Pretty on the inside

I saw Steve the Stylist yesterday for a haircut.  While waiting for him, I found myself drawn to one of those “plastic surgery disasters”-type cover stories on a celebrity magazine, in which different photographs of celebrities (all women) are compared, analyzed by cosmetic surgeons, and the results decried as “ruining” the celebrities’ faces, breasts, or whatever.  We both commented on the rank unfairness of an entertainment industry that won’t employ women over 35 or 40 unless they’ve had repeated cosmetic interventions, but then of course these women are mocked and derided for succumbing to the procedures that keep them employable.

Steve offered a fascinating observation based on having had clients who have had botox injections.  He said that he thinks it subtracts from their personalities, as though botox also freezes up people’s emotions and empathy as well as their facial muscles.  We speculated that it might have something to do with the more limited range of facial expressions that post-botox patients have that might make it seem like people’s personalities change.

I don’t have any experience with this, as I don’t *think* I know anyone who’s had cosmetic surgery.  (One friend of mine had a breast reduction, about a decade ago, and another one is contemplating it, but I think that says a lot about the crowd I run with:  we’re just about the last people in the world to want big boobs and/or care much about a few wrinkles or sagging skin.)  But I found Steve’s observation about botox-induced personality changes very interesting.

About those cruel photographs:  it always strikes me that “having work done” doesn’t make people look younger, it just makes them look like they’ve had work done.  So what, I wonder, is the point?  Do women actors and entertainers need to make their ritual offering of flesh and blood to display their deference to Hollywood values?  They’ll still end up being cast as the 35-year old male lead’s mother when they’re only in their mid-forties, anyway.  Perhaps this is why so many canny women on the brink of middle-age decide to retreat behind the camera. Whatever happened to Julia Roberts? Where has Halle Berry been lately?

(Photo above by Hans Bellmer, 1935.)

18 thoughts on “Pretty on the inside

  1. 1) One of the most interesting things to me about Fincher’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is that the only major character under the age of 40 is played by Rooney Mara. And Robin Wright and Joely Richardson, who played the two other primary female characters, looked positively *beautiful* AND their age. And it struck me how much I *noticed* that they looked their age (noticed it in a good way) and also noticed the range of expressions on their faces.

    2) Lately, it’s not that I think that people who have had work done look like they have had work done. It’s that they all start looking like Faye Dunaway. I blame the weird cheek implants and restalyn fillers. (Seriously: do a google image search first for Faye Dunaway, and then for Jessica Lange, and then for Madonna. Heck, even some recent pics of Courtney Love. And even Joan Rivers a little bit. Do they all go to the same surgeon? Or is this the only face that plastic surgery can really produce?)


  2. Oh, and Meryl Streep had some really interesting things to say about roles for women at 40 and beyond and her ability to stay working as she aged in a recent interview on Fresh Air. The most interesting part:

    “I remember when I turned 40, I was offered, within one year, three different witch roles. To play three different witches in three different contexts. It was almost like the world was saying or the studios were saying, ‘We don’t know what to do with you.’ … I think there was, for a long time in the movie business, a period of — when a woman was attractive and marriageable or f- – -able, that was it. And then they didn’t know what to do with you until you were the lioness in winter, until you were 70, and then it was OK to do Driving Miss Daisy … [and] things like that. But that middle period — the most vibrant of a woman’s life, arguably, from 40 to 60, no one knew what to do with them. That really has changed, not completely, not for everybody, but for me it has changed. Part of it has to do with, I wasn’t that word that I just said that you bleeped before; when I was a younger actress, that wasn’t the first thing about me.”


  3. Courtney Love has had a number of surgeries and procedures, for sure. She sings about these things for a reason!

    I think you ask a good question about the kind of face that surgeons are interested in producing. But I also think that the Faye Dunaway look happens when you strech or pull skin to its limit. It’s going to blur or distort the otherwise distinctive features about the above faces you list, Dr. Crazy.


  4. I think Steve is probably right that it changes their personalities. Psychologists have known for a long time that there’s a feedback loop between your emotions and your actions- smiling makes you happy, frowning makes you angry, etc. So if someone is unable to fully engage their facial muscles, their ability to produce a full range of emotions will be compromised.


  5. First of all, I *love* the Bellmer reference — and did you know that Dorthea Tanning, one of the last of the surrealists, just recently died at 101?

    In the obituary I read, the author claimed her late stuff was so much more interesting and pushed boundaries than her first stuff during the surrealist period:

    Secondly, I have been really noticing women who are unable to move their faces on tv shows, which just creeps me out and makes no sense to me — how can you be working as an *actress* and not use your face to *act*? I see it in the *young* women on all those CSI/cop type shows — the camera pulls in on them and they just freeze there for the same reaction shot whether they are supposed to be angry or sad or happy.


  6. Thanks for the links, Sisyphus and mom. I had heard about Tanning’s death, and I’m sorry I didn’t learn more about her before she was gone. She was perhaps the last of the Surrealists.

    The information about the facial feedback hypothesis just makes me feel sad, which is probably making my frown lines worse! Perhaps one upside if this hypothesis turns out to be true is that people could try botox instead of antidepressants–it might even folks out a bit.

    (Unless they’re depressed. In which case, it sounds like avoiding botox is the way to go.)


  7. So, we the better people decide that some “corrections” are acceptable while some are, as Muslim say, kharam (forbidden). A blonde wig is great, how about hair transplant for my bald cabeza? Does it change my personality? If I lift weight for 3 hours everyday, do I start to speak with an Austrian accent?

    We all fight demons and as the Israeli poet (Nathan Zach) said: Sorrow doesn’t leave a mark.


  8. a really interesting post…

    @dr crazy, I haven’t seen the Fincher version yet of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, but I remember being struck by the same thing in the original Swedish films. One, that there were so many WOMEN in the film in background extra ish roles that would de facto have been men in an american film- cops, judges, etc. Also, it was more striking for me visually just how equal the staff of millenium was. And two, yeah- lots of middle aged woman. Attractive women that looked real- lines, wrinkles, expression. Even though most of the people in the film looked tired and or harassed (which to be fair, they were), there was something real and urgent and (I thought) kinda hot about it.

    This made me realise just how much cultural programming has affected the way I see the world.. part of me probably did worry that the whole george clooney, older men are just attractive and older women just empirically aren’t is in no way true. We just aren’t given the opportunity to see women in the same light.


  9. ugh sorry, too early and I am on a self imposed coffee ban these days.. I mean that I was afraid that all that george clooney, old men=sexually attractive, and to quote a former student of mine, “old women– EW.” was true. and I don’t think that it is.


  10. I also think that the too-thin frames of the fortysomething actresses who are getting all the work done does not help the situation. Something about skin and bones plus too-stretched skin? I mean, I don’t like the skinny look on anyone, but I think it’s particularly unflattering on the 30+ crowd. (I remember vividly one day watching Friends thinking, wow Courtney Cox is looking unusually beautiful these days. And then realized that she’d gained 5-10 pounds, and then realized that she was pregnant [they were trying to hide the pregnancy as it was not a in the character’s plot].)

    I thought Meryl Streep’s point about never having been particularly f*@kable is an astute one. She either made a conscious decision not to go down that route or people just never saw her that way (or a combo) – it makes sense to me that the stars that are tied to sex finding aging in the industry more difficult.

    There’s great commentary on the movie version of Sense and Sensibility too, where Emma Thompson (who wrote the script) remarks how everyone went Ewwww about the pairing of her with Hugh Grant, because, they claimed, he’s so much younger than she. Except they’re the exact same age. She said we’re so used to seeing old men with teenaged girls we forget what two people in their late thirties look like together.


  11. When “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, Her Lover” came out in 1989, I was struck by how sexy Helen Mirren and her male lead looked, *and* they looked quite middle-aged! It was refreshing to see two very normal, somewhat flabby people enjoying sex (never mind what happens later in the film). When will Hollywood ever stop feeling threatened by older and stronger women? Probably around the same time they stop making movies mostly for 14-year-odl boys. . .


  12. The problem is that by being anorexic, you lose the body fat that makes your face look stereotypically “soft and feminine” and thus have to refill it with collagen, restalyn and other implants to soften it up again. That goes for breast implants, too. Most women (are there any?) can’t naturally be a size 0 or 2 waist and a C- or D-cup. It’s a seriously vicious cycle.

    I also think that “looking done” is important as a social marker of status — you have celebrity and money to keep your face up, even if people all know about it. I think it looks awful, but do most people? The constant pressure to look young is everywhere.

    And yes, Northern Barbarian, Helen Mirren is gorgeous at any age (as is Meryl Streep).


  13. Helen Mirren is gorgeous, but that movie Cook/Theif/Wife/Lover was just vile.

    I think you’re right, joellecid–scrawny WITH breast implants, manicures, etc. suggests someone with the time and money to spend on personal grooming far beyond what most people can (or want) to do. And yes, subcutaneous fat is a good thing for plumping out wrinkles!


  14. Agreed–looking “as if they’d had work done.” It’s actually a distraction to watching some movies and tv shows, because instead of wondering what the character’s doing, you wonder exactly what work she’s (or he) has had done (cheek implants? lips? various appendages?) instead of focusing on the plot. Of course, that may say something about the quality of the entertainment, too. It’s mostly women, but some men, too: they get their eyes done, apparently, and look like a poleaxed deer in the headlights thereafter.

    And just to add a twist to the botox affecting emotions idea, it also travels to the brain:


  15. The Stepford Wives live again!

    Except, I don’t think women get botox to please the men in their lives. My sense–just a guess, I suppose, since I don’t run with a boxtoxy crowd–is that botox injections and other cosmetic procedures to the face are more about the public presentation of the self, and they’re not primarily about pleasing a partner. They’re about professional viability and about one’s perceived value in the marketplace moreso than pleasing a man.


  16. Ancient (male) senators get extra style points for the “crinkly” corners of their eyes. And the corrugated surfaces of their foreheads only testify to how many important bills they’ve moved out of “mark-up,” through committee, and onto the legendary “floor.” I personally never moved much of anything onto the floor except for a few hundred lukewarm plastic bowlfuls of maple-flavored oatmeal back in the day. I do pick up a few stray points on the “crinkly” factor, though.


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