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Crack in the Mirror
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
The best joke about the perverse way that Hollywood views women and aging comes from the movie The First Wives' Club, a hit-or-miss 1996 comedy featuring Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Goldie Hawn. In the film, Hawn plays a 45-year old movie star who's trying to talk her plastic surgeon into giving her one more facelift, but he's resistant to the idea. "Don't you want to be able to play a part your own age?" he asks. "'My own age?'" she responds, incredulously. "You don't understand. There are only three ages in Hollywood; 'Babe,' 'District Attorney,' and 'Driving Miss Daisy.'"
It's a cruel, throwaway line alright, but seventeen years later it still sounds painfully accurate. There's really no such thing as an actress being allowed to "age naturally" on screen throughout her career. And if she wants to keep working, she better be prepared to get some work done, she better be ready for the scalpel, for the collagen, for the botox. There are a few exceptions to the rule, of course, a few like Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave, Meryl Streep who seemingly go knife-free throughout their acting life, but for the most part, it's expected that when an actress is moving into the "District Attorney" phase of her career she had better get those nips and tucks done pronto.
It's always startling when you see an actor or actress reappear after having some "work done." Sometimes the effect can be disorienting to a fan. I recently chanced upon a trio of actresses that I had sort of forgotten about, three actresses that I had always sort of liked but hadn't seen for a while. The three — Lauren Graham, Toni Collette, Mary Louise-Parker — have all, obviously, recently, had some "work done" for their current television shows (Parenthood, Hostages, the just-ended Weeds) and it became very hard, after watching them in their new shows, to remember exactly what they originally looked like. The facial qualities that made each actress distinctive to me were gone — their eyes were all too sharp now, and too bright, they looked like cats' eyes, and their foreheads were way too smooth. Everything on their face seemed, I don't know, tighter, somehow. It's worth mentioning that all of the actresses are in their 40s now, and all seemed to have had the "work" done at about the same time in their careers. The "District Attorney" time.
When I had last seen each of the actresses--Graham in Gilmore Girls, Collette in The Sixth Sense and About a Boy, Parker in The West Wing and Angels in America — it was discernible to see a few age lines edging into their faces, and it should be noted that this was hardly a disagreeable sight, but now, ten years (or so) later, they all looked, well. . . younger. Younger than they had 10 years ago. And while I should point out that none of the three looked truly grotesque — none had that embalmed, Dorian Gray-gone-wrong look that has afflicted older stars like Mary Tyler Moore and Carol Burnett — they still looked jarringly like "perfected" versions of their younger selves.
Of course I'm not going to begrudge a working actress the chance to continue her career, and I'm hardly the guy to rage against artificiality, for I happen to be a big fan of artificiality. But it's odd to me how different they all look now. And I wondered how different (better?) they all would have looked if they had just been allowed to age without the scalpel, if they just skipped all the procedures and just showed up on set. How would that have been? And I tried to imagine what every morning was like for the actresses, when they took their place in front of the mirror and surveyed the landscape. Is there a moment of regret? Or even, I don't know, bewilderment, that they've allowed their face to change so? Or maybe they don't even think about, maybe they realized a long time ago that they have a pretty tough gig and this is just the price that must be paid. And so they just move on.
Once upon a time, I use to be a pretty strident opponent to all forms of plastic surgeries and enhancements, I once believed that these were unnatural practices, and wrong, that everybody should just "be themselves," etc. In the past 5 years, however, I'm completely changed my tune. Now I'm all for it. Now I agree with Lauren Graham, Toni Collette, Mary Louise-Parker. Maybe I've gotten shallower, but I now believe that the way you feel about the way you look is very important, that it's as vital to your physical and mental health as a good diet and a proper amount of exercise. And so if that means you have to get an eye-tuck, say, or sandblast your forehead with snake toxin, well, I'm not going to tell you no.
Now I'm sure it's probably just a coincidence that I had that epiphany about plastic surgery at the exact time in my life when I first started to see some real age signs in my face. Kind of funny how that works — when something stops being just theoretical in your life, when suddenly it becomes a possibility, well, that's when you sit up and start to pay attention. I started to wonder, for the first time, about the feasibility of having a few tucks and enhancements done in the future. God knows I'm an egotistical son-of-a-gun who is endlessly fascinated by every pore on his visage, perhaps a few procedures might help to keep me transfixed by my own reflection.
In the end, I decided against getting any "work" done, though I certainly have time to change my mind. What ultimately became the deciding factor for me was another sudden epiphany — when I realized, finally, that nobody looks at me nearly as much as I look at me. (The same is true for you, by the way. Nobody's watching. Sorry to have to break that to you.) My maniacal devotion to my mirror has become a tad ridiculous. I'm simply not good looking enough to justify that much time in front of the glass. Now, if I was a TV star, of course, it'd be a different story entirely.