Ah, Los Angeles, the land of Dorian Grey where more and more people have their portraits aging in their plastic surgeon's closet! As a transplanted New Yorker living in LA, I felt like an unretouched photograph, but proud of it. I looked down my birth nose at the people I knew for having their eyes "done," their breasts enhanced or their thighs "de-hanced." I never let an opportunity go by without telling them how ridiculous they were --- how they should age with grace.
"Easy for you," they'd say, "you're a writer." "You don't make a living off your looks." "You're happily married." "You're younger than we are."
For years I self-righteously continued my crusade against elective surgery. I privately railed against celebrities who altered their appearances every couple of years or so -- who puffed up their lips, tightened their eyes and changed the contours of their noses. Some beautiful women, still under 50, began to look like drag queens impersonating themselves. Why? Would it make them live longer? Not in this lifetime. But, would it keep them desirable? Maybe, but to whom? Well, I think I found the answer. Themselves.
Some years ago I went in for a complete check-up with a new doctor. You know, the one you get every year or two after you turn fifty -- the one with the EKG. After it was over, I got dressed and sat in my doctor's office nonchalantly leafing through the recent Vogue, wondering whether I should go shopping for one of those cute, retro, straight skirt/pinched-waist jacket suits or go to the gym, when my doctor came in and told me I had to lose weight. She may as well have stabbed me right in the heart. What did she mean, I had to lose weight? I know I gained a little when I quit smoking a few years ago and my period became non-existent, but I'm an ex-model, an ex-dancer -- we don't get fat! Naturally, I didn't say that out loud, but she read my mind. She warned me that my blood pressure was a bit too high, but if I'd cut down on my salt intake, drink less wine and lose ten pounds, I'd be just fine.
Stunned, I chose the gym over shopping, where I experienced a profound moment -- you know, one of those earth shaking realizations that come upon you at the oddest times -- things most people know at twelve.
There I was, zoned out on the treadmill, staring at nothing in the mirror in front of me, contemplating this cruel turn of events, when I noticed this great NY Ranger hockey shirt on the woman treading next to me. No surprise the team name in the mirror was backwards. I turned to look at the shirt straight on when suddenly it dawned on me that I was backwards -- that the way I saw myself was not the way others saw me. That the part in my hair wasn't on the side I saw it on. That my crooked "Ali McGraw" tooth wasn't crooked in the direction I thought it was.
I rushed home, dragged out my photo albums and studied my pictures. I couldn't see a difference. So I grabbed two large hand mirrors and stood in front of the bathroom mirror trying to get the right angle. After a few minutes, I couldn't remember which ear was which, so I borrowed two full-length mirrors and moved them around until I could see myself next to myself. My way. Then your way. It was an enlightening experience. I discovered a crease under my eye, a little extra skin under my chin and a body bulge I'd never noticed before. But what I really discovered was that I wasn't sure I liked the way others saw me.
Did these revelations send me scurrying off to the nearest plastic surgeon? No, and probably never will. Even now, years after that revelation and a move to Ojai, I'm still going to the gym and still think I might go back to dance class -- well, I think about it anyway. I'm still trying to eat less and drink less wine. I even use sun screen. And, when someone I know tells me she's having her face peeled or her fanny tucked, I don't look down at her anymore. I understand. We're all on the same whitewater, rapidly churning downstream, paddling to stay afloat.