Vanity, Aging and the Visible Signs of Aging

As I have mentioned before, I did a lot of my research on plastic surgery at Realself.  One of the concerns that I have often seen from those considering plastic surgery is that they will be thought to be vain if they have surgery.  That is, the fact of cosmetic surgery is considered by many to be an act of vanity.

Vanity

So what is vanity?  One definition I read that that it is the “quality of people who have too much pride in their own appearance, abilities, achievements, etc.” This goes on to say that it is the quality of being vain, which doesn’t help much.  So, I looked at the definition of vain which included “too proud of your own appearance, abilities, achievements, etc.” So, I sought another site to see if it was to the same effect and that definition was also similar: “excessively proud of or concerned about one’s own appearance, qualities, achievements, etc.” Another definition of “vanity” perhaps went in a bit different direction: “the personal characteristic of being too proud of and interested in yourself, es.p. in your appearance of achievements.”  So, not just being too proud but simply having too much interest in your appearance.

It seems to me that the key to vanity in these definitions seem to be the idea of “too much” or excessive pride in one’s appearance.  Or, perhaps, must thinking about it too much. It doesn’t really, objectively speaking, have anything to do with what you do to achieve your appearance.  Rather, it has to do with how proud you are of your appearance and whether that pride is excessive in nature.  Does having surgery to improve/rejuvenate/change your appearance necessarily mean that you are excessively proud of that appearance?  I would argue not.  I could perhaps see better the idea that if you have surgery then you are necessarily “too interested” in your appearance.  You have gone beyond the norm.  Still, that seems very subjective.

There are two factors that I think must be present for vanity.  There must be pride and concern about one’s appearance and it must be excessive. For most people in the modern world, it is expected to have a certain concern about appearance.  It is, in fact, outside the norm to have no interest in your appearance at all. I don’t really like the word pride as it can be a loaded word that can be used positively or negatively.  But, there are few of us who have no interest in our appearance.  At a minimal level, it is expected that we be clean, well-kept and wear clothing that is appropriate to the situation.   And, in general, I think that the vast majority of people out there (male and female) like to look good.  Yes, women generally put more care into appearance than men, mostly because women in our culture are usually more likely to wear more elaborate hair styles and wear cosmetics.  But, even most men that I know will shower, comb their hair, shave (or shape a beard or mustache), and wear nice looking clothes when going to work or important events.  They may not culturally do all that women do, but that doesn’t mean that they have no interest in their appearance. Even most men don’t choose clothes based purely on utility.  They buy a shirt or suit that they think looks nice on them.

Culturally, women are more likely to spend more time on all this than men.  The default for most (but, not all) adult women is that cosmetics are often worn.  Now, there is definitely some variability there.  Some women never wear cosmetics.  Others wear cosmetics virtually 24/7.  For some, cosmetics take a few minutes (a little mascara, maybe some lipstick, and done).  Others take an hour (or longer) and put on moisturizer, primer, eyelid primer, concealer, foundation, powder brow mascara, blusher, several shades of eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, and things I have probably never heard of.

For many of us, we walk a middle road.  When I worked full-time I usually wore foundation, eye shadow, eye pencil, mascara, blusher, and lipstick (and when it wore off I usually forgot to apply it again).  And, honestly, that was almost the minimum typical in my working environment.  Going bare-faced would have stood out and not in a positive way.

Occasionally I would go to a special occasion and I would go all out and use moisturizer, concealer, brow makeup, etc. that I usually didn’t bother with.  I would use 3 shades of eye shadow instead of 1.  That kind of thing.  But, that wasn’t daily for me.

Then I started working part-time from home and my makeup wearing became all but non-existent.  I didn’t wear makeup at home unless I was having guests.  And, if I went out I wouldn’t put it on to go to the grocery store, but maybe if I went out to dinner I would.  Certainly, I would if going out with others to a nice restaurant.  That kind of thing.

The point being that, yes, I cared some about my appearance but I don’t think I was excessive about it.  To be honest, I was probably on the low end of what women do to look nice.  And, it wasn’t just makeup, of course.  Part of it was hair (my overwhelming criteria there was always that it had to be easy to take care of.  I wasn’t going to spend 45 minutes every morning doing my hair).  The other part was clothes.  I worked in an environment where dressing nicely (i.e., clothes from nice department stores) was expected and anything else would have been wildly inappropriate.  But, get me home and it was jeans and a T shirt.

There was a time when I would also wear nice (i.e. sort of expensive) casual clothes when I was away from home.  But, in recent years I’ve ratcheted that down to mostly the jeans and T shirts or maybe even workout pants (if going to the grocery store or something).  So, I had nice office clothes and then I had super casual clothes and not much in between.

And, honestly, as I got more and more overweight I was less and less inclined to spend much time on makeup, hair, or clothes (outside the office, of course) since I felt there wasn’t much use.

As I’ve gotten thinner and into a normal weight range, I’ve begun to feel more of that desire to “look nice” and to style my hair more (still not spending 45 minutes a day on it though) and to wear nicer casual clothes and to wear makeup.  Weight no longer impeded me from those things.

So, I can honestly say that I don’t think I was ever vain and I don’t think that having cosmetic surgery makes me vain either.  Yes, the facial surgery I had was a major surgery and it cost a lot of money and it had risks.  While I am still in the early stages of healing (now 3 weeks after surgery), I am happy with where I am right now and expect a good result.

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But I see so many people worry that others will think they are vain if they have cosmetic surgery, particularly on the face.  I don’t really see it that way really.  I mean, yes, having the surgery does reflect a concern with appearance and an interest in looking different.  Cosmetic facial plastic surgery is done to improve, rejuvenate, or change appearance for the better. But, that alone is not the definition of vanity.  As listed above, we almost all do things to improve our appearance.  I don’t really personally see facial cosmetic surgery, by itself, as being all that different from coloring my hair (which I did in my teens) or wearing makeup or even wearing jewelry or clothes that are flattering to me.

Some would say that it is different because there are risks in surgery that don’t exist with makeup or clothes.  And, that is true.  It is by no means a casual decision to be made. But, again, I don’t really think that is part of the definition of being vain.  If I pay $500 for a purse does that make me more vain than if I buy a nice looking purse that costs $50?  If I undergo the risks for plastic surgery does that make me more than vain than if I undergo the risks of coloring my hair?  I would argue no.

The key to being vain is being “too proud” of your appearance or, perhaps, too interested in it.  You can be vain and never wear any makeup at all, let alone have cosmetic surgery. Vanity relates to how you feel about appearance and, I would argue, how you feel about it in relationship with other people.  If I think my “beauty” makes me better than another person then that is vanity.  If I have plastic surgery so I can be proud that I look better than others and I think it makes me superior to them, then I see that as vanity.  But, if I have wear makeup because I (for myself) like to look nice when I look in the mirror, and I don’t think it makes me better than others, then I don’t see that as vanity.  And, I feel the same way about cosmetic surgery.  This is something I am doing for me, not because I want to express pride in terms of comparing myself to anyone else.  Yes, I probably will wear makeup more often and nicer clothes more often, but that is just much part of my changing body image with losing weight than it is anything else.  And, the surgery does help me to feel more confident about the results of taking the time to put on makeup and nicer clothes.

The surgery I plan for the tummy tuck and the breast lift is, in many ways, easier to justify to others because it doesn’t just involve appearance.  Yes, I will look better in my clothes when I have that surgery.  There is no doubt about it.  But, I see people having less emotional conflict over that kind of surgery than having conflict over facial surgery.  And, I think there are two reasons for that.  First, the Mommy Makeover (any combination of tummy tuck and breast surgery) is not just for reasons of appearance.  A big, big part of it is to help clothes fit better.  Right now, it can be challenging to find clothes that look good on me.  I have a lot of excess skin in my abdominal area (yes, some excess fat, but mostly excess skin).  It often means that I have to wear a size 12 pair of pants even at 144 pounds.  I can sometimes wear a size 10, but I often find that the size 10 gives me a huge muffin top, but the size 12 almost falls off.  Nothing seems to fit properly because that area of my body is way out of proportion to the rest of me.  As for the breast lift, it is also simple.  Tops and dresses are designed for breasts to, well, be where they are supposed to be.  Mine aren’t.  So, once again, nothing quite fits properly.  Clothes aren’t designed for my body.  And, it isn’t just that.  The extra skin in my tummy, in particular, is uncomfortable.  It just hangs there and and rubs against me.  It is never quite comfortable. Many people can understand that and can see why someone might have a tummy tuck or breast lift just to be able to wear clothes that fit.  That will, of course, improve my appearance to some degree, but that is a more subtle change than that which you get from facial surgery.

The other reason I feel that sometimes people get more of a pass on the tummy tuck/breast lift is that the reason for it is generally concerned more legitimate than the reason people usually have facial surgery of the type that I had.  There are two main reasons that people have a Mommy Makeover.  One reason is large weight loss.  That is the biggest part of why I will be having that surgery. And, this is a reason that people understand and is often considered to be for a “good” reason.  Losing weight is ordinarily considered a good thing and I sense that most people see this as an extension of that, rather than as being purely vanity.

The other common reason for a Mommy Makeover is, well, visible effects from pregnancy. In particular, diastasis recti (separation of abdominal muscles) is common after pregnancy and for many women isn’t getting corrected except through surgery.  Lots of people understand these weight loss and pregnancy related reasons for needing this surgery and it isn’t seen, quite so much, as being simply vanity. In short, having  a tummy tuck and/or breast lift due to weight loss or pregnancy is not seen as stigmatized as having cosmetic surgery to simply look better.

Aging

In some ways, I think the kind of facial rejuvenation that I had done is the type that many are most reluctant to discuss.  That is because much of the facial changes being rejuvenated/improved/changed (take your pick) are those that occur as the visible effect of aging.  There is no doubt to me that some of the facial changes I had seen in the last few years were made worse by the loose skin that came with weight loss.  Just like I have loose abdominal skin, I had loose skin in my neck and loose skin on my eyelids and weight loss made those far more prominent.  And, in my case, I didn’t like the hooding on my eyes even when I was young.

I think this was around the time I graduated college

I didn’t like those eyes even at 21 because my lids couldn’t be seen with my eyes open.

Nonetheless, the reality is that most of the surgery that was done to my face corrected some of the changes that are due to the visible effects of aging.  Say the words “facelift” or “necklift” and there are some who will leap to the conclusion that not only are you vain, you do not accept your age and are (pathetically) trying to hide your age.

To discuss this I think there needs to be a distinction between how one feels about age versus how one feels about the visible signs of aging.

I posted a couple of years ago when I turned 60.  In a way, I didn’t really mind being 60 (or 62 as I am now).  I know that, for me, I certainly feel like I know more and I’m wiser than I was 30 or 40 years ago, even 10 years ago.  I said then that I wouldn’t go back to what I had been at 35 (or whatever younger age) and I still wouldn’t do that.  And, I made the point:

Yet, at 60, you realize that there are certain things you won’t ever do. There are paths that weren’t taken and never will be. While there are still many choices left in life, you become more aware that you have to make those choices carefully as you don’t have unlimited choices. Time is marching on. It isn’t that you can’t do new things. I most certainly can. It is that you feel a need to make those new things count. To make sure the choices are the right ones to make. And, to realize, that some things are just never going to happen. In general, those aren’t things I really want to happen. I’m not going to climb a mountain or sail around the world and I really don’t want to. Still.

And, I still believe all of that.  I have heard people say that “age is a state of mind” and then they really minimize the fact that 62 isn’t 32.  Well, I take the point, but I also disagree.  That is, I don’t see my age as a reason not to learn or try new things.  I don’t feel that I have to be constrained by how things were.  I think that I still have lots of to do and many new things to try and so on. I don’t feel “old” and feel totally comfortable with many people far younger than I am.

Yet, 62 isn’t 32.  If you just look at averages, there is just less time.  My life expectancy now is not what it was 30 years ago.  That is simply fact.  And, as you age, for most of us we (at some point) start losing some energy and may develop health problems.  So, now, age is not just a state of mind.  The body wears out.  Right now I feel like I am in the best health I have ever been as an adult.  I am at a normal weight.  I am exercising regularly. I am in good health.  That is great.  And, I feel like I know more than I’ve ever known and I’m still able to learn new things and I make better decisions and have better judgment than at any time.  It really is the best time of my life in many ways.

So, no, having facial plastic surgery doesn’t mean I reject my age.  Even with the shortening of time before me (on average, compared to a younger person), I accept my age.  I do sometimes get irked at the assumptions that some younger people make about those who are older. (I particularly get irked when someone assumes I am not computer literate since I spend most of my day at the computer).  But, I digress.  It would be nice to have all the good things that come with age, plus unlimited time to enjoy it, but that isn’t how the world works.  That is simple reality.

But, to put it plainly: I did not have facial plastic surgery because I rejected my age or wanted to hide it.

Visible Signs of Aging

But, then we come to those visible effects of aging.  Some show up earlier than others.  About 6 years ago, I grew out my hair and didn’t color it and it was mostly gray.

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Some people look great with gray hair and like the look.  I wish I did.  Because it would sure be easier to deal with.  But, I found that I didn’t like the gray look.  That picture was taken on my 56th birthday.  I didn’t think the gray was awful, but I didn’t love it either.

I’ve colored my hair for a large part of my adult life.  I colored it the first time, actually, when I was in high school.  I have long wanted to have a hair color that I like when I looked in the mirror.  When I had the gray hair above, I just felt down when I looked in the mirror.  My husband has this super great looking pure white hair and it is really nice looking.  If I had that hair I might have kept it.  But, that wasn’t what I ended up with.

Just recently I made a major hair color change and I’m thrilled with it.  No, this doesn’t mean that I reject the fact that I am old enough to have gray hair.  It just means I don’t like how gray hair looks on me.  Just like I didn’t like how my natural colored hair looked on me when younger (very dark hair that I always felt looked harsh against my fair skin). I changed it then so I change it now.

And, so it is with the other visible signs of aging.  Part of that turkey neck is due to the movement of the platysma muscle with aging.  And so it was with the facelift.  Gravity takes its toll.  The muscles fall and the skin goes with them.

Neck Left

 

So, in April between the fall of gravity and the loose skin of weight loss my neck looked like the above (me with no makeup on about a month before surgery).  Looking at that, my eyes are just riveted to the turkey wattle on the neck.  Yes, it may be a natural part of aging and losing weight, but I didn’t like it.

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So, now I don’t have it.  The above was taken 3 weeks after surgery.  I actually still have quite a bit of neck and lower face swelling, but even at this early stage, it is clear there has been a big change in the neck.

Honestly, for me, it wasn’t so much the facial muscles that bothered me.  It was the neck and the eyes.  In my case, my eyes had more than just gravity going on.  I had hooded eyes forever that I didn’t like.  And, the skin was really loose partially due to aging and partially due to weight loss.  As we age, we also lose volume in our face.  When I was young, I always felt I had a round face and didn’t like the lack of definition in the cheek area.  As I got older, I realized that part of aging is the loss of volume.

The thing is that, no, I really didn’t like the falling of my platysma muscle.  Yes, that is a visible effect of aging. It was certainly made worse due to the loose skin from my weight loss, but a lot of it was the simple fact of aging. And, I didn’t like the drooping eyes.

5-24 Comparison

Picture on left taken in March.  Picture on right taken 2 weeks after surgery (which means that most of the healing is still to come).  Why should have to keep those dropping eyelids if I could change them?

There often seems to be this weird (to me anyway) idea that if I don’t like my turkey neck or my drooping eyelids that it somehow means I don’t like myself or it means I don’t accept my age. In reality, it just means that I don’t like how the turkey neck looks (natural though it may be) and I don’t like the drooping eyelids and I see changing them as being fundamentally no different in effect than coloring my hair or putting on eye shadow to change the look of my eyes.

No, I do not mean to trivialize elective cosmetic surgery.  Having surgery is a far bigger decision with greater risks and greater costs.  It is not for everyone. All I am saying is that all of these things are meant to improve how I look and the fact that some (many) of them result from normal aging doesn’t really affect my decision on whether to do them or not.  If I am 25 and put on make up, it doesn’t mean I don’t like myself or am vain.  It just means I want to look better.  And, so it is with surgery (for me).

It is true that I have had some people refer to me looking younger now and I guess in some ways I do (and will do so even more as I heal since I am still in the early stages of healing).  I think really that is just a shorthand way to refer to the changing of things that are different due to the visible signs of aging.  We all carry some kind of mental picture of how we expect someone of a particular age (or at least generation to look) and we make assumptions based upon that.  I remember years ago meeting someone who was very attractive and I thought she was in her mid-50s maybe.  It was hard to figure it out exactly.  She wasn’t “young”, but she didn’t have the look of someone “old” either.  I happened to read an article about her and realized that she had to be in her 70s.  Knowing what I know now, I realize that part of her look might have been good genes and taking good care of herself, but part of it was likely plastic surgery.  So, yes, she looked younger because she didn’t have the muscle laxity and other signs I expect of someone of that age.  But, mostly, she just looked good.

So, now that I don’t have the turkey neck or the sagging eyelids, etc. some people say that I look younger.  When I hear that, I always take a mental pause because I didn’t really do it to look younger. I did it to look better.  This is part of being less of a better me.  It is partly for this reason that I have chosen not to really try to keep it secret that I’ve had the surgery.  I don’t volunteer it when it doesn’t come up, but I have decided not to be secretive about it.  I am not embarrassed by it, any more than I am embarrassed by the fact that I lost almost 65 pounds or that I color my hair.  I simply see this as an individual choice that I made.  I totally understand why others might make a different choice. And, these choices aren’t appropriate for everyone and remember to really check out any surgeon you consider if you think of doing this kind of thing. But, in my ideal world, a woman wouldn’t need to feel that having cosmetic plastic surgery was something that should be kept secret for fear of judgment from others.  So, for me, I have chosen to do my part to de-mystify this process.

Current Status

I am now 3 weeks post-surgery and am feeling much better.  I still tire easily, but it is much better this week than it was a week ago.  As of Monday, I was cleared to use the treadmill or exercise bike slowly.  So I’ve been using the treadmill at a very slow pace for 10 to 20 minutes at a time.  It is a far cry from what I was used to, but I can do still tire easily and I don’t want to overdo it.  I still have myself set on a maintenance level in terms of food.  I am not burning the tons of calories I was burning before and have gained back a bit of what I lost in the first 2 weeks after surgery.  I am not sure if I will weigh in this Saturday or not as it will mostly depend on how I feel getting up early on Saturday to do it.  I think I would be OK to weigh in, though, if I did weigh in.  I may want to the next week though.  Just haven’t decided yet.  Bottom line is that I am mostly feeling close to normal. My doctor wants me to wait until week 5 before sleeping on my side in bed so I am still in the recliner.  This is hard on me and for awhile I couldn’t sleep at all.  He did prescribe some medication to help with that.  I am sleeping better, but it tends to make me tired in the morning so it is hard to get going.  Still, in less than 2 weeks now I should be able to sleep normally in bed which I am so looking forward to.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Cindy R says

    I think you look fantastic! Your new hair color is very flattering with your skin tone. All of the research you did on cosmetic doctors certainly paid off. Your doctor did an excellent job on your eyes, face, and neck. Even with any swelling that remains, the work he performed all looks so natural and you look amazing in the new photos you posted. I don’t feel that it is vain at all to want to maintain our appearances as we age.

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