While watching Antiques Roadshow I became aware that the real English women (not actresses) appear to have been raised to present a smiling, eager, cooperative face to the world. I imagine a nanny or mother instructing each little girl to cultivate a sweet smile and possibly a dimple or two. This seems to be based on the notion that female value depends on a pleasant, youthful face.

I’ve long been aware that men grow more handsome with age while women resist the changes that accompany time with panic and fear by grasping for the false panacea of cosmetic surgery. Once that first step has been taken (the facelift that pulls the eyelids and brows upward and outward) an irreversible process of disfigurement is turned loose. This process inevitably turns a pleasantly aging face into one that might be a relative of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock and, in the end, creating a sister for E.T.

I worry about Dolly Parton and one longtime newswoman I’ve admired for their classic bone structure and expressive mobile faces. Martha Raddatz caught my attention recently when I noticed to my dismay that she had given in to the instinct to grasp at fading youth and has started down the one-way road to the bizarre. It’s possible that the decision was not entirely hers but forced by pressures from image-makers in TV Land. If so, it’s a pity.

As for those men whose faces become more attractive and interesting as the years pass, their little vanities are more or less harmless. Gray hairs and bald spots, along with wild eyebrows and hairy ears are cosmetic matters. Of course, a full head of healthy hair is attractive, but a bare head or receding hairline is not un-attractive. If it matters to the person’s self-image, hairpieces and color enhancement don’t do any harm, so go for it.

In contrast to today’s children, who all seem to be attractive, many of my contemporaries during the 1940s and 50s, had less “standard” features. Most of that could be attributed to poor nutrition, lack of dental and medical care, and possibly ethnic or genetic oddities resulting from ancestral inbreeding in long ago isolated communities. Today’s teen and young adult have become obsessed with body and beauty ideals as touted in magazines and commercials evidenced by celebrities, fashions and fads. I’m afraid that they might be headed toward the tragic tendency to embrace surgery as a solution.

At my age of 87, the majority of my acquaintances are several years younger than I am, so I know only one or two women who have made that mistake. Fortunately, they seem to have realized the futility of carrying the process to its extreme. I’m still not sure about Botox or its long-term effects, but I have seen some weirdly puffy lips. Nature has always left us with self-improvement challenges, not all of them reserved for old age. Sometimes those challenges can teach us the value of learning to laugh at ourselves. Here is a perfect example of that:

For the above 25 years from the late 1970s to 90s, I organized and conducted an art appreciation program in the Solon Elementary School. To teach the kindergarten children the vocabulary to express their thoughts about art, I showed them prints of famous paintings and explained terms such as landscapes, portraits, abstracts, realistic and so on. Usually, I sat on a chair with the children on the floor around me. During one discussion I asked if anyone had a question. A boy’s hand popped up and he asked, not about art, but, “Why do you have that hair on your chin?” The teacher attempted to correct him for being impolite, but I understood uninhibited five-year-olds and answered, “Because I’m a mammal.”

His eyes grew big and round and his jaw dropped in awe. “You are?” he gasped incredulously, as if I’d told him, I was a Martian.

As soon as I got home that afternoon, I went straight for my tweezers.

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