Little Lies earlier this month

Sarah Caden

There was a time when you got to a certain age and you made a choice. It was a question of preserving your face or your figure; but you couldn't have both. If you chose the face, you needed to carry a little overall weight, to retain some softness in the face. If you chose the figure and remained thin, odds were the face would take on a certain skull-like, sunken-cheeked appearance.

Of course, some women chose neither; but that's another story.

These days, the choice is less stark. Some of the slimmest women you know will have cheeks more plump and pert than a ripe peach. The same women are unlikely to have drooping upper eyelids either, or furrows between their brows, or maybe expression lines of any kind.

They may not have an ounce of fat on them, and yet their necks have not a hint of turkey about them, nor what are kindly known as "necklace" lines, but instead an impossible swanlike smoothness.

Kylie Jenner admitted to having lip fillers
Kylie Jenner admitted to having lip fillers

They are most often aged between 40 and 70 and you're not sure where they fall exactly.

And sometimes, on first glance, you're not sure who they are exactly. They resemble someone you know, but not exactly. They look good, though maybe they don't exactly look like themselves. They might look oddly similar to how they used to look, like a distant cousin, perhaps. They look not like their younger selves, but not their older selves either.

They look different. Not necessarily always better, but different.

If holding back time is the goal of almost all cosmetic or aesthetic surgery, injectables or skin treatments, then it is being achieved. And it is being achieved all around us, all over Ireland. Not just in Dublin or the big cities, but everywhere.

Women, primarily, are doing it to themselves. They are not the women their grandmothers or mothers were at the same age, but whether they/we look better exactly is debatable.

It would be disingenuous to suggest that any of us truly embrace the idea of getting older. To hanker after the face of our youth, which was of course wasted on us while we were young, is entirely normal. To do otherwise is to embrace the inevitability of decay and death just a little too enthusiastically.

Sharon Osbourne backstage at the x Factor in January
Sharon Osbourne backstage at the x Factor in January

In our own ways, then, everyone fends it off. It could be a mere mental exercise, it could be make-up, or skincare, or fitness, but for a lot of women, and it remains mostly women, the route to retaining youth is to venture into intervention.

The problem is that dipping one's toe doesn't seem to be an end in itself. A few discreet doses of Botox are rarely the first and last stop in the holding back of time. The smoothness bestowed wherever it is injected makes everything else look ridged and rough and lined by comparison and the next thing you know, those naso-labial lines that run from nostrils to the corners of the mouth need attention. Or the lines radiating up from your lips. Or the thinness of your lips. Or the lost fullness of your cheeks.

A few discreet doses of Botox can lead to what one lady who lunches described to me as "the Simpsons face". This is a face in profile with jutting lips full of filler, cheeks similarly filled and oddly firm to kiss and eyes slightly sunken due to over-Botoxed foreheads.

And don't forget, if the face is taut and tight and putting it up to your 20-something self for smoothness, then the neck can't be sagging and crepey. There's ultrasound therapy to help with that, but then you're also going to have to address your hands; the perennial true-age give-away. It's a full-time job.

Which leads to a situation where one has to take issue not with any bit of cosmetic intervention, but the problem of knowing where to stop. It's not the women with the discreet skin-resurfacing or small bit of Botox or filler that stops us in our tracks. It's those who clearly can't see how the accumulation of treatment upon treatment is altering who they are.

Last year, I spoke to UK cosmetic surgeon Darren McKeown, who discussed how, aside from Botox, injectable fillers are the treatment of our times.

Data from the UK earlier this month backs that up. Statistics from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons indicate a 40pc drop in cosmetic surgery from its all-time high level in 2015. The use of injectables, laser treatments and microdermabrasion continues to rise, however.

Fillers work to replace the fullness of features that is lost with the passing of time. Of course, they are done strategically - not to give you a big round face, but to create a high cheekbone, a pleasing curve from cheekbone to jaw.

Equally commonly, they are put into the lips, which grow thinner as we age, as well as fading in colour. And "thin-lipped" is an expression that seems to carry character assessment with it as well as a judgement on age.

McKeown told me that although people are commonly told that fillers need topping up every six months or so, he has often seen patients who have filler lingering in their faces years later.

The body absorbs the filler patchily and unevenly, he explained, and can leave an irregular-looking appearance. Then, if the patient decides to add more filler on top of that, the irregularity is only exaggerated and thus a wrong-looking face is achieved. The "wrong-looking" face is a phenomenon, of course, and it can only be explained as a sort of dysmorphia that takes hold. We can easily name celebrities who start out on the face-work 'journey' and end up wrong-looking.

Sharon Osbourne would be a case in point and if someone with her money and her access to professionals can't get it right and can't call a halt, then what hope for the rest of us?

As previously mentioned, the problem is that when one feature is tweaked, a domino effect seems set in train. So, you end up in a situation, as someone described to me recently, where you think you recognise someone, but you're not entirely confident that it's them. Because their eyes seem oddly recessed due to the pertness of their cheeks, the fullness of their lips, the heaviness of their forehead.

They don't look their true age, fair enough, but they don't look like the person they were when they were young, either. Which is the goal, right? But if holding back the tide of time is the goal, then that doesn't account for the huge increase in numbers of young women opting for fillers, and specifically lip fillers.

Women as young as 20 are opting for lip-plumping, though breast augmentation remains the most popular procedure in Ireland, albeit not on a Pamela Anderson scale, while an eyelid lift, which Louis Walsh has admitted to having, is also a procedure the Irish have embraced.

Given that plump lips are a signifier of youth and, by association, fertility, you'd wonder why young women would feel the need to boost them. Some people point to the Kardashian factor, given the family's relentless and apparently boundary-less pursuit of physical perfection. Further, its youngest member, 19-year-old Kyle, has her own lips filled. Also, for young women, there is the tyranny of Instagram, and that need to feel Insta-perfect as well as Insta-regular. Quirky, or being yourself, as it might also be known, is not what being young and being a selfie-slave is about.

And we can't, as an older generation, simply roll our eyes at the folly of youth here, when the 40-plus generation are putting such concerted effort into being anything but ourselves through cosmetic and aesthetic procedures.

A friend who sat beside a cosmetic surgeon at a function recently told me they had a long conversation not just about the wrong-faced phenomenon, but the right way to go about resisting the ravages of age. In a nutshell, this professional said that when it comes to face work, getting a "bad" job is all too easy, regardless of how much money or good sense a person has.

The "good" jobs, they said, were mostly of the less-is-more variety. And the key issue there is knowing where to stop.

But we've all seen perfectly sensible and intelligent people fail to recognise where that point is. It is this that accounts for a growing contingent who are doggedly resisting the needle and the knife. Instead, they are looking at laser, vampire facials and other treatments that focus on the quality of the skin. Radiance, that elusive preserve of the young, is what a lot of procedure-shy women are striving for and when professional eyes are cast over the celebrities who look what you might call "natural", that's what they spot.

The likes of say, Jennifer Aniston or Naomi Watts, who look incredibly good for their late 40s, are among those who may be taking the laser route or the skin-resurfacing options. Certainly, neither have the dreaded overarched brows or the sunken eyes. They don't look tweaked beyond recognition, either, or as if they're trying to be 25.

Nicole Kidman has admitted to using Botox in the past and is often cited as someone whose appearance was not improved by it - she has said that she no longer uses it.

What you can't forget though, is that a star on the red carpet, someone who's 'only' doing that amount of work, is going to look that bit weary, worn and lined next to another star who is shiny-taut of skin and utterly unmarked by age.

Cosmetic work is a bit like steroids in sport.

If everybody's doing it, then that's the level playing field and if you're not on it, you're the loser.

If all your friends are on the needle, filling their faces, lifting their jaws and tightening their throats, then do you really want to be the odd one out?

No one wants to be the one who let herself go in the line-up, but is that really a good reason to join in?

Recently, while looking through old photographs with a woman older than my own mid-40s, we came across a snap of her mother, who would have been born at the turn of the 20th Century.

She would have been in her early 60s in the photograph, her hair uncoloured and in a bun, her glasses plain, no make-up, no glamour. The way grannies used to be, my companion commented.

Back then, you reached a certain age and you put on the uniform, even if you were a tasteful woman as her mother had been. Ageing was not a much-used verb, and being anti it was unheard of.

No one wants to go back to that. No one wants to surrender their glamour or their attractiveness or their vivacity at any age any more. Nor should we have to.

But that might mean that the alternative is slavery to never-ending small pricks of the needle, fillers upon fillers, and a striving for youth that's slipping through our fingers all the time. Because it does and it is, no matter what we do.

We all want to look good as we age, but a look around might suggest that we haven't quite perfected that dark art yet.

Sunday Independent

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