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Cosmetic surgery procedures continue to gain favor among baby boomers

Boomer U (Graphic by Molly Quinn)
Boomer U (Graphic by Molly Quinn)

We baby boomers have made it clear that we wish to live forever.

The universe stubbornly refuses to grant our demand, possibly because the universe fears this would set a bad precedent and lead to overcrowding, or possibly because even the universe is sick of us hanging around and hogging everything. In any case, we have not been granted our mortality waiver.

So now, millions of us have simply demanded the next closest thing: We wish to look young forever.

This time, modern medicine has stepped up and granted our wish, with a few new disciplines that specialize in what you might call “face-staging” or “cheek-bone fluffing.” We can now look young right on through to the hospital dementia ward, although perhaps the word “young” is not quite accurate. Perhaps the words “taut,” “unwrinkled” and “creepily lifelike” are more precise. Still, “‘creepily lifelike” is apparently quite appealing for a generation that invented youth culture and never grew out of it.

I do not share my generation’s abhorrence of wrinkles. The entire idea of cosmetic surgery has always seemed like a monumental waste of time, money and medical resources. What, exactly, is wrong with wrinkles? Being young, smooth and cherubic is all very fine, but a wrinkled face is a more fascinating face, as every Rembrandt and Rockwell knows. I believe a face is a map of one’s life, and wrinkles give it some topography. Yet millions of us still insist on removing all of the topo lines from our maps, rendering our faces boring and devoid of information.

Cosmetic surgery is not a new phenomenon. Facelifts have been a Hollywood staple since the invention of the close-up. Botox treatments have been around forever – and by forever, I mean, since about the time boomers were turning 40. However, as boomers have been yanked rudely into their 60s, the face-staging industry has mushroomed. The number of cosmetic surgeries has leapt by 77 percent over the last decade. Meanwhile, the industry has stretched to new heights of absurdity.

For me, the last straw came last week when I saw an ad for something called Juvederm Voluma XC. I had no idea what it was, but since the ad was on the evening news, I inferred that Juvederm Voluma XC was (1) Aimed at boomers, and (2) Designed to rejuvenate a failing body part. Only slowly did it dawn on me that the body part in question was the cheekbone.

Did you know that cheekbones needed rejuvenating? They don’t, of course. But today, the attitude we take toward the aging face is like the attitude cookbook photographers take toward entrees. The dish may be stale and cold, but with the help of a “food stylist” it can be made to look fresh and vibrant with a little spritz here and there. In the same way, a little bit of face-styling can make our old wrinkled mugs seem superficially fresh again.

Juvederm, it turns out, is an injectable gel that “temporarily adds volume to the skin” in order to “correct age-related volume loss.” If you add some of this gel to your facial area, you can restore your cheekbones to their former Angelina Jolie-like sharpness.

Let me sum it up like this: A doctor jams two syringes full of a Jell-O-like substance into your face, which temporarily plumps up the only part of your face you want plumped up, while simultaneously stretching out the wrinkles from the surrounding parts of your face. If you’ve ever used a food syringe on your Thanksgiving turkey, then you’ve got the basic concept.

I’ve got to hand it to the Juvederm inventors and practitioners – it’s genius. Not only because it solves the sagging cheekbone problem, but also because of the word “temporarily.” Once you get your new cheekbones, you must replenish them every couple of years, or else your cheeks will revert to their former, wattle-like appearance. The only thing worse than having sagging cheekbones is having cheekbones that are firm and high on the Fourth of July, and down around your ankles by Valentine’s Day.

In fairness to all cosmetically enhanced boomers, I should point out that some of my main objections to cosmetic surgery are not entirely noble and not entirely principled. For instance, my primary objection is simply that I am a big chicken when it comes to surgery. To me, the words “elective” and “surgery” simply do not go together. If I were ever to swallow, for instance, a large steelhead-fishing lure, due to an unfortunate casting miscalculation, I would have to think long and hard before allowing a surgeon to cut me open and extract the thing. So the idea of choosing, of my own free will, to submit myself to the knife just to make me look the way I did 20 years ago strikes me as pointless.

However, a lot of the new techniques in the facial-styling arena are not precisely surgical. Botox merely involves a few well-placed injections. Juvederm, too, is administered not through the knife, but through the syringe. It can cause “tenderness, swelling, firmness, lumps/bumps, bruising, pain, redness, discoloration and itching” for a few weeks, but those are minor-league problems compared to real slice-and-stitch surgery.

Which leads me to another not-entirely-noble reason for finding face-styling to be ridiculous. Many of us have never been particularly good-looking at any time in our lives. Consequently, we do not place much value on “regaining” something we never had in the first place. Why would I crave my youthful cheekbones, when I never had any cheekbones to speak of at all? However, I can – at least in theory – understand why an actual good-looking person would want to stay that way as long as possible.

Finally, here’s one other reason some of us find it easy to disdain the entire facial enhancement obsession. We’re males. With notable exceptions – Kenny Rogers comes to mind – most males have never worried much about our faces. Why should we start worrying about our faces at age 60?

So I do understand why face-styling might be important to lots of boomers. It may not make them literally feel better, but it undoubtedly can make people feel better about themselves.

Still, most of my boomer friends have done no facial styling of any kind, and never will. We’re quite content with this situation. When we look upon the faces of our friends and spouses, we cherish the wrinkles, the crow’s-feet, and yes, even the sagging cheekbones, as evidence of decades of hard-won experience. We can always spot new topo lines to follow.

At least, we can if we have recently had cataract surgery. That’s one of the few facial surgeries that actually make sense.

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