Last time we looked at the lie of the mirror. The reflection we see is one signal conning us into thinking we are becoming old.
There is another signal, the con of the birthday, which can be equally damaging, for we use birthdays as the sole measurement of how old we are.
But birthdays don't tell our true age; most of us know people in their eighties who are younger than many thirty year olds their eyes sparkle and they have zest for life. They're juicy.
Sure, our birthdays say how long we have been on the planet. But what of the 40 year old whose face looks like her 50 year old neighbor's? What of the 50 year old whose wild child inside is 19? What of the 60 year old who feels 35 inside?
We use birthdays as the quantitative and only measure of age. But aging has more than just this one element. Our culture ignores the qualitative and more important aspects of aging: physical, emotional and attitudinal. Each of us is a combination of all these elements. These qualitative aspects of aging are the focus of cosmetic surgery.
From Old to Young
Cosmetic surgeons sit in a special seat. Ordinarily, you and I watch people go from young to old. Obviously. That's how life works.
But we surgeons sit in a seat with an unusual view. We see people go from old to young. This flies in the face of conventional thinking, but it rings so true I need to say it again so you will be certain I mean it. We watch people go from old to young after cosmetic surgery. Conventional thinking says this can't be so, that we must be either mistaken, foolish or lying but we have made this observation so many times we must tell you about it.
Time and again, our patients tell us they experience themselves as being younger after cosmetic surgery. Does this mean they are younger? They think so. We think so. As the saying goes, "If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck
it just might be a duck."
Three months after her surgery a 50 year old woman not only looked younger...she had the face of a 38 year old and now wore red. She walked younger, talked younger, spoke of younger things
and leaped onto our exam table. "So tell me" I asked, "are you younger?" "Why, yes" she replied, "I am."
Our Culture of Ageism
We discriminate against the old in our western culture the young get the goodies. In our gut, we know this is a fact
and psychological studies back it up. If a person has had too many birthdays, we label them old. If they look old, we label them old. And old is a bad label in this culture. We even ask about age like this, "Wow, how old do you suppose she really is?" ("She" because our culture is harder on women.)
Old-labeling wastes valuable people. One of our patients told us, "I don't feel old inside at all. I know more, I worry less and I can ride with the punches easier. I don't get older, I get better. I'm too damn young for the scrap heap!"
But the culture says we get worse as we age. Our contribution is no longer valued and we feel wasted. We have been conned.
Solution to the Con
To my thinking, the solution to the con of birthdays lies at two levels: cultural and individual. Culturally, we need a shift of focus from the quantitative to the qualitative aspects of aging so that becoming old is viewed as a time of contribution, enjoyment and acknowledgment. If age were truly celebrated, cosmetic surgery for aging wouldn't exist.
For many of us cosmetic surgery is the individual solution to alter the mask of age so our faces match how we feel inside. When our face fits better, our attitude improves, others relate to us better and we relate to ourselves better. "I used to look in the mirror and my heart would sink. Now I look and it soars."
Some of you may ask, "What of growing old gracefully?" So to this I will speak next time.
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Harvey W. Austin, MD
Berlin MD 21811
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