At the dermatologist’s office I noticed: they’re calling themselves Berkshire Plastic Surgery now? But I’m not ‘getting work done.’ I was merely getting my skin checked, a painful ritual, pay-back from the days of frying myself in the sun. Pigmentationally challenged, every summer I would torture my skin to get maybe two weeks of a golden tan. One year, my back became an alligator bag. Layer upon layer of skin peeled off of me for weeks on end. Vanity, thy name is stupidity! I’ve wondered: how is that any different from what women are doing now, surgically mangling themselves to conform to society’s dictates about beauty?
In the waiting room, People Magazinebeamed: “Jane Fonda at 80!” OK, so Jane Fonda may be 80, but her face is, what, 10? Her face is damn young. She respects the women who haven’t had surgery, and says “I’m not that brave,” admitting she couldn’t go the distance, not when it comes to aging and the toll it takes on one’s looks. It was a sad reminder of the incredible pressure on women in Hollywood to artificially erase any signs of aging. Because Hollywood won’t put up with it—women lose roles and the opportunity to do the work they love, if they have the audacity to age without covering it up or somehow apologizing for it.
I’m in my late 50’s, living in a sea of middle-aged women who have gone gray, where we don’t feel the pressure to be as polished as our city-slicker counterparts. This is the Berkshires, for God’s sake. I used to not venture to the mailbox without my mascara…nowadays, eh! But really, if you’re a woman of a certain age and you don’t wear makeup, you’re made to feel that “you’ve let yourself go.” I blame this insanity on Cleopatra, as legend holds that the Queen of the Nile was the first woman to go big with cosmetics. One could argue that Cleopatra’s use of makeup gave her an unfair advantage over the other women of the day, so they did what they needed to do, and on it continued, through the millennia. If Cleopatra were here today, I’d have one thing to say to her: Cleo, WHAT THE FUCK?!?
The other day I was talking to a woman about life in San Diego, and she said “Oh…you wouldn’t like it.” “Really? Why not?” I asked. “Because women out there only care about how they look.” Immediately, the paranoid apparatus that is my psyche began its machinations…pistons and turbines spinning and hissing….I wondered, “Is it that obvious that I’ve let myself go?” She explained that the majority of women out there have “fake tits.” Her word, not mine. I’ll use the F-word with great regularity, but “tits” I find somehow vulgar. She said they all have blonde hair, down to a certain length, wear the same clothes, have the aforementioned, obligatory “fake tits,” and speak in sentences that run up at the end like questions, as if they’re unsure if their viewpoints have any merit. Realness is neither valued nor encouraged—a Stepford-type scenario, to be sure. I pointed out that I don’t want to judge anyone: Who am I? But admittedly when I see women who’ve had a little “work” done, I can’t help wondering, in the privacy of my own head, whether they’ll come to regret it. I mean, is there a point at which they’ll cease to look like themselves?
Michael Jackson, after about the 80thsurgery, looked more space alien than human. And Renee Zellweger used to have a very distinct look. Now, she’s unrecognizable, having morphed into just another random woman in southern California. It’s a slippery slope, because plastic surgery, like tattoos, can become addictive. We’ve all seen the women with swollen, collagen-fed lips, who have surgery after surgery, or millennials with a city mural running up and down their arms, legs, necks, faces. I often wonder what will happen when buyer’s remorse sets in. And as I’m amusing myself with this inner dialogue, perhaps they’re judging me, as the Continental Shelf above my eyes is starting to threaten. Like the San Andreas Fault, it could give way any day now!
I’ve always longed for my own personal industrial crane, complete with ropes and pulleys, to hoist my boobies up—nothing fake, mind you, just a miraculous feat of engineering, an antidote to gravity. And there are more intimate possibilities, but the day I let someone take a knife to my hoo-ha is the day we’re living in an alternate reality! At this point, I guess I’m just planning to let the rolling shit show that is aging run its course….But I will say, the temptation gets greater as one moves along this continuum. Society browbeats women to lift it up–firm it up–smooth it over. We listen to podcasts and Ted Talks and read books about authenticity, and the empowering act of speaking our truth. But imagine the impact we could have on the planet if we weren’t wondering: “Does my butt look fat in these jeans?”
There’s a piece of wisdom I’ve come to love, from The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams: “Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Bubsy McDonough enjoys sharing her unconventional life views via the universal avenues of humor and pathos. She was a presenter at the 2016 Berkshire Festival of Women Writers, and is a regular participant at IWOW (In Words Out Words) open mic at Deb Koffman’s Artspace in Housatonic MA.