Written on my face

{Jawline examples from 2009}

The first time I ever heard about plastic surgery was in the early 90’s when I found a picture of Dolly Parton in one of my Saturday magazines. I was so fascinated by the picture that I cut it out and pinned it to my cork board. Dolly was dressed in a pale blue velour and diamante studed evening dress. Barely housed underneath that dress were her enormous tits. I’m not sure how many boob jobs she’d had at that point but each single breast was larger than her head. I couldn’t believe it. Firstly I couldn’t believe that someone would want to do that to themselves and secondly I couldn’t believe it was physically or ethically possible to give someone tits so large that if you moved your weight onto your toes it meant you would fall flat on your face.

Growing up in the 90’s I noticed plastic surgery became more fashionable and could spot a face lift, lip plump and breast enlargement a mile off. I never knew anyone who’d had surgery so it all came from magazines who thoughtfully chose to point these physical changes out to us. For those who chose to slice and dice back then procedures weren’t as advanced as they are now and so instead of making themselves look younger, people {and by people I, of course, mean MAJORITY women} simply looked like they’d ‘been done’. They just looked like they’d had surgery.

As an opinionated 20 something year old I would bark about my distaste for anyone who even thought about having plastic surgery. ‘They look awful’ I would spout out ‘What on earth are they thinking?’ ‘Just grow old gracefully!’

Then I hit 35.

A second chin started showing up in the majority of photos I saw of myself. Chinequa, as I like to refer to her, arrived along with a spare tyre of fat around my stomach that didn’t go away, like it had done before, if I skipped a meal.  They really bothered me when they first settled into my body. I wasn’t used to having excess of anything. I used to have a jawline that was so sharp it could cut through warm butter and a washboard stomach that came from no exercise at all.  I took those beautiful body parts for granted and when they left me I struggled for a bit. I didn’t feel like myself and it took me a while to realise that those shapes and angles that I was accustomed to weren’t coming back. That realisation bought with it a whole slew of emotions connected to the fact that I wasn’t young anymore and I never would be again. My skin wasn’t the same as it was when I was in my 20’s. Things had started to sag and wrinkle and grow. I had to dress differently to feel better about myself and I had to start watching what I ate.

Luckily for me how I looked never came into whether I was offered a job or not. I was never scrutinised or photographed for millions around the world to see. Chinequa wasn’t circled in a big red marker and placed on the front of a magazine with the headline ‘ANDREA DONOVAN STEPS OUT ACCOMPANIED BY BOTH OF HER CHINS’.  An empathy grew in me and a realisation that getting older is not for the faint of heart. It is a process that, regardless of whether you’re in the public eye or not, is hard. For a lot of people, if there is an option to try and stop the slipping away of your youth, why wouldn’t you at least consider it? I started to think ‘Have your surgery if you want it. If you feel you need it and it’s going to make you feel better then why not do it?’

A few years ago I went to the cinema to see ‘The Kids are alright’ staring Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. They play an LA couple who have teenage children. Bening is a tired, over worked doctor and Moore a croc wearing gardner. They are not supposed to be glamorous women who would have had any plastic surgery. In a scene early on I distinctly remember a shot where Bening turns her head to the side and we got a full on shot of her 52 year old neck. It shocked me so much that for the next ten minutes I couldn’t focus. After the film I was so annoyed with myself for even thinking about her neck and I couldn’t work out why it had bothered me so much. Then I realised that I’d never seen the real neck of a 50 plus women on screen! Like unicorns they simply didn’t exist.

When I read up about the film I found an article with Lisa Cholondenko, the director. She said she had found it incredibly hard to find actresses who actually looked the ages they were supposed to be representing for these parts.

“I was painstaking about casting. I thought, if this isn’t spot on, it isn’t going to work. When I was talking to my casting director [about a particular actor], I would say, has she had work? And if they told me ‘maybe’, I would say, in that case, no. I wanted the film to say this is what a 52-year-old woman looks like and she’s still sexy. It took me so long to cast”

Why are we not seeing the natural, wrinkled, sagging necks of older women? Why are we so afraid of seeing the ageing process? I could make a joke here and say I’m asking for a friend but I’m not. I’m asking for myself because I sometimes struggle with it myself.

I made my peace with Chinequa and my spare tyre a few years ago. I had to because I’m lazy and there were so many more things that I wanted to throw my energy into like hanging out with my hilarious niece, pretending I’m on Chef’s table when I cook dinner, singing kareoke really badly, travelling, deciding what to wear, reading great journalism but….occasionally I will look in the mirror and mourn the lose of that sharp jawline and the fact that my skin isn’t as plump and soft as it once was. In those instances I refer to a recent Frances McDormand quote from a rare New York Times magazine interview she did

“That’s another great thing about getting older. Your life is written on your face”

My face tells people I laugh, I worry, I fell out of bed once and put my teeth through my lip, I sleep a lot, I lie in the sun, I smoke and I eat great food. I’m not in a hurry to erase those parts of my life….well, maybe the worrying but that’s hereditary.

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