A recent article in the New York Times Health section about plastic surgery among senior citizens got us talking recently. The usual caveat applies: this is a NYT “trend piece”, as in “stuff that affluent white people are doing which is rarely within the means of most of the US population”. That said, there was plenty to discuss when it came to ageism, self-improvement, body image, Patriarchial beauty standards, and gender. You can read the entire article here. Join us as we discuss!
BeckySharper: I had a real head/desk moment when reading about the 83 year old woman who got breast implants to improve her figure…not necessarily for the part where she says: “Physically, I’m in good health, and I just feel like, why not take advantage of it?” but for the part where she said: “And I want my children to be proud of what I look like.”
I have to say, I’m proud of MamaSharper for a possibly infinite number of reasons, but none of them have anything to do with the relative youthfulness of her figure. If your kids will be prouder of you if your breasts are perkier, thanks to a three-hour surgery—at age 83!—then there’s something deeply wrong with your kids (possibly including the way in which you raised them). Could it be that was a kind of front? Perhaps women of that generation reflexively default to “I’m doing it for the kids” because they’ve been so brainwashed into thinking that’s the only valid excuse for doing anything?
I actually I think she was being more honest at the end of the article when she said: “But nowadays women go out and they would never get a second look if they show their age. I find that you have to keep up your appearance physically, even if you just want a companion or someone to ask you to dinner. That’s not going to happen if you don’t have a figure that these geezers are looking for.”
PhDork: First thought: god help you if you’re geezer-less.
BeckySharper: Because that would mean you’re not hot anymore! Gotta have male attention! Apparently the more things change, the more they stay the same. Although in the interests of gender equality, it does mention (albeit briefly) in the article that men are getting plastic surgery too, presumably to get a tauter look to match their Viagra-tautned penii.
foureleven: I can’t hate these women because that would be hypocritical. All cosmetic procedures, even if they are done for medical reasons, have a stigma because of the religious undertone that we should accept ourselves for how God made us or the moral undertone that we should simply accept ourselves for who we are. I think it’s easy to dismiss younger people who have cosmetic surgery as shallow and insecure. The thought an older woman getting implants or a facelift unnerves us because we assume they should already be comfortable with their bodies. This ideology has always bothered me because, while some women do embrace their looks as they age, insecurity can happen regardless of age.
annajcook: I also think it’s interesting to consider the way in which surgery is seen as both “correcting” the effects of age, but also as something that’s deceptive (hiding these elders’ age through masking the visibility of time on the body). We walk a thin line in this culture of performing femininity in ways that are supposed to make us desirable, powerful, acceptable, feminine, etc … and being taken to task for “faking” that performance. It’s a low-level version of what happens to trans* folks who seek gender confirmation surgery or alter their bodies to better fit their identities and are harshly punished for being “deceptive” about their supposedly-true nature.
PhDork: Yeah, I thought part of the joy of getting older was ceasing to give a fuck about other peoples’ evaluations of your rack. And indeed, this “trend” is seriously limited to people in certain areas and of a certain class faction. I have a lot of 60-90 year old women in my extended family, and they would look all cross-eyed at this article. “Surgery? By choice? For looks?” That shit just wouldn’t fly.
BeckySharper: The women on my mother’s side of the family would say that too. The women on my father’s side have—with only one exception—all undergone plastic surgery, mostly to (allegedly) make their faces look younger. To me, the reason for the difference is completely obvious: the women on my mother’s side of the family were raised to be professional, and learned to value achievement over looks. The women on my father’s side were raised to be attractive, stylish, and find the right husband and right place in society—with their looks. So…yeah. If you’re taught that your looks are the key to your success and identity, you’re going to fight a lot harder to maintain them in whatever way you believe you need to. I don’t hate that they had all that surgery…I just think it’s sad that they felt it was necessary.
PhDork: I don’t “hate these women.” I just think they live in a toxic fucked up culture that judges them–still–by their hewing to a very narrowly defined “acceptable” outward appearance, and they have the means to pursue this course. It might be empowerfulizing, but it ain’t feminist. My discomfort has nothing to do with ooky feelings about octogenarians gettin’ it on. (I’ve also never been one of those people who had a problem with the idea that my parents had/have sex. Good for them. Whatever.) I don’t think that anyone is “faking” their age or gender. My problem is that 95% of women (or more? I’m making up numbers) who get plastic surgery, at whatever age, are saying “Yes, Patriarchy, you’re right, a face-lift is the solution to my problems. I’ll do whatever you say. Throw me some fucking crumbs, I’ll catch them in my brand-new cleavage.”
They’re making a deal with the devil. Sometimes I am sympathetic to that, because Times Is Tough. Today I am not, maybe because I’m 36 with a fucking gorgeous rack and I can’t get a job, either.
foureleven: I know this isn’t universal, but my surgeon did/still does a mental health check on all of his potential patients to ensure that they’re not getting a procedure as a cure-all. He also requires a verbal and written agreement stating the same and chooses not to operate on anyone deemed unsuitable. Granted, he’s only one person, but at least some surgeons do take precautions. That said, I think that *all* cosmetic surgery is defined by class, you know, those who can afford that luxury. I mentioned in one of my older posts that I wouldn’t have had my reduction if Aetna hadn’t covered the entire cost and I know quite a few women who want to have the surgery, but their insurance won’t cover it.
Also, I’m glad that the article mentioned job-hunting because that is a reason why a lot of women DO get plastic surgery. Society emphasizes youth and appearance and we all know that it’s hard for men and women over a certain age to get a job. It seems as if each week I hear about people who get laid off who are obviously never going to work again because companies don’t want to hire anyone over the age of 55.
annajcook: I’ll second foureleven’s point about the job-hunting. Susan Douglas makes this point in her latest book, Enlightened Sexism and I think it was one of the more frightening aspects of that book for me. To think that body alteration to erase the ageing process is necessary for economic survival … whoa.
I’m more cautious about surgical intervention than some other Harpies, as we’ve discussed before. But I also think that as a culture we’re very quick to either glamorize or vilify women for making decisions about their own bodies.