Marlene Dietrich was an all around looker. You might recall her from the silver screen, or at least from that famous photo where she’s wearing a suit and top hat, seated and leaning conspiratorially with her cigarette draped between two fingers. Like many before and since lucky enough to get that far, Marlene turned forty, and she was clearly not pleased with the direction her face was heading. If this had happened now, I’d imagine she’d end up looking like Joan Rivers or that crazy billionaire’s wife in New York that they call the cat lady. But this was the 1940’s, and plastic surgery hadn’t ventured very far from fixing up mutilated soldiers, so Miss Dietrich had to rely on her ingenuity.
First she started pulling her hair back so tight that her scalp bled. But that didn’t do the trick for long, so she started using surgical tape to give herself makeshift face lifts. She pinned back her jowls with a fine chain that she ran under her jawline. She accentuated the hollows of her cheeks by removing her molars. And when the surgical tape stopped cutting it, she resorted to needles, which she would stick directly in her scalp and hide under her wig. This woman was not comfortable with the aging process.
Now, I’m in my forties. There are parts of me that are traveling, in my opinion, in the wrong direction. The back of my arm does this flapping thing when I wave at people, and I can count my pores for you, if you have the time. You can practically see them from space. But even if my skin starts sliding from my skull so dramatically that it is virtually audible, I swear to each one of you that I am never going to shove needles in my face. It’s just not going to happen.
I realize that I have not built my career on my cheekbones, and that the pressure on this woman to maintain her appearance must have been formidable. But I just figure there has to come a point where you would think, there must be something else I have to offer. I could rip out my teeth, or I could maybe write a memoir or something.
Of course these days our celebrated beauties don’t have to resort to such rustic measures to stall the inevitable. They can inject things, and insert things, and cut things off completely or restructure at will. And they do. There are barely any women left from my formative film watching years who can make a noticeable facial expression. I once thought Meg Ryan was the cutest creature on earth. Now she looks as if she has been punched very hard. And they are starting YOUNG. Lindsay Lohan is only 27, and she already looks like a totally different person.
I don’t need to parade the frozen faces of Hollywood through this column. I imagine it must be very hard to be a woman over forty in the entertainment industry. But there are things that I simply will not do. I wear makeup and shave my legs and dye my hair, but I draw the line at the cutaneous level. There will be no cutting, no removal of anything or insertion of any foreign objects. Paralyzing my facial muscles sounds like a bad idea, so I’m going to skip botox. Basically anything that compromises the natural biological system I have in place is out of the question. Things are the way they are for a reason. I didn’t design the machine, and I don’t fully understand it, but it appears to be working right, so I’m not going to mess with it.
People say things like “losing one’s looks,” and “past their prime,” like you hit this point in your thirties where everything’s the way it should be, then it all goes to hell, and you have to spend over half of your life after that struggling to look as close to that optimum age as possible. We hear all the time that society is obsessed with youth. It is. It’s not OK for Courtney Cox to get crows feet. She’s in her forties, but she’s not supposed to look like it. I imagine we’d have a bunch of very elegant looking ladies if they just left themselves alone. Despite her best efforts, Marlene Dietrich made an exquisite old lady.
So I’m just going to age. That’s my plan. Things are going to start to hang and wrinkle in ways that some might find unattractive; probably me. But I’ll learn to embrace it. If all goes well, I’ll get to be old enough to look it. And if people find me unpleasant to look at, then I guess we won’t be sleeping together.