A few weeks ago, TGB reader Momcat Christi sent me a link to a news story about how growing numbers of old people are undergoing elective cosmetic surgery.
”According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery,” reports Tara Bahrampour in the Washington Post, “the number of people 65 and older getting facelifts and cosmetic eyelid surgeries has more than doubled over the last two decades, with much of that increase occurring over the last five years.”
It's a trend, old people getting plastic surgery going back at least to 2006 when a study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging concluded:
”...much advertising and social pressure is specifically aimed at trying to get people to pay money to stop themselves from looking old. It seems our Western society increasingly denigrates rather than reveres the elderly.
“We need to try to ensure that the pressures on the elderly to look young do not create unrealistic expectations and lead to older people spending significant proportions of their savings on procedures that cannot turn back time.”
Apparently, there is no one too old for cosmetic surgery. In an undated story at About Plastic Surgery, Gregory Borah, MD, Professor and Chief Division of Plastic Surgery at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey reports that
“The oldest patient I’ve had was 92... She came to me wanting breast augmentation. She had always wanted it but her husband wasn’t in favor of it. When he passed, she spent the insurance money on it. She said she wanted to look good.”
That's one thing about plastic surgery – health care insurance does not pay. It's a cash-only business with prices as high as the traffic will bear.
Another thing about plastic surgery is risk. Even a quick tour around the internet of plastic surgeon's websites reveals almost no mention of risk for people of any age let alone old ones. I finally tracked down this concern in a news story at nhmagazine.com:
“It’s not the patient’s age that’s a limitation. It’s the co-morbidities, the other illnesses and medical conditions about the person,” says Dr. Bruce Topol, who also practices in Manchester as a board certified plastic surgeon and is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons.
“If someone has to be on aspirin because they’ve had a stroke, have had a heart attack, have a stent in their heart or had corroded arteries surgery, that’s a risk for bleeding. If somebody is on blood thinners, it is contraindicated to do any type of cosmetic surgery because the risk of bleeding is very high. Diabetes is another high-risk factor.”
Which means, of course, that more older people are at greater risk than those who are younger.
Many people twist themselves in knots trying to pretend their cosmetic surgery has a greater purpose than looking younger, but it really comes down to that. From the Washington Post story:
“I’m 60 and I remember when my grandfather and grandmother were 60 and it was like they had a foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave - and now (people their age) are skiing,” said Dan Mills, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
Increasingly, as Americans remain more physically fit later in life, they often see a disconnect in how they look versus how they feel.”
Personally, I don't get the “disconnect” he's talking about. Is there anything about being physically active that is impinged upon by looking one's age?
Some people believe a face or eye lift will help them get a job. I've had personal experience with age discrimination in the workplace and believe me, a large number of 20-something hiring managers have no interest if you're older than 35, let alone 65, and no amount of surgery will make a 65-year-old look 30.
Back at the Washington Post article, eminent geriatrician, Bill Thomas, is quoted:
“'People are making a calculated decision, trying to escape the stigma of aging and buy a little time, be in the world and not be sidelined because of their appearance,' said Bill Thomas...who is trying to push Americans toward accepting old age as a welcome stage of life.
“It’s the age equivalent of 'passing' Thomas said. “You’re actually in this cohort but can you get everybody to believe you’re in a different cohort?”
Of course not. I have never seen a 65-plus-year-old person who has had cosmetic surgery who looks younger than a 65-plus-year-old person. Yet they fool themselves about it all the time. I've heard many say something like this woman from the same news story:
“'I’d lost the looks of men...I’d walk by men and men would probably go, 'Yeah, there’s a cute grandma.' So in February, after months of wrestling with the decision, she got a neck lift.
“I got so excited about the difference that it made that I was like, ‘Oh my god, I want more”...Now, she said, “No 30- or 45-year-old guy is going to ask me, ‘Hey, what’s your number, honey?’ But a 60-year-old will.”
Let me just say, there is a reason there are no “before” photos in the WaPo story.
Also in that article, Ashton Applewhite, writer of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism who likes to say she is an old person in training, told the reporter
“I really, really get the reasons why people dye their gray hair, lie about their age, and have cosmetic surgery...But it’s not good for us, because it’s not authentic and it gives a pass to the underlying discrimination that makes those things necessary.”
Good for Applewhite but I think the case should be made much more strongly: every person who is doing anything to try to make others believe they are younger is (beyond fooling themselves) harming every other old person, not to mention every young person who will be old one day. Yes, they do contribute directly to ageism and age discrimination.
The goal is – or should be – to change the way our culture treats old people, to make elders as wholly human and acceptable as people of every other age, and no amount of plastic surgery, hair dye or lies will do that. They only make old people look foolish and that redounds on all other old people.
Not long ago, I saw this exchange on some television show:
CHILD: Am I going to die, Daddy?
FATHER: Yes. But not until you're old [pause] and ugly.
When you hear or read such casual ageism, such easy dismissal of the worth of old people several times a day, seven days a week from the cradle (as much as I appreciate some of them, the late night comedians are particularly guilty of this on a weekly basis), no wonder people are terrified of growing old.
But until we stand up in numbers large enough to be noticed and insist on our dignity and value just as we are, nothing will get better for us.
Yes, I know I'm beating my head against a brick wall and this is not going to change in my lifetime (pity). But I'll keep at it because it is the right thing to do and I wouldn't like myself much if I didn't.