I was watching something on television the other day, and I came across an interview with the actress, Blythe Danner. She was chatting away, talking about her life, the usual celebrity palaver. Well, anyway…I think it was Blythe Danner or a reasonable facsimile thereof.
Now, I’m not some big Blythe Danner fan – frankly, I’m not sure there is such thing as a big Blythe Danner fan. But, anyway, she just popped up on the screen while I was flipping through the channels, and I paused to hear what she had to say. I certainly know who she is, apart from the fact that she gave birth to Gwyneth Paltrow. I liked her in The Great Santini years ago, and thought she was cute and funny in Meet the Parents. However, I don’t have any major feelings about her one way or the other. Just somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I acknowledge that she’s had a respectable career as an actress. She always seemed to be kind of a low-key woman, a solid, working actress, with a long marriage and a stable family. Not a leading lady or a sex symbol. She didn’t wear low-cut or revealing clothes on the red carpet, as far as I recall. Never involved in any sort of scandal. All in all, she always seemed like a down-to-earth gal and I kind of liked her.
In any event, there she was the other day being interviewed. She was sitting there with her new plastic face. Her lips barely moved. Her eyes were tight and focused. Cheeks shiny and rigid. Her once expressive face now looked like a hockey mask – kind of like Jason in Friday the 13th. I was curious about this strange, uncommon visage that was staring at me. In fact, I barely listened to what she said, so mesmerized by her Lucite-like skin that I went online to look her up and I came across an interview she recently gave to US Magazine, in which she had this to say about her dealings with Botox, “I think, you know, we’ve got so much at our fingertips now, why not take advantage of it? There are extraordinary things that can help us now.” She also stated that she’s not a fan of all plastic surgery. “I mean, I can’t stand the big, puffy lips. That stuff is just crazy! And the cheekbones that come out to here! I feel like, ‘Why do they think they have to do that?’” Why, indeed! Yes, save the pillow lips and the pointy cheekbones, but by all means keep the skin as inflexible as plastic, the face taut and frozen as that of a breathing carcass. Now there’s a look that screams – self-confidence! Or it would, if she could open her mouth that wide.
I know, I know, it’s none of my business what she does to her face. Although sometimes I do feel like Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol – mankind is my business. But this just discourages me so much about people. There’s the completely delusional quality to the whole undertaking – telling yourself that it’s not a big deal. Just a little freshening up or something, like putting a new coat of paint on the living room walls. But these people don’t even look like their old self – only rejuvenated. And they certainly don’t look like their young self either. They look like that hockey mask I was talking about. They look like a recently embalmed cadaver, freshly laid out in the mortuary. Waxy half-grins. Faces that don’t move properly. Eyes that seem preternaturally blank. And for an actress, an expressive face is the absolute epitome of their work. Hell, it’s even nice to be able to see permutations of emotions on say, just regular people in the course of one’s day.
For some of us, it’s not easy getting older. I think this is true for most people, but especially for women. There’s definitely societal conditioning at play that strongly suggests we’re all supposed to look good and never age. Even if your livelihood doesn’t depend on your looks or you weren’t stared at in public with admiration and envy for your physical beauty, it’s still a bit disconcerting for many people to happily adjust to the travails of time and tide. On the outside things are sliding and moving around, but on the inside, you’re still the person you always were – the teenager or young adult, or maybe even the toddler. But the outside doesn’t match the youth or vitality that lives within. And then you go to the mirror and are like, “Who the hell is that!” I get it. It’s not easy.
When I began the journey through my forties, I’ll admit that I was fairly disconcerted about the whole business of aging. Now, I wasn’t some raving beauty, but I had a few moments. But maybe because I have two daughters, I felt it was especially important to at least try to set a good example. That I shouldn’t be spending my life bemoaning my lost youth and skin elasticity. Maybe it was a more positive narrative to focus on the inside rather than the superficial exterior. Certainly, wanting my daughters to have a lifelong self-esteem related to who they are and not what they look like, gave me something meaningful to work with. But never - even if I had the money – would I have gotten any kind of plastic surgery or Botox injected into my face. Never! I would have felt like an idiot and a fraud. Not to mention how certifiably creepy it’s got to be to walk around with a different face. Who are people trying to fool? Who do they think they’re kidding? They don’t look like themselves anymore. They’ve lost, probably forever, what made them unique and yet also familiar. Whether it’s a little bit of “work” or a massive amount of it (like Joan Rivers) – it all amounts to the same thing. An inability to let go and move forward. A desperate need to feel pretty and youthful even though they look anything but that. A sort of maniacal, misguided and hallucinatory vanity that is ugly to behold.
And as a moviegoer and television watcher, the last thing I want to see is Blythe Danner who is thirteen years older than me, looking as if she’s supposed to be forty, not 67. I resent the hell out of that. It’s an affront to all women – whether it’s Meg Ryan, Nicole Kidman, Courtney Cox, Madonna or Steve Martin. And now I can add Blythe Danner to the crew. Madame Tussauds Wax Museum folks look more lifelike than the walking, talking originals these days.
Human behavior just mystifies me. What do the grandkids think when Grandma comes walking in the door and her face is so tight you can bounce a dime off it? Do the kids play Tiddlywinks on her cheeks? Does no one comment on the horror? Does everyone truly think that Nana looks nice and relaxed after her nap at the doctor’s office? Is there no one to say, “What the hell have you done to your face?” Does no one tell the truth anymore? Or are everyone’s perceptions so warped and shallow that they take it all in as a matter of course? What happens if her granddaughter, little Apple, decides she wants to put some poison under her skin when she’s twenty-five? Maybe she’s having a tough year and the crow’s feet show up early? Does Blythe turn to her and say, “Oh, yes, Apple, one does want to look one’s prettiest at all times!”
Okay, I’m sure it’s just me. But when I see a person like this, in any walk of life, I stop thinking of them as a complex human being with a robust life composed of myriad feelings and more that they’re an animatron. I feel numbed, much as their faces are, to their humanity. By altering their faces they are less than what they were, or seemed to be before. It feels to me as if their life, their history and their experiences are somehow intrinsically diminished. They’re no longer a relevant member of the species, but some sort of cyborg instead – kind of like in The Terminator.
Well, anyway, at least I’ve got Helen Mirren. Now there’s a beautiful woman. I hope she doesn’t break my heart.