14 Dec 2015

Ageing is not the enemy - beauty bullshit is

Quite why anyone remotely intelligent or considering themselves feminist would ask a plastic surgeon for advice on preventing ageing and expect to get anything other than biased, anti-woman advice is beyond me. However, that's pretty much precisely what Rachel Krantz did in her article for Bustle, "Can You Prevent Aging in Your 20s? I Asked a Plastic Surgeon & Here's What He Told Me." I still clicked on the article, partly out of morbid curiosity, partly because I fully admit to not being immune to beauty culture and like most women I know, fear ageing not because of what it might do to our faces and bodies, but because of what it might do to the way people will treat us. Bustle has made something of a trademark out its "I did X so you don't have to," articles (e.g. going without deodorant for 7 days, actually drinking the recommended amount of water per day, shaving your face for some reason that I so strongly don't wish to know that I've never actually clicked on that article) but I'm not sure there was a hell of a lot of a reveal with this one.

The plastic surgeon - someone who makes their living from people's insecurities about their looks, remember - recommends regular Botox. This is your first sign that someone is not to be trusted. Botox is a poison - the clue is in the full name, Botulinum toxin - yet for some reason we don't regard it as bizarre, harmful and grotesque as when Queen Elizabeth used to whiten her face using lead-based make-up. It can cause symptoms similar to the fatal condition botulism. It works by paralysing your muscles. Under what other circumstances would we ever encourage someone to voluntarily paralyse healthy muscles, except in a society so warped by the fear of natural ageing that we view it as a disease that must be cured?
"It is very typical for everyone when they’re young to believe they are immortal," Dr. Wells told me."But the smart people realize they need to be proactive ... For example, if you never clean your house, it will continue to get dirtier and messier and more unkempt — and that is the aging process. So this is housekeeping for your body."
Um, no it's not. Sorry. Nope. Putting poison into a healthy body is not "housekeeping." It's harm, plain and simple. It does absolutely nothing to increase anyone's physical health or longevity, or decrease their risk of serious diseases. For someone who calls themselves 'Dr', this individual seems to be seriously confused about the distinction between keeping yourself healthy - which is an admirable goal at any age - and keeping yourself looking a certain, socially-dictated way. Comparing the physical ageing process to an unkempt house isn't just lazy and offensive, it's untrue. Ageing is not "untidy," "dirty" or "messy." It's natural. It means - SHOCKER - that you'll look different at 50 than you did at 20. And different at 80 than you did at 50. So fucking what? Only in a society where we're taught to loathe all markers of nature on our bodies, especially as women - hair, wrinkles, rolls, cellulite - could the simply flipping obvious trajectory of the human body over time be compared to letting your home go to shit. If that's really the case, then I compare the use of Botox to applying a substance to the walls of your house which does nothing to improve their structure or resilience and actually destroys their natural function.
Maybe I was just being stubborn by refusing to "protect" my skin, the same way I'd delayed setting up an IRA until this year, or still hadn't figured out what to do about my newly-aching knees after a run.
 Although I empathise with Krantz's fears of ageing - I don't think any woman, save for one who lives in an isolated cabin far from all civilisation with no mirrors in it, would say she has no fears about getting older - I dislike the fact she even entertains the idea that it's somehow obnoxious to refuse to buy into misogynistic anti-ageing culture. Saving for your old age? Smart move, unless you want to work until you're dead. Looking after those achey joints? Ditto, because this body has got to last you a lifetime. But INJECTING POISON INTO YOUR FACE? No, refusing to do this is not STUBBORN, it's FUCKING COMMON SENSE!! If you want to "protect" your skin then sure, wear sunscreen all year round, or a healthy layer of Vaseline, or both. Wear an ice hockey helmet with a visor on it, if you really want to be completely "protected" from all the possible ravages of daily life. But fuck OFF with this rewriting of language, this abandoning of sense, this demonisation of perfectly normal  human processes to the point that you're unreasonable if you don't invite a surgeon to sink a scalpel into completely healthy flesh. You cannot turn back the clock. You cannot stop age from having effects on your body and face, because that's the physical law of this world. Undergoing pointless and damaging procedures that will simply pretend your skin hasn't gone through what it's gone through is not the same thing as getting in a DeLorean and being 18 again.

And why should we want to do the latter, anyway? Why is youth - a time of disempowerment and ignorance - so fetishised? Why, conversely, is ageing considered so criminal? My grandmother recently died at the age of 94, and her life's rich experiences were etched into her 94 year-old-looking face. And that's exactly how it should be. How damn creepy would it have looked if half of those years were missing from her face?

The depressing thing about the piece is how, for someone who claims she's a feminist regularly
throughout the piece, Krantz seems to have no scepticism towards the idea that by getting Botox or cosmetic treatments, she'll automatically "stay relevant in my field and desirable to my partner for even longer." She gives barely any time over to considering whether it's really true that age will have any effect on those areas of her life, or whether it's more likely that women are just constantly intimidated in to having procedures they don't need with the threat of it? Is it really our partners and employers who imbue us with the belief that as soon as we show a grey hair or wrinkle, they'll leave us, or is it magazines, TV shows, beauty advertisements and oh yes, wait for it, PLASTIC SURGEONS, perchance?! Perhaps I'm an idealist, but I like to think that in Krantz's particular field, the same one that I inhabit, what you write still matters more than what you look like. Don't get me wrong, I'm aware that there's been an insidious push for writers to have a public face, and yes I do kind of hate the fact that more and more articles, online and in print, have to be accompanied with a headshot of the author, but that in itself is hardly reason to rush out and get our the skin on our jawlines stapled behind our ears. I just can't understand why - apart from in order to spin out enough material for a whole piece - Krantz would entertain the idea that a (male, incidentally) plastic surgeon is an unbiased source on whether she should be "preventing ageing."

Well, I can tell you how to avoid getting that little crinkle between your eyebrows. Don't ask people who make their living off hating women's bodies and faces for advice.

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