I was finally talking with my nutrition hero, and I couldn’t stop staring at her facelift. I had approached her at a conference and asked her opinion about something I really cared about, yet her shiny, taut skin distracted me from hearing her words as she spoke.
Mixed emotions rolled over each other in my gut as I tried to listen rather than judge her for what appeared to be a lot of plastic surgery. I was more ashamed of my judgment of her than by the reality of what I saw.
What I realized after I thanked her for her time and walked away was that the exact reasons why she probably had the work done (I don’t know for sure because I didn’t ask) were now working against her, at least in that moment. The pressure our youth-obsessed culture puts on women to look young, fresh and wrinkle-free drives many to take such extreme measures.
And yet, when the truth is revealed, that we’ve artificially altered our appearance in some way, women are vilified and judged harshly. Their wisdom and experience, both results of their age and years of study, are now denigrated because they “tried too hard” to stay younger looking.
I later learned that the founder of a well-known conference had excluded this same woman, a world-famous author and speaker, from his series because he didn’t approve of her obvious plastic surgery. The message was that her efforts to look and stay younger didn’t conform to his message and mission of natural health and beauty.
She wasn’t the only natural health expert I’ve met who has had some work done. After more than 14 years in the health and wellness world, I’ve seen a lot of faces immobilized by Botox, and augmented breasts up close.
No, I’m not going to name names — it really doesn’t matter who did what to their body. What began to dawn on me is that even in this community of organic, natural, and true health wisdom, the pressure to be perfect, and young, at almost any cost, is still very real.
I brought up the topic with a group of girlfriends recently, all of us between the ages of 30 and 40. Little did I know that a few had already had Botox treatments or breast augmentations when the stories came pouring out. Stories from one of wanting to reclaim a body after several children to look and feel like herself again. Stories of using, and then abandoning, Botox to control migraines and other uncomfortable physical ailments, though the side-effects were ultimately worse than the benefits.
Was one type of body alteration “better” and more acceptable because it helped ease a physical condition, even though that condition wasn’t life threatening? The conversation went back and forth between our desires to love ourselves exactly as we are, compassion for those who want to correct a part of their body that “doesn’t feel right anymore,” and curiosity: would we choose a surgeon’s knife or injection to help us feel confident in the future?
Women get plastic surgery for any number of reasons, and the pressure to look, and stay, younger than our years is huge. The cultural badgering to look young, cellulite and liver-spot-free is even stronger in this health and wellness world where all signs of aging are like glaring spotlights on the fact of aging itself.
The unspoken message is that you can’t be a paragon of health and expert voice on wellness if you look like you’re aging. Celebrity shaming comes in all shapes and sizes, and no one, no matter how famous or influential, is immune to the tension of wanting to stay relevant (read: young).
I have yet to alter my appearance with anything more than some makeup, plucking and highlights. But can I say I haven’t gazed down at my legs and wondered how much it would cost to zap away the spider veins crawling down my shins? Haven’t I noticed the “laugh lines” (nee crows feet) in the mirror and thought, just for a split second, about the potions, creams and laser treatments that are supposed to help minimize that kind of thing?
Haven’t we all dieted, detoxed and cleansed using restrictive food plans in order to shed weight or clear up our skin in an effort to feel more confident and healthy? Sometimes drastically and dangerously? Is this any different, at its core, than electing to have body-altering surgery? Is plastic surgery bad for women or good for women?
The answer ultimately lies within each of us.