By Susan Potok Harrison | (photo credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)
There’s a certain topic of conversation among both sexes that is still quite taboo — no matter how liberal, tolerant, or open-minded we are. When it is brought up even among close friends, it provokes clearing throats, shifting glances, and a sudden interest in the weather. Cosmetic enhancement, plastic surgery, “having work done”… whatever you want to call it, at one point or another many of a certain age have contemplated some type of procedure, from the minimally invasive (Botox, injections, laser treatment) to the more extreme (eye lifts, face lifts, tummy tucks). It’s a delicate and personal decision, rarely entered into lightly.
It’s not news that a lot of focus and effort goes into taking care of our bodies — just look at The Sweat Life, entirely built around health, happiness, and fitness. It seems we can talk incessantly (and post!) about our awesome workouts, the foods we eat, the protein shakes, special juices, and vitamins we consume. But what about the work we may have done to our bodies? Why do we do it, and why doesn’t anyone talk about it?
A few months ago the tabloids and social media lit up with commentary on a popular and beloved actress and her seemingly radical change of appearance. Renee Zellweger appeared at a Hollywood event in October and was proclaimed “unrecognizable.” People from all different camps chimed in on her appearance, most critically attacking her for her remarkable change, and trying to hypothesize what procedures she had done. Zellweger avoided the elephant in the room, remaining mum on the subject, only to say she’s in love and happier, living a more fulfilled life, and saying, “I’m thrilled that perhaps it shows.” So what’s wrong with that? We work out to feel better and to look better. We watch what we put into our bodies. Why should it stop there?
My age isn’t on my resume, why should it be written on my face?
Ageism. We have witnessed a couple market downturns this past decade, and many highly qualified, hard working professionals are now interviewing for positions alongside others who are 10-20 years their junior. While age legally shouldn’t be a limiting factor in hiring decisions, it does play a role. A little outside help can be necessary to help us look and feel our best.
“How would you feel if you get this job, working with people that are so much younger than you?”
This was a question asked verbatim by a recruiter to my friend, a 49-year-old, male marketing exec who works in the fashion world. “Hence my decision,” he said. “I kill myself working out 7 days a week, but I still have a couple things I needed to correct – so I did. Maybe they make me look younger, maybe not, but they sure make me feel younger."
I asked my friend if he's told many people about his procedures. "Honestly? I haven't. And it's not that I'm hiding anything at all. It's just that, I don't know... I work so hard at staying in shape. The fact that I may have gotten some assistance in my appearance... I don't want people to think I somehow cheated. What you see is a result of my hard work. But I guess it's 95%. The other 5% is 'magic’," he winked.
Feeling like ourselves again.
I had lunch recently with my friend, a former model who just turned 40. After 2 children, she decided to bring her breasts back to where they were before pregnancies. “It was a decision I made for me. I didn’t want them bigger or smaller, I wanted them back exactly as they were before! I wanted to feel like my old self."
As technology and research progress, it gets harder and harder to discern between what’s natural and what may be enhanced. If we make a decision to correct or enhance something on our bodies, we can now do that without having to disclose it, if we don’t want to — but why the taboo?
I asked the same question to her, “Do you talk much about your decision?" Her response: "No. I mean if someone asks me, of course I'm honest and will answer the question, especially if they are thinking of having the same thing done. But really — this is what I had before. I'm just restoring what used to be here. And I'm okay with that!"
Maybe she’s born with it, maybe not.
In the current era of “selfies,” Instagram filters, and Photoshop, we are at once a culture that celebrates the candid and real, while massaging that data with a lustrous finish. It’s a paradox of beauty. We want to present our authentic selves yet at the same time also our best selves, which if we leave it to subjectivity, may encompass a lot of outside assistance.
The cosmetics industry is a $60 billion business in the U.S. alone. What starts with the gateway drugs in our 20s — eye cream and exfoliates — become Botox, collagen, and lasers in our 30s, and nips, tucks, and lifts in our 40s and beyond. It can be a never-ending quest for the high of “ageless beauty.” Our hard work in fitness and nutrition often parallels a path of ongoing cosmetic maintenance.
So the question may not be, “Why doesn’t anyone like to talk about it?” but rather, “Why do we have to?” In other words, taking each other at face value may have more merit in the long run. Our happiness and well-being are contingent upon feeling good in our skin. The way we get there is our own business, and we can choose to trumpet, post, and talk about it… or not. Our contribution in the world ultimately is measured by what we give back. What we look like, and how we got to look that way, may or may not be part of the story. Or in other words: #happiness #nofilter … Rock on, Renee.
Susan Potok Harrison worked for 15 years on Wall Street and in Investments before she became a mother. She’s a die-hard Barry's Bootcamper who also loves trying new fitness programs around the city. She holds a BA in Comparative Literature and Theater from the University of Michigan, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and twin boys.