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December 20, 2012

Frozen in Time


Photo Credit: Craig Cutler

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I decide to take the plunge — or at least dip my toes in the water — and try Colbert's Triad Facial. Divided into three steps — microdermabrasion, laser toning, and a mild chemical peel — the facial takes less than half an hour. I'm a little red that afternoon, but i wake up the following morning perhaps not looking 30, but certainly looking as if I've returned from a weekend drinking green juice at a spa, not the red wine and lattes that I've actually consumed. And the cliché proves only too true: looking good, I feel good. I start looking in the mirror again. A few days later, I actually start drinking green juice — a habit I quickly give up, deciding I'd rather stick to my vices and compensate with seasonal Triads. I follow up with an Ulthera treatment under the care of Colbert's colleague, Harvard and M.I.T.-educated Dr. Allan Izikson, in the hope that this ultrasound device will tighten my jawline. And when I start seeing results, I feel a sudden urge to sign up for everything. I don't, though, perhaps because I'm wary of that slippery slope that leads to Minusland. Or what another friend refers to as "renovation insanity." She likens cosmetic treatments to home renovations: Once you redo the bathroom, the kitchen, which had looked just fine, suddenly starts looking old by comparison and so forth.

I reread the late Nora Ephron's very funny collection of essays I Feel Bad About My Neck. A family friend, Ephron had often shown up at a dinner or party looking younger than the last time I'd seen her, but her humor and wit were what always animated her looks. And she was frank, terrifically so. In the essay "On Maintenance," she describes walking down the street behind a homeless woman. "I don't want to be melodramatic," she writes, "but I am only about eight hours a week away from looking exactly like that woman on the street — with frizzled flyaway gray hair I would probably have if I stopped dyeing mine; with a pot belly I would definitely develop if I ate just half of what I think about eating every day; with the dirty nails and chapped lips and mustache and bushy eyebrows that would be my destiny if I ever spent two weeks on a desert island. Eight hours a week and counting." How Ephron managed to write 13 movies, direct eight, and produce 10 while maintaining her beauty regimen is a bit of a mystery to me, unless you factor in the possible bursts of confident energy that looking good can bestow on even the most exhausted workaholic. Her output is surely the true sign of feminist conviction, but perhaps her refusal to let her appearance slip and fall short of her youthful curiosity also reflects an attitude of determination. The other slippery slope, after all, is giving up, letting go.

It is only upon further conversation with Hirmand, however, that I am finally able to put a stopgap to my own ambivalence. "A lot of women," she tells me, referring to the many high-powered patients in her practice, "have actually gone beyond the question of 'How do our looks matter in our worth?' That question isn't relevant to them. We no longer live in an age in which women have to constantly prove themselves to be a CEO. It's a whole different landscape. These women are empowered enough, they're kind of beyond it. They don't feel they have anything to prove. They are smart. They are accomplished. They are doing what the guys are doing and more, and they don't care if they do something to look and feel better." In other words, there can be as much willful defiance in choosing cosmetic work as in refusing it. And while there's an obvious power in not succumbing to society's pressures, in not caring, Hirmand points, perhaps, to a more contemporary, empowered woman free to make the choices she alone deems appropriate without regard to how her actions may be interpreted or judged. In the end, of course, it's the freedom to make that choice independently, privately, and confidently that matters.

As women, we have gained positions of hard-won power — are we not even more loath, then, to give it up? While subjecting ourselves to injections and going under the knife are certainly a relinquishing of the power Ms. magazine helped secure us, personally, perhaps we are staying in the game longer, living that liberated, youthful, working life for more years, as life expectancy increases and careers take shape more slowly in the post-bubble economy of today. And maybe, ultimately, if the "personal is political," the lasting message of my generation may actually be one of defiant self-empowerment. Perhaps we are the generation that simply will not be put out to pasture.

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