Natural Or Surgical

Has your vanity taken a hit with each new wrinkle (or pound) you’ve gained over the years? Here’s what Happen readers had to say about looks, getting older — and plastic surgery.

By Jane Ganahl

t’s been happening more often lately in social settings, when I meet a fellow boomer for the first time. Back during the 1960s, we’d sniff each other out for simple things (Is his hair longer than mine? Is she wearing a bra?); nowadays, the scoping is more invasive (Are those hair plugs? Did she have implants?).
Beauty comes from inside — it has to do with what you take in.
It’s all so… unseemly.

Welcome to the age we live in! With Botox, surgical implants (for men and women), hair dye and any number of other procedures available to help us turn back the clock, it’s hard to find middle-aged singles that look their biological ages. For some people, laugh lines and gray hair are an attractive package that speaks to someone’s confidence about aging naturally. For others, perky breasts and/or a smooth forehead are prerequisites before any physical attraction can set in.

I myself fall into the Susan Sarandon school of thought on plastic surgery and other cosmetic procedures. “My emphasis is on being healthy, rather than what you inject or reconstruct,” Sarandon recently told WebMD. “Beauty comes from inside — it has to do with what you take in.” (Hence my own decades-long devotion to good eating and healthy living.) And I’ll admit to feeling negatively toward middle-aged singles who slice-and-dice their faces and bodies in an effort to stay young. It’s the idea behind that kind of behavior bothers me; after all, am I supposed to apologize for the laugh lines around my eyes by having them zapped by botulism toxins so that my skin is perpetually perfect? Whatever happened to aging proudly and gracefully?

Nowadays, going plastic isn’t necessarily fantastic for your looks
According to a recent series of Happen polls about plastic surgery and looks, that concept is still alive and well. And staying young at all (surgical) costs might not really be necessary when it comes to attracting the opposite sex.

Our first poll question asked 7,511 men and women how many times they’d had plastic surgery. An astonishing 88 percent of respondents said, “Never had it. Never will.” Six percent said they’d had one surgery, 3 percent said they’d had more than one procedure, and 3 percent said they’d gone under the knife more than five times. And when asked if they found laugh lines and a natural body on a middle-aged man or woman to be beautiful, a whopping 81 percent of those polled said, “Yes, aging is a natural process.” Only 19 percent of respondents disagreed, saying: “I don’t want to look old and I don’t want my date to, either.”

Happen readers are in step with a national decline in certain kinds of plastic surgery trends. According to the Huffington Post, since 2000, many kinds of procedures have fallen from favor. Demand for ear tucks, forehead lifts, face lifts, eyelid lifts and liposuction are all down between 11 and 61 percent. The only procedures still on the rise are breast and tummy lifts.

Sexy goes beyond the superficial, say midlife daters
Sierra Faith, a dating coach who specializes in “conscious courtship,” says that she isn’t surprised by these poll results. “I think they clearly indicate that both men and women are fine with the natural aging process when it comes to dating. It’s just a reminder that, even though looks are important, singles also want things like confidence, optimism and emotional availability in a man — and warmth, kindness and flexibility in a woman.”

To what does she attribute the change in perspective toward staying young at any cost? “I think that there are two trends occurring in boomers,” Faith says. “One is an increasing appreciation for our lives and all of the riches that come with experience and age. The second trend is an
It wasn’t necessary; attraction is about more than perky breasts.
increasing desire to connect deeply with someone as we get older. Given those influences, superficial things like plastic surgery seem less and less important.”

This is certainly true of my own experience. Having been around the block 85 times when it comes to love, I’d much rather date someone who has the qualities I’m looking for — plus a few pounds and minus a few follicles — than someone whose washboard abs were sculpted by a surgeon’s knife and whose full head of hair is detached from its owner at night. Then again, if such procedures give an insecure man a boost of confidence, who am I to cast stones?

Men and women have similar opinions on aging and insecurity issues
Happen readers seem to feel the same way, philosophically. The second Happen poll question asked men how they feel when they discover that their middle-aged partner has had breast implants or other surgical procedures. Of the almost 9,000 singles surveyed, 47 percent said they thought it was fine if it made her feel good about herself. Another 12 percent were turned off by it, saying that it must be because “she must be insecure,” and 41 percent of those polled had mixed feelings about plastic surgery, saying: “It wasn’t necessary; attraction is about more than perky breasts.”

And according to a third Happen poll on the subject, women’s feelings were similar to the men’s. When asked how they reacted after learning their date was coloring his hair or had used implants, the largest percentage (43 percent) of the nearly 4,000 women polled said: “Why do men think hair is such a big deal? I like a natural dome.” Only 16 percent of respondents felt that having such a procedure was a good idea, saying, “I couldn’t deal with a man without hair.” And 41 percent of those polled echoed the men’s softer stance on such “enhancements,” saying that it would be OK if it helped a man feel less insecure about himself and his looks.

How important is sharing a common point of view about cosmetic procedures when you’re dating someone? “It’s not as important as a common attitude about how one cares for oneself and feels about oneself,” asserts Faith. “At the same time, if people have strong points of view about aging naturally, there’s going to have to be some agreement or negotiation. But I urge clients to be flexible in their perspectives; love is the ultimate goal, right?” (Well, self-love, at least.)

Regardless of your choice, feeling good about yourself is what really matters
The results of the final Happen poll question on plastic surgery and looks were surprising — at least to me. Being somewhat allergic to the idea of surgery myself, I always assumed that no one would go under the knife without being pressured to do so first. On this issue, I was dead wrong. When we asked nearly 9,000 men and women, “If you’ve had plastic surgery, what was the main reason?” A whopping 65 percent of respondents said “to feel better about myself,” 22 percent said it was “to look younger,” and 10 percent said that they simply wanted to look their best for their dates. Only a tiny percentage (4 percent) said they’d sought out surgical enhancement was because they felt pressured by a significant other to do so.

Still, I’ll stick with my commitment to aging gracefully. Those laugh lines might render my skin imperfect, but they show how much I love to laugh!

Jane Ganahl is author of Naked on the Page: The Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife, editor of the anthology Single Woman of a Certain Age, journalist of two decades, and codirector of San Francisco’s Litquake literary festival.
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