No More Stigma Against Plastic Surgery, Please

Three decades ago, Betty Ford told the world she'd had a facelift. More prominent figures, male and female, should consider doing the same.
Omar Sobhani/Reuters

And so it begins. The GOP apparently is looking toward 2016 and seeking ways to remind voters how long Hillary Clinton has been around. "Her age and appearance provide an irresistible topic for the conservative media," reports the New York Times.

I confess that even I, a Hillary supporter and a feminist, have been thinking about the issue. When the Secretary of State stepped down after four grueling years, I wished she would get thee to a spa and move in for four months. I wonder how many people went a step further, and thought what I overheard a woman utter: "Every time I see Hillary Clinton, I think she should get some work done. Then I think what a great job she's done."

It may sound flip but it's a legitimate time to reflect on the issue of how accepting Americans have become of pubic figures having cosmetic surgery. It has been more than three decades since a woman who lived in the White House--the irrepressibly forthright Betty Ford--revealed the First Facelift. "I wanted a fresh new face to go with my beautiful new life," Mrs. Ford said after having puffiness removed under her eyes and some neck tightening. She had recently undergone a mastectomy and overcome several addictions.

Since then, billions of dollars and millions of women (and increasingly men) have had alterations, augmentations, erasures, fillings. There has been a seismic cultural shift and now sports stars, business and media figures, and even Reality TV personalities have made some women feel they should also get to look like that.

The good news is that cosmetic surgery is not all about recreating the way we were. "Interestingly, many women are saying their goal is not necessarily to look younger, but more to look refreshed and reflect how they feel on the inside," notes dermatologist Doris Day. "With the tools we have available today, we can accomplish this with a very natural and beautiful outcome. People are more upfront about wanting to look their best."

The viewing -and judging--public, meanwhile, still seems to have wildly mixed emotions on the question of "have they or haven't they?" For example, there are those who believe Jane Fonda has irrevocably traded in her feminism for narcissism. But when she told an admiring Oprah that "good work" was why she looked so amazing, the audience spontaneously erupted in applause. People snicker or gasp at the tabloid face-fodder devoted to Meg Ryan, Melanie Griffith, Goldie Hawn, and Nicole Kidman. Paul McCartney's eyes and Michael Douglas' chin have been closely assessed. Even the august New Yorker--in its lengthy profile of Bruce Springsteen--casually suggested that the Boss has had touchups.

When public figures do speak out, though, they usually find receptive ears. Fonda was likely applauded for her candor rather than the lift. Kidman finally confessed to having tried--and ultimately rejected--Botox. Jamie Lee Curtis--sort of the Betty Ford of Hollywood---admitted to having had procedures and told the Britain Express, among others, "It was the worst thing I ever did. It made me more insecure." (As one who had neck/chin work done two years ago, I second that emotion) The actress and almost-Senate candidate Ashley Judd earned praise when she took to the airwaves to say a/her puffy face was the result of steroids and b/ women should stop judging and start supporting each other.

Presented by

Michele Willens is a journalist, playwright, and the editor of Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change.

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