Every now and then a voice breaks through the cultural zeitgeist and questions the way we are doing things. Justine Bateman has done just that with her new book, FACE: One Square Foot of Skin. A former actress turned writer/director/producer, she has exposed a troubling trend in women’s beauty standards and practices: plastic surgery and facial manipulation as a norm.
When and how did this happen?
I was born in 1967. My formative years were the ’70s and ’80s, when plastic surgery was done only by a few odd balls in Hollywood like Joan Rivers, who continued to look stranger as the years went on. Being able to see someone’s full expression was the norm.
Fast forward to 2021. A friend shared recently that her 16 year old daughter announced at the dinner table that she wanted to get “preventative Botox”. I felt my blood begin to boil. What the hell has happened to our society that she would EVER think she needs that? Can it be totally blamed on the omni-presence of social media? Probably not.
We live in an ageist, sexist, patriarchal, and misogynist society and although a teen can talk about “internalized misogyny”, she apparently doesn’t recognize it when it lands in her own psyche — and specifically, on her own face.
My first boss and beloved mentor went under the knife for a face lift, in preparation for her son’s wedding. Rumor had it that her ex-husband had begun dating a younger woman and my boss was feeling insecure. Shockingly, she died due to complications with the procedure. DIED…at the hands of internalized ageism.
I didn’t even realize I had wrinkles until I was 44. A friend from LA was in town and showed me the “mark up tool” on iPhoto. I was new to iPhones and technology — and even more oblivious to the pervasiveness of our “touch up” culture. When she began to change everyones faces I blurted out “But that’s not fair! It’s not real!” She laughed at her naive friend. I felt a wave of nausea pass over me…
like watching a car crash I couldn’t control.
I walked into the bathroom and looked at my face. I saw wrinkles I had never seen before. I felt in that moment that I had a different face than the one I had woken up to. And there was no going back. I was both afraid and angry. In just one conversation, I now saw myself differently. Justine refers to this moment as “the crossing over”, when you realize you are aging and it’s viewed as bad, scary, dangerous, or downright depressing. I’ve worked for 9 years to undo that sinking feeling and admire my aging face for exactly where it is right now.
What I love about what Justine Bateman is proposing in FACE are the questions she asks:
- What fear are you addressing by changing your face?
- What would you be able to do or feel if you actually believed YOU ARE ENOUGH just as you are?
As a Women’s Empowerment Coach, I walk a fine line with this topic. Of course I want women to empower themselves by making choices that are in alignment with their values. But what do I do if their values are so skewed towards fear-based, misogynistic beliefs that they aren’t enough, that they aren’t beautiful or worthy or hirable unless they look younger or have no lines on their forehead?
So much of why women change their faces is because they don’t feel they are ENOUGH. I see this with every single woman I coach and every woman I know. In some context in their lives they ask AM I ENOUGH? And when they make fear-based choices by answering the question “No, but you will be enough when you do X, Y, Z…”, it rarely ends well. Because the action they are taking doesn’t actually address the underlying emotion and insecurity that asks the question in the first place.
I don’t write this to shame anyone for the actions they’ve taken with their faces or bodies. I get it. We live in a tough culture that promotes and celebrates youth. What I would love though is for more women to feel comfortable and confident aging naturally, and allowing women like Justine to live and age however they choose, without judgment or shame. Let’s face it, this is NOT a conversation men are having about their own faces and aging.
Let’s stop telling girls and women that plastic surgery or Botox is inevitable.
You have choices…and aging naturally is definitely one of them.