My two young daughters are growing up smack in the heart of America's youth-obsessed beauty culture. They think watching me spend hours in hair and makeup is normal, and that it's an integral part of my "work." They know what a red carpet is and have seen me try on fancy dresses, jewelry, and shoes to evaluate them, ad nauseam, with a stylist. They're learning that, in my chosen field, employability is based on looks.
Their aunt, my sister, chose a very different path. She's a doctor and teaches in a medical school. As soon as she got her premature gray hair, at 33, she embraced it, and actually saw it as a blessing — she looked so young without it that nobody believed she was a doctor. Apparently, if I were the associate dean of clinical education, director of medicine clerkship, and associate professor of clinical medicine at a major urban hospital, it would be an asset, or at the very least a nonevent, for me to have gray hair.
But I'm an actress.
It's painfully obvious, but I'm still ashamed to admit this: I care about my looks. How else can I explain my trainer, stylist, and Barney's card? I've bleached my teeth, dyed my hair, peeled and lasered my face, and tried a slew of age-defying creams. More than once, I've asked the director of photography on a show to soften my laugh lines. Nothing about this suggests I'm aging gracefully.
Yet for me, it would be crossing the Rubicon to add Botox and fillers into the mix. I want to look younger (and better), trust me. The only reason I don't do it is because I'm scared.
I'm afraid one visit to a cosmetic dermatologist would be my gateway drug. I'd go in for a tiny, circumscribed lift and come out looking like a blowfish. Or someone whose face is permanently pressed up against a glass window. Or like I'm standing in the jet stream of a 747. What's the point of doing it if everyone can tell? I want the thing that makes me look younger, not the thing that makes me look like I did the thing.
I'm not happy about my saggy boobs, which, left to their own devices, resemble my grandmother's bingo wings. But I'm afraid that if I got a surgical lift, there would be some complication from the procedure, like septic shock. I'd be punished for being an ingrate about having made it this far in one (wrinkly) piece. My daughters would someday learn that the real reason I died was because I voluntarily checked myself into a hospital to get an elective operation that I didn't need so that I could look slightly more attractive to the three people who were paying close enough attention to notice (my husband, my gay agent, and the nice man who sends me notes from prison).
Another frightening scenario is that one or both of my daughters will do as I did in my youth: go to college, take Feminist Texts and Theory, and stop shaving their legs and armpits. As hard-core feminists, they'll write me off. I'll cry, Why aren't you coming home for Thanksgiving? And they'll be like, You're nothing but a foot soldier for the beauty industrial complex. Letting my face age naturally will be my ace in the hole. My counterclaim. Proof that I didn't pander to the male gaze.
Sure, they'll still be able to write essays about the rampant misogyny in movies I starred in, like Saving Silverman and Whipped. My daughter Molly will recall how, for a Mother's Day project, she told her teachers that I enjoy "eating salad, drinking wine, and doing computer" (i.e., online shopping). My daughter Frankie will tell her therapist how I missed her Eleanor Roosevelt presentation to promote myself on Watch What Happens Live. But at least I didn't do Botox!
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The truth is I have no business getting on a soapbox in front of my daughters or anyone else.