During her recent one-woman show, Judith Lucy vs. Men, the Australian comedian made a pithy observation about what the future looks like for women over 50. “It’s like you have two options,” she said. “You can look old — or weird.” Funny, yes, but it struck a chord with me. How do I want to age? Will it be gracefully, or will I go down ghting, forever resisting grey hair and gravity? My friends and I discuss it often, what options we have and how we want to look as we head into the next chapter of our lives. I am in my late fties; I have friends in their sixties and seventies. We are ageing pretty well: we’ve worn sunblock all our lives, we colour our hair, watch our weight. A few of us have had Botox or minor injectables. But our jawlines are softening, our lids starting to droop, our necks going. No one has had any very obvious work done, but it seems as if we may be in the minority. Increasingly, the fashion seems to be for taut, immovable faces, sometimes mis- shapen with llers, and the resultant overblown lips and squinty cat eyes. At its best it might shave o about ve years; at its worst it can look like a genetic mutation.
“Twenty years ago, most grandmothers looked old. Today they don’t, they look t and vital,” says plastic surgeon Dr Warwick Nettle of Silkwood Medical. But health and wellness aside, ‘ t’ and ‘vital’ are not the words that
spring to mind when I see an over filled trout pout or a face that resembles a lioness. Although it is becoming ubiquitous, there is still something about drastic cosmetic work that stops you in your tracks when you see it. It can look strange. Have the aesthetics of maturity changed, and is it a cosmetic club we are all destined to join? Certainly no one wants to come across as desperate. As style icon Inès de La Fressange once commented, “Nothing gives the impression that you’re old more than being obsessed by looking young. It’s very ugly when women refuse to get old.” Perhaps we should not be judging the older woman who has altered her looks. Everyone is entitled to age the way they want. “I’m actually annoyed at myself that I even care,” says an artist friend who is in her mid-sixties and is resisting any anti-ageing intervention, albeit somewhat reluctantly. “As a feminist, I thought we were supposed to be above all that, and be all Zen and accept that ageing is just part of life. Weearned these lines and wrinkles and supposed aws. In my experience, the people who really love us prefer us the way we are.” But society is sending mixed messages about what 50-plus years should, or could, look like. We can choose whether to age like Katharine Hepburn or like Kris Jenner. It is a dilemma that previous generations did not necessarily face, given they did not have access to the advanced and comparatively safe and a ordable cosmetic procedures available today. “Generally, Western cultures and social norms have placed value on the youthful and lithe, not the wisdom of maturity and the contribu- tion humans make with their careers and endeavours,” says psycholo- gist Jocelyn Brewer. “To a degree, it’s only in the last 100 or so years that humans live regularly into their eighties and nineties, so it’s rela- tively new to think of women in their sixties as still having value to contribute to society and therefore in competition, to a degree, with much younger women.” If older women are indeed still in the game, it is natural, then, that we may feel the pressure to have a few needles, nips and tucks. Personally, I have no intention of denying my age or playing the role of some delusional coquette, but my eyes are disappearing, ditto my jawline, and I’ve started avoid- ing mirrors. At this point in my life, I feel I could go either way — I could accept the passing of time, or I could go for the full wind-tunnel facelift. But while surgery may be the ultimate option, there are a lot of anti-ageing strategies to attempt before one heads for the general anaesthetic, and so I start with skin.
Beauty therapist Jocelyn Petroni is well known for her superlative facial treatments, so I posed the question of anti-ageing to her in her airy, light- filled salon in Sydney. “We find that people who haven’t experienced corrective skin health or the right skin treatment program from a knowledgeable clinic or salon tend to use injectables to overcom- pensate,” Petroni says. “Our aim is for optimal skin health, for glowing results at every age. ere is de nitely a place for filler and Botox, how- ever healthy skin will make you look more youthful.” Petroni starts with a treatment plan to build the skin, repairing and correcting both colour and breakouts. She then works on treating congestion, pigmentation and fine lines, using noninvasive techniques such as peels, vitamin infusions, microdermabrasion and Omnilux. “We put our clients on a skin program with diferent modalities to achieve their individual and specifc results,” she says. “It’s never one size ts all.”
The next facial features to address are eyebrows and lashes, as time can take its toll on these as well, leaving them looking patchy and less than lush. Amy Jean of the spectacularly successful Amy Jean Brow Agencies had all the answers. “ The wrong shape or colour enhancement for a brow can prematurely age us. It can make the eyes droop or accentuate heavi- ness if they are too round or too dark,” she says. “It is always worth making an appoint- ment to have them shaped, even if it’s only once.” She also acknowledges that pesky grey or white hairs can and will begin to make an unwanted appearance. “I refer to those lighter hairs in the brow as ‘daz- zlers’ that need matting out and/or camou- aging with a brow gel,” she says. Amy Jean also o ers eyelash extensions: as eyes age and start to droop they can appear smaller, which is why a potential quick trick is to add some drama and shape via ‘imitation mink’ eyelash extensions. It’s a tedious but ultimately rewarding hourlong process that produces a more wide-awake look, with in lls required approximately every three weeks.
While genetics, sunscreen and a balanced lifestyle play big roles in how well we age, the years eventually exact their price, no matter how many resurfacing treatments we have or topical creams we apply. is is where injectables come into play, and the point at which it can, in some instances, all go horribly, Real Housewives-style wrong. Dr Joseph Hkeik is an aesthetic physician who owns the All Saints Skin Clinic and the man behind some of the best- kept faces in Sydney. I ask him about the di erence between old and weird. “Good work,” he replies succinctly. “Just because someone has a medical licence to hold a syringe, it doesn’t qualify them as an artist. You are asking someone to create a sculpture, and that sculpture is 3-D, on a human, a face that is forever changing every minute.” Dr Hkeik is very much a proponent of the less is more approach. “As an aesthe- tician I can see in 10 seconds what is missing from a face. If you only replace what’s missing and don’t add one tiny bit more, you can achieve a subtle, beautiful, symmetrical result.”
When I mention the myriad people I see who overdo it, Dr Hkeik nods. “It’s unnecessary. You don’t need to have too much of anything to look better. I think sometimes the person doing the procedure is treating the whole face, regardless of whether the client needs it or not. I’m not going to give you 4ml of ller if you only need one; it’s not what I’m about. No doctor should be doing it. It’s unethical.” Dr Hkeik describes his clinic as a ‘skin practice’, o ering a vari- ety of treatments, from facials to Fraxel lasers to ‘liquid facials’, i.e. llers and Botox. “Botox, to me, is not a freezing mechanism. It’s a mechanism used to manipulate muscle, to open and to lift the face. It’s not really what the product was designed to do … it’s how you utilise it,” he says. “You shouldn’t be able to tell a person has had anything done. I call it invisible beauty. This is what all practitioners need to practise — invisible art. We need to be in the background, making patients look like they’ve never been anywhere near us.” While I agree wholeheartedly with Dr Hkeik’s view of restraint, it appears that society at large may now have other ideas on what is beautiful or youthful, as anyone who has watched Married at First Sight can attest. From social media in uencers to reality television contestants to porn stars, the overplumped, frozen face look is seemingly everywhere. e puzzling — and, some would suggest, alarming — thing is many people who undergo these procedures are well under 40, 30 and even 20. New beauty icons, such as Kylie Jenner, admit to having had interventions at a very young age to achieve their multimillion-dollar looks. Advancements in the area mean that no one needs to be born ‘beautiful’ anymore. Apparently, you can work your way towards it, if you have enough cash.
Dr Warwick Nettle thinks the reason we are seeing sometimes major work on younger women is more about prevention. “ e vast majority of women are getting Botox and llers for ‘prejuvenation’ reasons,” he says. e e cacy of these materials has improved by light-years in a very short space of time — what is injected today as a matter of course could only be dreamed of 15 years ago. e materials are better, cheaper and vastly more available. Why wouldn’t motivated people — and young women have always been motivated more than any other group to pay attention to appearance — take advantage of this?”
Jocelyn Brewer sees the trend as a shift in main- stream beauty standards in Western culture and beyond. “ e ‘not-so-secret cosmetic surgery’ look of those who follow celebrities is a very spe- ci c niche within a fairly narrow, but slowly wid- ening, sense of beauty and attractiveness,” she says. “It shows up in extreme ways on TV shows like [cosmetic surgery documentary] Body Freaksand with people who spend their life’s savings on trying to look like Barbie or Kim Kardashian West. It is de nitely a morphing from the standard. ere is also a certain level of freedom of choice and empowerment to take control of your body that comes into play.” Dr Nettle is pragmatic when it comes to cosmetic exagger- ation. “Too much has always been too much, but this does subtly change over the decades. What we see as too much is generally fairly well agreed on in the main, but it’s around the margins that things change. A minority do it for body art; it’s a form of self-expression just like tattoos and piercings — big breast implants, cat’s eyes, over lled lips. is is a group that goes to extremes, and it’s in the eyes of the beholder when it comes to body art.” I think my friends and I are all on the same page about what results we would like to see from any facial injections, and it’s not an immovable, inflated cookie-cutter mask. The importance of choosing a quality practitioner and not making decisions based on price also cannot be overstated, especially in an age of Botox parties and proliferating and dubious ‘clinics’. Beware the upsell, Dr Hkeik warns. “I see people who went for hair removal suddenly come back with face ller. It’s often sold by the receptionist, not even a nurse. e client gets distracted by the bargain and stops focusing on the result, which they often regret. Doctors and nurses have a responsibility to be more ethical, but clients must also take responsibility. You can’t give consent for just any one to do something to your face.”
Given that Botox and llers occupy the top two positions in terms of minimally invasive procedures, the Cosmetic Physicians College of Australasia (CPCA) has created a Get Real page on its website (cpca.net.au/get-real-with-cpca) to answer questions frequently asked by patients before they commit. “ e CPCA believes it is of utmost signifcance that patients seek appropriate professional medical advice to make informed decisions in consultation with trained doctors who maintain the highest ethical standards,” CPCA president Dr Michael Molton said in a statement. “We launched the Get Real campaign to stress the impor- tance of engaging with a cosmetic physician who will help patients focus on looking better, not di erent, and, most importantly, maintain realistic outcomes.” Even with the most sensitively applied and superior injectables in the world, the real game changer, at a certain point, is surgery. “You have to look at what works in the real world, not the world of marketing and websites. e equation is simple — the more sag you have, the more you need to do,” Dr Nettle says. “Of course, it’s totally understandable for people to have less invasive and time-consuming procedures in order to look better and fresher — surgeons totally get that,” he continues, referring to surgical alternatives such as threading (small subcutaneous barbed ‘strings’, either permanent or dissolvable, that are designed to subtly elevate facial and neck skin and reverse sag) or skin-tight- ening machines (radiofrequency or microfocused ultrasound that delivers heat deep under the skin, triggering a healing response). “But, unfortunately, comparing threads and machines to surgery is like comparing a candle to a log re — they’re both sources of light and heat, but massively, qualitatively different.” e facelifts of today are in nitely superior to the overly stretched and taut versions we saw in the ’80s, but the price can be prohibitive, and the idea of a general anaesthetic, and the fact that the outcome is irreversible, can be a major deterrent. Personally, I am armed with knowledge, but still in two minds. All, or nothing, or something in between? “I think if I can x concerns, make someone blossom and become who they are, then there will be a ripple of love,” Dr Hkeik says. “You will be happy and make those around you happy. at’s what the world needs. Not more perfect faces that don’t move.” I remark to a close friend that while I intend to do everything I can to turn back time, I’m not sure I’ll ever go under the scalpel. “ That’s OK,” he says kindly. “I’ll just be glad if you’re around.”
Words by Kirsty Clements for Harpers Bazaar