“13? 17?” These are the numbers—representing years—that my dentist named in response to my saying that I was a good deal older than the attending dental assistant who had just admitted to turning 40 (“the big 4-Oh”).
My dentist didn’t mean “are you 17 years old” (much less “13 years old”); he meant “Are you 13 years older [than 40]? 17 years older?” (he named “17” with disbelief, as if to say “You can’t possibly be 57”).
Not 13 and not 17 years older than 40. 21 years.
I’m 61, but to my dentist, 57 years old seemed a completely implausible age for me.
This is not the first time since I underwent plastic surgery that someone has commented on my better-than-61-years looks. “You look so much younger!” exclaimed the post office representative as she compared my updated passport photo (2021) with one taken ten years earlier (in 2011). Ten years earlier.
The best part about my improved looks? I do not look like a parody of myself or as though I’m trapped in a wind-tunnel. I look like myself, but a better version of myself. I am myself, but with a defined jawline, with brighter eyes. And this defined jawline makes all the difference.
It took me a decade to decide to commit to this elective plastic surgery. I spent the decade vetting plastic surgeons. Throughout this process, I debated whether to I should even have the surgery. Social disapproval and stigma, the cost, the prospect of a mistake that would have me looking like Cubist-period Picasso… I was hesitant. The social stigma especially was concerning; my profession is full of snobs who would say that to have plastic surgery is to admit to being vain and self-indulgent and not a serious person, not politically informed about honoring one’s age.
Over and over, I tried to figure the possible downsides. But despite the potential comments from my peers, I decided to move forward for myself.
I wear scoop-neck shirts now. Before my surgery, I wouldn’t go near a scoop-neck shirt; for at least a decade, my sloping skin-wattle was a source of acute embarrassment. Any neckline that showed my neck (“V-neck”; scoop-neck) required that I wear a scarf or a dickey turtleneck. Including on the hottest days in July. A turtleneck in July, to hide my turkey-wattle saggy neck skin and jowls.
The most remarkable moment for me was when, three weeks out from my surgery, I reached for and then began to reject a scoop-neck shirt, with the usual feeling of anxiety… and then saw myself in the mirror. I was dumbfounded. I didn’t need a scarf; I could wear a scoop-neck freely. It took me about two months to teach myself not to be anxious about necklines, not to think in terms of camouflage.
So far—six months out from undergoing surgery—I can discern no down-side. Granted, this is not a perfect process: my face and its contours are not those of a sixteen-year-old rosebud-faced woman, not a twenty-five-year-old contoured woman.
But this “amendment” is pretty remarkably done, and the “look” has helped me to recover self-esteem, at an age when women are effectively “erased.” Getting pegged as a 53-year-old woman as opposed to the 61-year-old person with very saggy, baggy skin, is good for me. Having my 63-year-old hairdresser no longer say to me “Oh, I thought you were a lot older than I…” (yes, she did say this…) is good for me.
I walk proudly down my office hallway. I walk confidently into public spaces. I don’t look at people and think about what they’re seeing. And yes, I know that we should all work to make our culture less sexist, less ageist, less disapproving of women who dare to age. But the simple fact of the matter is that we do live in a sexist, ageist culture that punishes women for aging. I’m proud to make life difficult for those who want to cancel mature women.
Feeling at ease with and about myself as I move through the world is a gift.
Every person must make the decision that’s right for her. But if wanting to soften—appropriately—the signs of aging so that one can move through the world with confidence, then by all means, do it for no one other than yourself.
Would I do this again? In a heartbeat. Yes, I had to resort to my hard-earned savings to underwrite the surgery, but this is an investment not only in my self-esteem (which was, quite frankly, being battered) but in my ability to try to stay relevant in my profession, which will “cancel” an older woman in a heartbeat. This journey has made it difficult for my ageist colleagues to dismiss me strictly on the basis of my looks.