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Joan Gage Headshot

Aging Gracefully vs. Cosmetic Intervention

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When I saw the large photograph of Dr. Fredric Brandt, the "King of Collagen" on the front of last Sunday's New York Times Styles section, I was startled by the image of an expressionless face with red over-puffed lips and a gold halo around his head like that of a saint on a Greek Orthodox icon.

My first thought was that it was Bruce Jenner, father to the Kardashian klan, who seems to be turning from a man into a woman with the help of cosmetic fillers and plastic surgery.

But no, it was an article on dermatologist Fredric Brandt, who is evidently the leading doctor of choice with celebrities like Madonna and Stephanie Seymour, thanks to his ability to keep them looking ageless. According to The Times,

Dr. Brandt is the designated magician responsible for keeping faces both well known and otherwise in states of extraordinary preservation....The 64-year-old physician acts as the syringe-wielding wizard responsible for using techniques like his signature Y lifts -- in which fillers are injected below the cheekbones--to hold back time for any number of supermodels, trophy wives, celebrities and industrial titans of either sex.

The author of the article, Guy Trebay, responded to a comment by Dr. Brandt that some Hollywood stars want to cut too soon, to overfill, "When there's too much pulling, too many procedures, you lose the softness along with the personality of the face..." by asking him if he felt his experiments on himself had produced that effect, Brandt replied, "People think I look pretty good."

Now I'm not in a position to criticize people for using cosmetic surgery, since I've written several articles for Vogue magazine on the subject of my two facelifts over the past 20 years and a go-around with "Fraxel: Repair" laser treatment five years ago. (I'm now 73.) But my gut reaction to The Times' photograph of Dr. Brandt was that he'd be an ideal candidate to play a vampire in one of those films that have become so popular recently. His skin is so taut and his face so pale (except for the red puffy lips) that he seems embalmed.

This was much like the reaction my husband had to the sight of Kim Novak in her much-discussed appearance at the Oscars. (I missed it, but looked her up later. The problem that both Kim Novak and Dr. Brandt seem to have is: too much filler and too much Botox, eliminating all the expression lines that make a face individual.)

On Sunday I saw the article on Brandt, then today I looked up the reactions on-line to the piece. I wondered if I was the only one appalled by the famous doctor's work on himself, but after reading 106 comments, I learned that the vast majority of the reactions echo my thoughts -- that the doctor's appearance is "super creepy" and, as one person wrote. "When a doctor can't even perceive his own disfigurement, how could you possibly trust his aesthetic decisions?"

Then, last night, on the Turner Classic Movie channel, I saw an hour-long interview with Eva Marie Saint, talking about her life in films and the leading men and directors she's worked with. She said straight out that she was 88 years old (and has been married to the same man for over 60 years). People, she's turning 90 on July 4, 2014!

I thought she looked wonderful -- she had wrinkles, sure, but they were nice wrinkles. I can't tell you if she's had any "work" done, but her neck did have the turkey wattle effect that is so hard to avoid. I remembered Eva Marie Saint vividly from her role in "On the Waterfront" with Marlon Brando. It was her first film and she won an Oscar for it in 1954, when I was 13. It was a shock to see once again in the clips from the film what a young, innocent, almost vulnerable girl she appeared. But now, at 88, she was confidant, vivacious, funny, smart, and she moved with youthful grace -- all of which made her seem much younger than her years.

I listened avidly to what she said about her life, hoping to catch some clues as to how she remained so vital. One thing she emphasized was: "You have to walk every day -- walk for an hour every single day!" It was also a matter of genes -- her mother had lived into her nineties. And she remarked several times that she had a very happy childhood and a long, loving marriage to a husband who was a director -- and thus understood her art as an actress. But she felt that if she had married a fellow actor -- or a lawyer or doctor -- there might have been a clash of egos that would doom the marriage.

First I heard about all the plastic surgery digs on the social networks during the Oscars, then last weekend I read about Dr. Brandt and saw the results of his work. Finally, after marveling at how Eva Marie Saint has maintained her verve and beauty for 88 years, I think it's time for me to stop fighting.

In the last year or so I've acquired those fine crepe-y wrinkles around the mouth and eyes. Everyone knows that people like me, with fair skin and blue eyes, wrinkle sooner and worse than those with darker skin, but I've decided to let time take its toll without further cosmetic intervention -- except, maybe, just a teensy, tiny shot of Botox between the eyebrows now and then, when I notice that the frown lines are back, making me look perpetually angry.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

7 Biggest Post 50 Beauty Blunders
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