Cult of Youth

I didn’t watch the Oscars. I never do anymore. It’s so often boring and overlong, and let’s face it, this is about the wealthy patting each other on the back. At a time when people are going hungry and can’t find work, this awards show is a slap in the face.

But I know lots of people watch, mostly to see the clothes and maybe to fantasize being one of them some day. Ain’t nothing wrong with dreaming.

I usually skim the winners the next morning, and I came across several articles about how the host, Ellen D, unintentionally ripped Liza Minelli for being the best drag queen for the icon yet. Yeah, that was cruel, because it pointed out how many face lifts Liza’s had in order to appear still young. 

And then I saw Kim Novak. Wow. It actually hurt to look at her. I own a copy of Bell, Book, and Candle because it’s a terrific little film starring Novak, Jimmy Stewart, and Jack Lemon, along with a wonderfully loopy Elsa Manchester.

Ms Novak is 81 years old. Why the hell she thinks she has to go through the pain and danger of surgery in an effort to give the appearance of still being young is beyond me.

NovaksEighty-one, and still so insecure about her looks and self-worth, she was willing to go under the knife… to end up looking like this. What Hollywood and our culture do to women is despicable. She should be rejoicing in being alive at all, and treasuring every wrinkle as something well earned over a long life. The photo on the left, by the way, was taken in 1989, two years before her last film. She’d no doubt had work done by that time, too, as she would have been 56, and she looks a little too “fresh” to be entirely natural.

I can’t even imagine twenty-five years of plastic surgery. The thought makes me cringe.

Recently, I saw the film The Heat with Sandra Bullock. Here’s another actress who has recently jumped on the botox and plastic surgery train, and it saddens me. The movie was horrible. I do not recommend it.

The one thing I kept noticing was how plastic Bullock looked. No lines anywhere, especially around the eyes. I’m guessing some serious botox and maybe an eye lift. She’s forty-nine.


She looks younger in the second photo (from The Heat), on the right, than she does in the still on the left taken from The Net, which was shot in 1995, almost twenty years ago. It looks like she may have had cheek implants, too.

I’m not even gonna talk about what Meg Ryan has done to herself with lip collagen and the rest. I prefer to remember her as she was.

When did being female come to mean you were only valued for your looks? Despite all the progress women have made in the last few decades, they still consider themselves worthless unless they look young and pretty. Oh, and don’t forget thin. Because I’m pretty sure, if you’re fat, you are invisible.

My mom was quite the looker in her youth. She’s now sixty-two and looks it: she has lines, the beginning of jowls, and a crepey neck. She once told me, “I still looked great at forty, but five minutes after I celebrated that birthday, I became invisible. Men didn’t look at me anymore. They looked through me.”

Yet men go on being attractive until they die, no plastic surgery necessary. Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it? I see this disparity as yet another way women are “kept in their place” by men. It’s not enough they get paid less than men doing the same job. It’s not enough the bulk of housework and child-rearing falls to women. It’s not enough they often get tossed aside for younger models when they start to age. No, we gotta make an entire group of them–those who live past age forty–invisible. You don’t see them in magazines, and you rarely see them in commercials or movies. Women must be young young young and pretty, or they don’t exist. They’re background, like furniture. 

Olivia Goldsmith wrote “The First Wive’s Club,” among other books. It was turned into an entertaining little film about three women “of a certain age” who are dumped by their husbands and ultimately get revenge. Goldsmith’s novels centered around the theme of women being used and discarded by men based on their looks. She decided she needed a chin tuck. She died on the table.

I’m pretty sure, if she’d been offered the choice to rethink her decision to undergo “vanity” surgery, she’d have turned it down.

Too late now.

Lately, the critical social eye has turned to men, and not just those who are gay. They are being encouraged by advertisers to wash away the gray, get botox and plastic surgery, and stay forever young. They are being told they need iron pecs and a six-pack, and this can be provided for a reasonable sum of money. Did you know men can get butt implants? Oy.

What the fuck is with this cult of youth? Why aren’t people supposed to look their age? I’m all for everyone looking as good as possible, but I draw the line at carving up my body to achieve something that doesn’t fool anyone. Because take another look at Kim Novak. Not only doesn’t she look young, she is now a caricature of herself.

Granted, she’s an extreme case. But we have plenty of old actresses running around who think they look great when, in truth, we see exactly how old they are despite the unlined faces.

You can’t really hide age. You can only slipcover it.

Since getting older is something that happens to all of us if we are lucky, I’d like to see that celebrated and revered. Because by lauding attention only on the youthful, we ignore all the knowledge and experience older people have garnered in their lives, and that’s a damn shame, as well as a great loss to our society.

I bet Ms Novak has a lot of great stories to share about the early days of Hollywood, but because she’s old, no one’s listening. They’re too busy chasing the shiny.




About Fenraven

Fenraven happily lives in south Florida, where it is really hot most of the year. Find him on Twitter, Google +, and Facebook by searching on 'fenraven'.
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31 Responses to Cult of Youth

  1. Jaycee Edward says:

    Well said. Meg Ryan….it breaks my heart. She was so beautiful and I’m sure she would have aged well naturally. Look at Merle Streep. She is still gorgeous but she looks like an older woman. Nothing wrong with that. I actually prefer it. That said, I need to go get my hair colored.

    • Heh.

      Streep has had work done too. No one looks that good at 67. Or is it 69? I haven’t been paying attention; they’re gonna take away my Hollywood card! 🙂 But she hasn’t gone to an extreme, which makes a difference. Still, it would be nice to see one actress age naturally, show the world how it’s done, what it looks like. Hollywood is one of the reasons everyone drives themselves crazy trying to stay young. It’s an ideal that can’t be achieved. And let’s not forget: actors have personal trainers, personal chefs, personal assistants, etc. It’s far easier for them to look good than the average person who barely has time to grab a Big Mac on the way home from work. Between the long commutes and caring for children and dealing with life, when do we have time to exercise or relax?

  2. One of the many reasons I just don’t follow pop culture…

    • Hard to avoid, and it is an indicator of what’s going on in society as a whole. I followed it more avidly when I was young. Now… I have little interest in it beyond it’s cultural indications.

  3. ameliabishop says:

    I can’t believe you didn’t like “The Heat”! I thought it was awesome. I mean, stupid and silly for sure, a typical ‘cop-buddy’ film, but I loved that it was a buddy film with two women, and no mention was ever made of their sex lives, no men intruded on the plot, and there was no heavy-handed ‘girl-power’ agenda. They were just humans: stupid, dorky, people. I loved that. I also loved Bell, Book and Candle, for other reasons.

    On a personal note, I now have quite a few gray hairs, and I’m kind of proud of them. I’ve been “invisible” for a long time, no change there. But the hidden benefit of that is I say whatever I want, and wear whatever I want, and with every year I care less and less what people think of me. I’m turning 40 this year. By the time I’m 60 I should be a real piece of work. 🙂

    • The movie was too loud, too strident. I didn’t like Bullock’s partner. And you said it: NO MEN. 😉

      Like Meg Ryan, Bullock is getting too old for these roles. It’s wearing thin. She’s a mature woman. I’d like to see her do more weighty roles.

      Honestly? If I’d ever been lucky enough to do a movie or two, I would have taken the money and run. A few actors have done that, and everyone wonders why, but I know why.

      You’ll probably be awesome at sixty. 🙂

  4. Sarah_Madison says:

    When did being female come to mean you were only valued for your looks?

    Sadly, Theo, that’s always been the case–once providing an heir was stripped out of the equation, it became even more problematic. Don’t get me started on the number of roles for women versus men in movies and television, or the pressure women face to be perpetually young, beautiful, and thin.

    I’ve never thought I was pretty. I was told from an early age that I was not. I was told repeatedly, with the best of intentions, that I needed to work *doubly* hard to secure friends as I was handicapped by my appearance. I was also told in no uncertain terms that I needed to learn how to take care of myself because no one was going to do it for me. I think my mother meant well. I think she intended to raise an independent daughter who could think for herself. She did. And unlike some of my family members, I didn’t succumb to an eating disorder, either. But she also instilled in me a horrific fear of aging. That’s one life lesson I’m really struggling with now because not only am I not beautiful but I’m turning gray, gaining weight, and getting wrinkles. too.

    And though I don’t have the resources to be perpetually beautiful, there are things I would be so tempted to do if I could. I don’t think that was the lesson my mother meant to teach me, but she did. 😦

    • Girls in our culture really get slammed. No wonder so many of them end up damaged. 😦 And it never gets better. They usually end up alone, abandoned by husbands who left or died and children that moved away. It’s terrible what we do to old people, shoving them into corners and hoping they’ll croak without a word. It’s hateful.

  5. I was glad to read you have a copy of Bell, Book and Candle – I love that movie.

  6. T. D. Davis says:

    Good post! I watched the Oscars for the first time in about 15 years because there were so many good movies. And when Novak took the stage, I had to ask my fellow watchers who she was – twice. I couldn’t believe what she’d done to herself. Goldie Hawn (speaking of First Wives Club) is another one. Can’t these women look in the mirror and see that they’ve turned themselves into Cabbage Patch dolls?

    • They see the illusion, not the reality. The thing is, they have enough money. They could retire and start other lives. Travel, write, explore other work or new hobbies. But they stay and do horrible things to themselves because they cannot let go of the adulation, I guess. I really don’t know, but the psychology is interesting.

  7. Pingback: I can’t add anything to the amazing post @fenraven wrote about the cult of youth. | Bits and Bytes

  8. Carole says:

    This is so true! Everything you said. I saw Ms. Novak & thought what has she done!!! I totally get doing things to slow the process, they can be pricey, but these days there are alternatives to going under the knife but what these women are doing is crazy!
    I will never understand the draw to staying in Hollywood if you have the means to leave. If I needed to still act to be happy I would go to NYC or London & be on stage instead of that crazy nonsense.
    Personally I did get my boobs done almost 10 years ago but it put my whole body in better proportion & I had a doc that was in to the natural look so honestly you would not be able to tell @ all that they are fake. I would however never do anything else. No matter how great a doc you go to it just never looks natural & I agree with the whole thing there is beauty in aging. I mean what message do you send to your kids if you go to these extremes.

  9. Helena Stone says:

    Thank you for a wonderful post. It is beyond belief what (wo)men are prepared to put themselves through in order to pretend that they don’t age. Having had several necessary surgeries in the past I can’t imagine volunteering for more just for vanity’s sake. Last summer I decided to see what I would end up with if I just stopped colouring my hair. Well, the answer is grey hair…and a lot more compliments than I ever got while I was still using the colour. Upside all around; more compliments and less hair in the drain when I wash it. I’ve now reached the stage where people can take or leave me as they find me. Don’t get me wrong, I do use (some) make-up and try not to let the weight creep up too much, but there is a very definite limit to the amount of time and/or money I’m prepared to put into my appearance. Then again, my income doesn’t depend on how I look.

  10. Claire Duffy says:

    Thank you for such an eloquent post – like you I’m baffled and saddened at why women continue to do this to ourselves. Of course not everyone goes to the heartbreaking extreme of such surgery, but I hate to hear my friends bemoaning their looks or the fact we’re getting older. It’s difficult because the expected response is “don’t be daft, you’re beautiful”, whereas I want to stress that we can’t let it matter so much whether or not we are. That’s not to say that it isn’t fun to dress up sometimes, it’s just that looking good seems to have taken up an astonishingly disproportionate chunk of our self esteem, and somehow, someday, we have to get it back under control!

    • I know one woman who doesn’t wear makeup. Ever. But I suspect most wouldn’t be caught dead without it. Why?

      Like you said, dressing up is fun. I like to wear a little eye makeup once in a while, but I don’t feel ugly if I only present my bare face to the world. Some serious brainwashing has gone on here.

  11. suze294 says:

    Gosh, I’ve just lost 30 minutes (and it could be more!) looking at before and after photos – horror show! There is an art to aging gracefully and most us just get on with it (as I hit 50 next month, I do notice crepey neck, jowls starting – though a mild climate means clearish skin and no eye wrinkles, the rain has to be good for something!)
    I just feel sad that these women feel they have to this tothemselves – hopefully the young ones now are looking and seeing what not to do. As you say, it is the Illusion hollywood creates they see – the rest of us are gasping in horror at them , the exact opposite of what they wanted to achieve.
    My sister is a nurse and whilst she is more likely tosolve your prostate problems, she does say that the surgeons always say not to do anything (unless medically needed) as once started, it has to be redone regularly – on the reality shows covering surgery, most surgeons never seem to have anything done!

    • Jennifer Lawrence has been stating publicly she is not fat and she won’t let anyone tell her she is.

      She’s 23. Let’s see how she feels about all the artifice when she hits 40.

  12. Karen H. says:

    Very well put, as both a woman and a mother it saddens me and disappoints me the pressure that is put on women but especially young women. The havoc this wrecks with them both physically and emotionally is unconscionable. I can honestly say I have never nor will I ever had vanity surgery. Also I frequently go out without make-up. I don’t believe as a woman that I can be a role model for other women especially younger ones if I am not secure enough in myself to live by my beliefs and mandates, rather than those of a society that values youth and beauty over the things that truly matter such as experience, wisdom, kindness and honesty.
    It comes down to remembering that as well as talking the talk as a woman who wants to help ensure that future generations change their attitude on what is important about people, not just women but men too, I need to walk the walk and practice what I preach.

    • I love Michael Stokes photography, but all his models are ripped and buff and impossibly perfect. I wish he would shoot ordinary men sometimes. You know, guys who look like guys. How many of us can live up to that ideal? Not me!

      • Karen H. says:

        So true and unfortunately we teach our children that singers, actors, athletes should be their hero’s and why? Because they tend to by physically appealing. We need to start teaching our children and ourselves that the hero’s in this world are the policemen, firemen, teachers and other ordinary people who work so hard to try and make this world a better place for all of us. I know my hero was my Grandmother, she is without a doubt the most amazing woman I have ever known.

        • How did celebrity worship begin, anyway? Because you’re right. We’re taught to admire and emulate them, and wow, do they get paid well considering what most of them do while our teachers and firemen don’t. I’m angry with the police lately because of the brutal tactics employed by some of them. Shooting a kid because he’s holding a Wii remote? Smashing a jaywalker to the sidewalk? Killing a deaf man because he tried to sign and they decided that was a threat? I think the police need policing. 😉 But why an actor gets paid $20M to make a film, I don’t know, and those salaries should be adjusted downward. Same with CEO pay; they shouldn’t be making 500 times what their employees do. Everything is out of whack these days.

  13. Lori S says:

    This is an exceptional post. I wish all young people would read this. I admit to using moisturizer to keep the wrinkles down, but they don’t really bother me. I refuse to color my hair. It seems like way too much effort and work to have to keep up with for the rest of my life. I’ve had people tell me I should color my hair so I will look younger. They have all been women. I guess I am invisible to men already, which is fine by me.
    I have notice an increase in products and advertising for men, also. My co-worker recently turned 30, and he mentioned he colored his hair. I laughed at him (I feel guilty now), but it just seemed so ridiculous to me.
    There are very few people I think are truly ugly. I find most people attractive, but I think their personalities influence my perception of them.
    Anyway, I really enjoyed your post and agree whole-heartedly.

    • Thanks for the comment. It concerns me that the cult of youth is spreading to include everyone. We all need to be aware of advertising’s devious tricks in order to sell us shit we don’t need. There is NOTHING wrong with getting older, but if you believe the hype, it’s not acceptable.

      Getting old means we’ve survived! Not everyone does, and this should be celebrated, wrinkles and all.

      Joni Mitchell sang: “We are stardust, we are golden.” She wasn’t wrong.

  14. Jaycee Edward says:

    Okay, I’m back because you mentioned Michael Stokes. His photography IS amazing and I love that he is using wounded warriors, but, as you say, they are all ripped and unrealistically gorgeous. This account sees a lot of nice men pics on FB, but my favorite are still the ones of real men, fully clothed, captured in real moments, like simply holding hands. It screams love to me, not sex, and it’s far more captivating. And brave, because, unfortunately, it’s riskier for two men to hold hands in public than it is to take their clothes off in front of a camera in a studio.

  15. diannegray says:

    Wow, Theo this post is not only beautiful in its truthfulness but also a brilliant piece of writing.
    I see movie stars my age who have had years of surgery and it makes me gag – not just because they begin to look silly after the first few tucks, but it’s such a sad waste of energy and money in a world where we could be doing so much for people who are not as well off as ourselves (it’s actually sickening in its decadence). I don’t know what has become of our society when females get a roasting from the media if they look they they did when they were 18. Briget Bardot and Melinda Woodward come to mind as two women who make the tabloids every time they’re spotted in public and ridiculed by the media as looking ‘dowdy’ and ‘unkempt’ – no wonder they don’t like ‘getting out and about’.

    • Women aren’t supposed to age. Why is that? I still don’t get it. People are affronted if female celebrities get a few wrinkles, but they also piss and moan if those same celebrities get work done.

      It’s a terrible case of being damned no matter what you do.

  16. katwalk65 says:

    I didn’t watch the Oscars, either.

  17. A.M.B. says:

    Well said! The pressure for women to look young is hard to avoid. I never understood plastic surgery until, well, one day I just did. I would never have it done–I’m too tied in with the plaintiffs’ bar to ever undergo an elective surgery–but I can at least understand why other women (and men) have decided to go down that path.

    • Oh, I understand it. Hard to give youth even if what takes its place is only a facsimile. What I question is the need for it. Instead of celebrating youth, which we are all blessed with, why not age, since not all of us attain that?

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