Youth is Wasted on the Young.
—George Bernard Shaw
Like many people, I read my share of American celebrity tabloid magazines while waiting in line at the grocery store. Sometimes I even buy the cheaper ones. Usually they’ll run some stock feature on, this year, anyway: Lindsay Lohan, Nick & Jessica, Paris Hilton, or the Olson twins. I’m convinced that these headlines are recycled as they always seem to follow a familiar formula, no matter the celebrity; someone has an eating disorder, someone is sleeping with someone else’s boyfriend, someone had their breasts augmented, someone spends $800 a session on colonics, etc. Our celebrity culture is comprised of, save for one or two exceptions (Paul Newman and his charities, Bono and his various causes), a rather vain and self-involved bunch. Yet as an audience we feed off their narcissism. In some ways we even live vicariously through them. Through their lives as we perceive them, we aspire to be hip, fashionable, and, as their pretty faces are replaced by more pretty faces, year in and year out, eternally young.
With the assimilation of cosmetic enhancement techniques into our mainstream culture, plastic surgery is no longer a practice of privilege, or celebrity. On the contrary, with the advent of greater technology and less costly procedures comes more pressure on the part of the everyday person to look their absolute best. Breast enhancement, face lifts, collagen treatments, eyelifts, and nose jobs are still among the most common practices for women, but as the pressure mounts cross-gender, male consumers are starting to invade the cosmetic world and not simply via plastic surgery. Jean-Paul Gaultier, a fashion designer primarily known for his haute-couture, has developed a make-up line for men to be launched this year. Products include mascara, rouge, and lipstick. Will there be a market for this? Experts believe so.
Mike Gilman, co-founder of The Grooming Lounge in DC, a male grooming speciality store that offers services such as the “Hot Lather Shave” and “Cleansing Face Treament”, seems to think so. “The sale of men’s grooming products is expected to surge 67 percent to 20 billion by 2008,” he says. Still even with the male grooming industry booming, how susceptible will the average hetero male be to purchasing eyeliner? It’s all in the marketing, claims CBS Sunday Morning. On a an episode that aired on Father’s Day, CBS Sunday Morning featured a segment on how more “manly” men (such as a former wrestler and businessman) are turning to skin care products in lieu of traditional Father’s Day gifts. A store manager from the L’Occitane en Provence, a French skincare boutique, attributes the surge in sales of their male product line, Cade to men coming to the realization that it’s “important to have the same amount of upkeep as women.” (Source: PittsburghLive.com) Still, there are others that seem to prescribe to the Dorothy Parker’s “I shall stay the way I am because I don’t give a damn.” Adam Michel, a business owner, is hesitant to the growing pressures: “People think it’s a necessity when it’s not. It’s an unnecessary evil.
While Michel’s attitude might reflect a faction of the male population, as increased rates in plastic surgery among men suggest, his might be a waning sentiment. In a more drastic measure to stay competitive in the race to stay youthful and desirable, middle-aged men in the US are increasingly turning to plastic surgery procedures. In fact, as much as we heed special attention to speculation surrounding those female celebrities (Joan Rivers, Kirstie Alley, Lindsay Lohan, Pam Anderson) who may or may not be getting botox injections, face lifts, breast enhancement, and liposuction, the plastic surgery rates amongst men often supercedes those of women. In the US alone in 2003, men’s use of botox injections for facial lines went up 88 percent, while women’s Botox use went down eight percent (Source: CBSnews.com). And youth seems to be the major motivation for both genders as 44 percent of men polled and 57 percent of women polled by their plastic surgeons list “looking younger” as their primary motivation for cosmetic procedures.
Interestingly enough, however, plastic surgery is becoming a popular pastime of the very demographic it tries to emulate: youth. In Shmuley Boteach’s book, Hating Women: America’s Hostile Campaign Against the Fairer Sex, the author points out that “Americans under the age of 18 accounted for 223,594 cosmetic and plastic surgery procedures in 2003.” The show I Wanna Famous Face on MTV capitalizes on this trend. The premise: chronicle teenagers who want to reconstruct their bodies and faces to mold themselves into a Hollywood “ideal” (such as Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston). Other shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy illustrate that as much as heterosexual men are still inherently clueless when it comes to grooming practices, they still have a deep-seated desire to look as good as they can; such is evidenced by the straight guys’ willingness to subject themselves to the often humiliating and humbling makeovers of the ‘Fab 5.’
Corporate America is seen as the root of this ever-growing desire amongst men to look youthful. In order to stay competitive in the business world, appearance is key. Increasingly, as the Baby Boomer generation is aging, they are seeking new ways to retain their youthful glows. This cross-gender trend is often attributed to Baby Boomer wives putting pressure on their husbands to do their part in maintaining their appearance. After all, this was the generation that protested for equal rights and actually embraced Ziggy Stardust. If nothing else, male eyeliner shouldn’t be such an anomaly.
In June 2004, CBS interviewed a few of these male baby boomers on their decision to get plastic surgery. These men came from varying social backgrounds, careers, and parts of the country. Jose Aponte, a 52-year-old real estate developer from New Jersey, decided after he turned 50 that he wanted to erase his furrowed brow and get rid of eye puffiness. To address these concerns, he paid $15,000 on cosmetic procedures. “I would spend the money again. It made a tremendous amount of difference in the way I walk, the way I look at people. A buddy of mine looked at me and said ‘Time has just stopped for you.’”
This desire to reverse the aging process, or perhaps simply stall time, led a 53-year-old airline pilot from Georgia, Chris Bourgeois, to undergo a similar procedure. He also opted for some liposuction. His response: “I just wanted a more professional look. I wanted the people who fly with me to feel safe.” Still one can’t help but wonder if vanity wasn’t the motive behind Chris’ decision. William Menzel, a 57-year-old owner of a restaurant and food consultant firm, was more upfront about his choice: “I just want to look good, I didn’t like getting old.” Perhaps in the instability of our post 9/11 world in which we can no longer claim ignorance on the inevitability and unpredictability of our own mortality, Jose, Chris, and William are simply trying to grasp some form of control by waging a mini-war on the aging process.
Real-life coverage of “average” stories like those of Jose, Chris, and William are scarce. It’s possible they don’t make for captivating TV or magazine fodder or that the media is more preoccupied with vanity procedures like breast augmentation in women. Not surprisingly, the number for breast lifts or tummy tucks are much higher in women than breast augmentation. Yet, when I turn on the TV, chances are there’s some Extreme Makeover show with a woman getting her cup size enhanced. Even when I do a Google search on “plastic surgery rates in women”, the top articles all refer to breast augmentation. Evidence like this would seem to suggest that every woman in America is entertaining a boob job; that every woman aspires to have breasts made of silicone; that every women is primarily guided in her actions by an overriding desire to be first and foremost male sexual object and be reduced to buoyant parts. The statistics confirm that most middle-aged women, like their male counterparts, are opting for measures such as tummy tucks, breast lifts, and botox-ways of preserving their youth.
If age is a tricky bastard, perception is its dastardly demon. One second we look in the mirror and we’re void of lines and wrinkles, our breasts bounce, our brow has a cute crinkle and not a furrow. As my 60-year-old dad once said, “When I look in the mirror I still see myself when I was 30.” How does that happen? Does your mind not register those subtle lines that slowly creep their way onto your dermis and engrave themselves into your once tight skin? In the song “Chariot” Gavin DeGraw sings, “Staring at a maple leaf / Leaning on the mother tree / I said to myself we all lost touch / Your favorite fruit is chocolate covered cherries and seedless watermelon / Nothing from the ground is good enough.” His lyrics beg the question: Have technological advances in science rendered us incapable of accepting our human limitations? Or have we simply exceeded our ability to appreciate our earthly status?