The Queen of My Self



The holiday season brings many parties and celebrations of all sorts. And lots of occasions for dressing up and wanting to look our best at any age.

Are we seriously still judging women for getting plastic surgery?
By: Frances Dodds 

I was at a party recently, chatting with a group of young ladies. There was a Capri Sun punch bowl, so naturally the topic of ’90s nostalgia came up. One young woman—glowing with effortless sun-kissed youth—sighed and said, “It makes me sad, I just can’t take Meg Ryan seriously anymore after everything she’s done to her face.” As murmurs of mournful agreement passed through the group, I felt a lingering annoyance at the comment and it’s off-handed dismissiveness. Admittedly, access to the full repertory of facial movement is extremely helpful for actors. But that sentiment—that an aging woman who decides to amend her body deserves to be taken less “seriously”—is more pervasive, and problematic, than we tend to recognize.

The attitude was on belligerent display this summer, when, as you’ll likely recall, President Trump, aggrieved by the poor reviews he was getting on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, took to Twitter to attack its hosts, Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough. It was almost universally agreed to be a vile blow. People were instinctively horrified for Brzezinski; everyone agreed that calling out an aging woman’s plastic surgery was beyond cruel. But Trump knew what he was doing: In the same breath that he attacked Brzezinski’s IQ, he painted a picture of a woman who was desperately clinging to her youth and beauty. He knew that in this country, intellectual vigor and caring too much about your appearance is still a zero-sum game for women. When facing off with a woman criticizing him on cerebral grounds, he attacked her vanity, and vanity—in women—is synonymous with frivolity, insecurity, and being “fake.” It’s hard to imagine a less intimidating intellectual opponent than one who is frivolous, insecure, and fake.

These days allegations of “fakeness,” in particular, are not to be taken lightly. We live in a time where authenticity has never been more worshipped—even as it has never been more manufactured. When a woman gets plastic surgery, it’s viewed by many as a kind of capitulation—a giving-in to her insecurities or her failure to eschew the beauty standard. Of course, every woman is expected to make sacrifices for the sake of beauty, but the moment she crosses the line between expected maintenance and obvious interference, she becomes a cautionary tale. Her body becomes inauthentic, and so do her thoughts and feelings.

In her memoir that came out a few years ago, Diane Keaton brought up the phenomenon of plastic surgery and said something that stuck with me. “I’m confused by what ‘authentic’ is. Am I less authentic because I wear ‘eccentric’ clothes and hats? No. I look at my contemporaries who have had ‘good work’ done; are they less authentic? No! And neither are the women who’ve had procedures that went awry.”

The tricky thing is, it’s not just men making these judgments. As feminists, we worship at the altar of “aging gracefully,” maybe because it’s easier to rail against a patriarchy that pressures women into impossible standards of youth and beauty than it is to embrace the choices of women who have “succumbed” by resisting the matronly oblivion assigned to women past their physical “prime.” Our choices are to rage against the unknowable darkness of aging or go “gracefully” into it, emitting the soft comet’s tail glow of experience behind us. Men’s cliché midlife-crisis cars and affairs are seen as embarrassing, febrile grasps for youth, sure—but not as embarrassing as a woman who tries to get her face from 1985 back. No, women must go “gracefully,” and to me, that word says it all. It’s a vestige of the belief that women should be poised, and self-contained, and move through the world with a gentle incombustible discretion. “Aging gracefully” seems to require a degree of quiet acceptance, and in a culture that so often relegates older women to the ranks of sexually obsolete caretakers, that may not be aspirational for all of us.

Constantly, we see formidable actresses like Helen Mirren or Meryl Streep hoisted up as shining exemplars of “aging gracefully,” but the idea of a role model for how to age physically is bizarre. We talk about “aging gracefully” like it’s a goal we can all actually achieve if we just set our mind and diets to the task. Teaching our culture to see perfectly normal wrinkles and cellulite and sagging necks and wobbly biceps as sexy is a much harder sell than promoting a delicious United Colors of Benetton assortment of colors and body types displayed exclusively by young, vivacious women.

To be clear: The ultimate goal is a shift in social attitudes that would enable all women (and men) to live confidently in the bodies they come in, at all ages. But practically speaking, I’m pessimistic that’s happening anytime soon, and I question whether in the meantime women should be expected to suffer with certain insecurities when there are ways to remedy them—because life as a woman is hard enough. And most importantly, I believe it’s possible to allow for individuals to make decisions for their own happiness that do not take away from the collective cause of more inclusive beauty standards.

…To be continued Monday, December 11th

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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to