Monday, February 13, 2012

Searching for Lost Youth

It feels normal to see parents telling children to act their age.

Offering guidance to children is a proper parental role. Advanced age and experience qualifies adults to advise the young. 

It does not feel normal when these same parents get in touch with their inner Peter Pan and exclaim: “I won’t grow up.”

When parents become obsessed with recovering lose youth they lose respect. Even if they offer good advice, their advice will be discounted and discarded.

Not so long ago psychiatrists promised that a new generation of designer drugs could help you to become whoever you wanted to become. It was a bad idea then. It still is.

Yet, this notion of self-creation has also contributed to the use, abuse and overuse of cosmetic surgery.

This morning in the New York Social Diary Blair Sabol tries to show what happens when people refuse to grow up.

More and more people are worshipping at the altar of the god of vanity. They spend small fortunes trying to simulate an appearance of youth.

The problem is most acute among celebrities, but it is hardly limited to that relatively small group. People who should know better have come to believe that they need to emulate celebrities, as though their goal in life is to become an ersatz Angelina Jolie, lips and all.

The story of Demi Moore ought to be a cautionary tale. Allow Sabol to describe Moore’s descent into shame:

At 50, she’s been dumped by a younger husband and trying to face aging via anorexia, Adderall and alcohol. What else is new? Apparently she has stopped eating … to get that younger leaner body and then started drinking instead (called anorexaholism) and lost her mind in a seizure from snorting nitrous oxice.

According to a National Enquirer “source” she has been sobbing: “I hate being old” for some time. Now she’s getting rehabbed for her middle age crisis at a facility in Utah called Cirque …as in Cirque de Soleil? Before all this collapse it seems Demi was passionately out and about nightly with her 23-year-old daughter trying to pick up teenage boys in Hollywood clubs.

Perhaps Moore believes that aging is just a social construct, and that if all your friends tell you that you look like a young adult then you really do look like a young adult. Perhaps someone told her that if she acts younger then she is going to feel younger. 

The problem is easy to understand. Those who are searching for eternal youth are declaring war on nature.

All serious celebrities love the environment. It’s a ticket of admission to celebritydom. They yearn to do more to save the planet and to green the earth.

And yet, they refuse to accept the natural aging process.

Caught up in the youth cult they believe that their best days are behind them. They believe that each day takes them further away from the glories of their youth. There is nothing they can do about it. It’s like fighting a losing cause.

Still, thanks to cosmetic surgery they keep on fighting.

If anyone told them that they are putting themselves in permanent disharmony with nature they would be horrified.

Yet, that is what they are doing.

The youth cult forces people to look backward, to fall in love with the past and to dread the future. It is about regression, not progress. 

It is, I daresay, a therapeutically correct mindset. To the extent that Freud still exercises an influence over the way therapy is practiced, people believe that the way to solve your problems is to rummage through your past experience, to gain insight into why you make so many mistakes.

Freud prescribed regression. He believed, blindly, that working on the past would liberate people to face the future. He did not see that his method would cause people to become mired in their past, to the detriment of their ability to face and plan for the future. 

Sabol explains that those who abuse and overuse cosmetic surgery are trying to save face. Since cosmetic surgery can make people unrecognizable, they often end up, Sabol implies, losing the face they are trying to save. .

That is, they end up embarrassing themselves, looking like fools. Cue Demi Moore, Joan Rivers, and Jane Fonda.

Cosmetic surgery is an attempt to deceive. It’s an effort to trick the world into thinking that you are younger than you are.

True enough, you can fool some of the people for a short period of time, but eventually they will see through the ruse. Once they do, they will think less of you. 

Besides, facial expressions are not just an aesthetic matter. Your face is not a canvas, needing to be perfectly beautiful.

Your face is who you are. In Chinese thought “face” is your Self. It’s your character, the way you present yourself to other people and the way other people recognize you.

If cosmetic surgery changes your appearance, you are, effectively, hiding behind a mask. By implication, if you are hiding you must have something to hide

Also, we use facial expressions to express our emotions in conversation. If you numb your face and erase all of the character lines you will necessarily be communicating less.

You will be poorly placed to criticize anyone else for not expressing his feelings.

Recent research has shown that we understand what people are communicating by mimicking their facial gestures. When you mimic someone’s face you will feel the emotion that their face is expressing. If your face has become inflexible you will miss out on a basic component of conversation.

And what’s wrong with wrinkles anyway? Writing in the London Daily Mail Sandra Parsons commented on the faces of two former television journalists.

She said:

UnBotoxed and unlifted, their faces bear the full quota of crows' feet, laughter and frown lines. They also show something else, a quality so rarely spotted in celebrities these days that we have all but forgotten it exists: character.

Parsons asks:

Why are so many of us turning ourselves (and our daughters) into cosmetic-wrecks, devoid of self-respect? The way forward is not Botox and fillers, but belief in ourselves as human beings, not stereotypes.

If you take pride in a lifetime of accomplishments you want people to recognize you. And you will be proud of the facial lines that bespeak wisdom and experience.

Sabol offers a slightly more catty expression:

There is something about erasing your face that backs up into erasing your core. You may think you are going back in time via eyelifts, fish lips, tummy tucks and boffing young people, but I think you end up losing your place in line…. If you lose your facial expression you lose your character. Then again if you had none to begin with it might just be an accurate reflection and you are ahead of the game.

Acting one’s age means feeling some pride in the wisdom and experience that comes from a life well lived. It means being gracious about offering advice and counsel to those less young.

An older person caught up in the worship of youth is abrogating a fundamental social responsibility: to pass on what he knows, to guide the young, and, to set an example that they might want to emulate.

If an older person is frantically pursuing lost youth he or she is telling young people that they should dread the future.


Anonymous said...

1. Jeff Bridges. 2. Mickey Rourke. 3. Adele 4. Lady Gaga.

I love both guys of my generation. Immensely talented, preternaturally likable, brilliant futures.

1. Fulfilled his promise greatly, naturally, & self-confidently (he had a magnificent mother). 2. Mucked up his life & career w/self sabotage & botched botox.

3. Beautiful, brilliant, breathtakingly earthily feminine, & so self-confidently natural she jokes about herself. (her mother must be terrific)

4. Tremendously multi-talented, great music, lovely girl. But acts & looks like a female impersonator. I can't imagine why. Actually, I can. Tho she has a wonderful family, her entourage is corrupting.

Life & genius is a darn mystery. -- Rich

Dennis said...

To try and ignore the art of maturing is to lose sight of the beauty of life. It is like the jazz musician who loses sight of the beauty of a whole note. The quality of sound and its emotional impact. If life and music are nothing but a metaphor for fast then think about all that is lost in truely being a sentient all encompassing soul.
One attempts to stay young and only grows older without the joy that maturity can bring. I suggest that is why so many women age so badly. That goes for the Uncle Tims who would emulate them.

CatherineM said...

I have often thought about how hollywood is all "environmental" and anti-chemicals in the water, etc, yet they are so willing to inject it into their faces.

When Demi was a big movie star in the mid-1990s, I remember one of the Vanity Fair articles had her working out 4 hours a day. Crazy then. What a poor example for her girls.