by Walter Brasch
American Reporter Correspondent
AMERICA WITHOUT THE POLITICS
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - Being old-fashioned and terrified of needles, I approach all surgery with trepidation. So I'm not really clear why other people regard it as a necessity, or at the very least, a vacation option.
Last week, while brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed, I think I found the answer. I came upon a television show on the E! channel (I know, you get what you ask for) in which a small group of male stylists - one had long, stringy, platinum-and-red dyed hair and purple nail polish - were sitting around criticizing actresses who were caught taking out the garbage or lunching with their husbands without wearing makeup. Shocking! Outrageous! Put on a little blush, people! It made me angry.
I realize that criticizing how celebrities dress, especially for award shows, has become an industry. But I hadn't realized how widespread this concern over women's looks has become.
When the economic meltdown began in earnest last week, the Wall Street Journal reported - on the front page! - that people were economizing by cutting back on plastic surgery. "A nose job in a hospital with a private nurse in attendance had been something of a rite of passage for Joan Asher's children," the story began. "But when her fourth and last child was ready... Mrs. Asher asked her to postpone it. The financial markets were simply more out of whack than her 16-year-old's proboscis."
I'm not wagging any fingers here, because my own life has been touched by plastic surgery. My beautiful dancer mother, now 91, was a pioneer in the area. It must have been 55 years ago when she disappeared for a few days and returned bandaged and so black and blue around the eyes that she looked like a raccoon. "Deviated septum," she insisted, but the distinctive Jewish beak that gave her such flair and style was gone forever. And, by the way, she still suffers from a deviated septum.
Next under the knife was my tall, handsome, charming brother, who was born with my mother's nose. When he came of age, he had it smoothed and shortened in the same way. (It was never an issue for me - my mother used to joke that she married my father because he had a perfect nose, and she wanted her children to inherit it. At least I think she was joking.
But when it came to the genetic lottery, I won my dad's nose.) Then my brother married a woman who also had had a nose job. I'll leave you to figure out what happened next.
Success for men and women in some industries seems to demand cosmetic procedures. Michael Jackson and Joan Rivers aside, actors seem especially vulnerable to the need to be stretched, tightened, augmented and smoothed. If you watched the Emmy Awards last Sunday evening, you probably noticed that many familiar faces now have unnaturally widespread eyes, and noses that look as if they'll break if you blow on them too hard. If you can bear to look at the great Mary Tyler Moore, for example, without wincing, you're a better person than I am.
We can't make ourselves grow younger, so it should go without saying that the quest to maintain a perpetually slender glowing youth - the kind that you probably didn't even know you had when you had it - is a fruitless one.
It is also, all too often, an irrelevant one. Just living our lives takes a powerful toll on our bodies, and it's a shame that our entertainment industry doesn't allow us to see that realistically.
A few weeks ago I was turned onto a marvelous book called "Bodies and Souls: The Century Project." Published in 2006, it's book of photographs of naked women taken over a period of 25 years by an exceptionally sensitive photographer named Frank Cordelle.
His subjects' ages range from just being born to 94. The women - black, white, Asian, thin, wide-bodied, obese, disabled, whole, in wheelchairs, pierced, tattooed, shy, sad, bold, thoughtful, proud, mediative, flirty, frightened, joyous - present themselves as they really are, in settings where they feel comfortable, and with their own thoughts on the pictures. (To see some of the photos, go to http://www.thecenturyproject.com and click on "FAQ.")
In the book's foreword, psychiatrist Dr. Naomi Weinshenker writes, "For women, no topic is as emotionally charged as their bodies. Many are dissatisfied with their size and shape, while others use their body as a physical manifestation of psychic pain... We are bombarded with images of models and celebrities who embody a virtually unattainable standard of perfection. Why has so much of the America media shied away from showing what real women look like?"
For me, the pictures were liberating in a way that no movie star will ever comprehend. The charming, eager smile of the book's last subject says it all. Mary is coifed, elegant, manicured, seated, open and naked.
"Life at its fullest at 94," she writes. "A little naughty always... I posed so some old lady will not fear age, and some old men would know old women are not so strange. I loved the challenge of posing nude, such excitement! My husband would have said, 'Some picture, kid!'"
In the meantime, however, you might be interested to know that the youngest Asher daughter was able to get her nose job after all. The family compromised by having it done as an outpatient procedure and saved $2,500.
A collection of Joyce Marcel's columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com.