Open, honest, straightforward, and entertaining are not the words one generally associates with writing about cosmetic surgery, but they are exactly the qualities that make Helen Bransford's Welcome to Your Facelift unique.
At the age of 47, and married to a man (writer Jay McInerny) seven years her junior, she decided it was time to recapture that face she no longer saw when looking in the mirror. Her surgery involved a "touch of lipo" under the chin, a forehead peel, an upper eyelid tuck, dermabrasion under the eyes, and a standard lift, and she chronicles it all-with sage advice from the veteran to the uninitiated-from initial decision to that moment, a month after the event, when she was "dead certain" she'd done the right thing. For those who don't know anyone who's been through it, Helen Bransford will be that best friend who tells you what it's really like and what you should do to prepare.
To augment her own story, Helen has interviewed doctors and other patients, adding their expertise and experiences to her own. She has researched every procedure from the most common eye lift to state-of-the-art ultrasonic liposuction, and she reports from the cosmetic surgery trenches with authority, understanding, and above all the awareness that "the entire exercise deals with the superficial, so you should consider no detail too trite."
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"Welcome to Your Facelift cuts through the plastic surgery thicket: the cost, the pain, the length and nature of recovery."
"It's full of concrete tips and no-nonsense advice--What makes the book extra-nice is Bransford's conversational style, warm humor and nice use of quotes."
"I read this straightforward and attractive little tome in one sitting. It is a valuable and forceful piece of work. And I had fun reading it."
"If you're thinking of surgical procedures or simply suffering pangs over the aging process, it's a worthy read."
A pleasing countenance is no slight advantage.
I always knew there'd be a price to pay for marrying a man seven years younger than I am. I just wasn't sure what it would be. We had made it through almost four years of marriage feeling joined at the hip and soul, when, on a quiet summer night, I heard the first shoe drop and I forgot to remember to breathe. Not a boot, just a soft slipper, but its echo stayed in the room. He was interviewing Julia Roberts for a magazine profile and came home from their first dinner smitten. He shared with me thirty or forty of her virtues, her remarkable physical attributes, and her ability to quote lines from Hemingway stories. Then he said with astonishment, "She's almost as funny as you are." I asked if this intergalactic goddess had any idea he was married. "Oh sure," he said. "I told her all about you. Well, everything but your age. I didn't tell her that."
I desperately wanted to deny what I was hearing, but his words stung the air. He had wanted to protect me of course, from the world's knowing my age relative to his own. Only then did I understand that the age issue was harder for him than for me. I might add here that he frequently quotes himself with, "It's not whether you win or lose in life, it's how you look playing the game."
The next morning I started calling doctors.
With shocking frequency, it is now repeated that until the age of twenty-one, the way you look depends on your parents and God. After twenty-one, it's all up to you--provided you have the cash or can qualify for credit.
A few easily attainable changes include body shape (addition of curves, removal of curves), freshening skin texture, removing wrinkles, deleting tummy fat, deleting any fat, remounting a droopy butt, lifting saggy eyelids, removing bulges beneath the eyes, supplementing thinning hair, and altering details of the facial profile (reshaping the nose, augmenting or reducing the chin for balance, implanting artificial cheekbones, and defatting the chin and throat). But as I am determined to focus here on facial possibilities alone, I will not be discussing the myriad configurations of work that can be done "below the neck." Nor will I cover breast augmentation or nose jobs, which are generally dealt with during one's teens or early twenties these days. In the likely event your life revolves around a budget, doing any of these procedures piecemeal works quite well. A nip here, a tuck there, two years later a peel and some minor lipo. Many doctors, in fact, advise patients to have a sequence of small procedur
es over the years rather than a sudden and more obvious overhaul.
There is a certain melancholy in seeing oneself rot.
who can argue with photos?
(like, for example, twelve or more)
In fairness to my groom at the time of his life-changing comment I hadn't seen a recognizable snapshot of myself in several years. Each one contained the withered, leathery version of a thirty-five-year-old redhead I once knew well, and I fell into the habit of slipping them face-down into the nearest drawer. I was repeatedly puzzled that Sonia Rykiel could wander so frequently into photos of my family and friends. Then I would reach for my glasses and slowly bring into focus the fact that the Sonia character was me. While Ms. Rykiel is electrifyingly chic for seventy, I was crushed.
Along with a younger husband, I also have infant children. Rounding out the cliché Second Marriage--but with conventional genders reversed. I mention this because any day now a well-meaning caretaker will no doubt announce to a room of twentysomething mothers that "we have a special visitor, a grandmother braving the elements to pick up her charge." The mothers will turn with sappy smiles, and it will be me standing there behind them--wishing I had on huge arresting sunglasses with my spike-tip leopard print heels, and once again feeling an idiotic sadness that I can't blend in with the group.
how i got from there to here
If asked under hypnosis, I'd answer to feeling thirty-six or seven. Attitudinally at least, and maybe physically too. Sadly this estimate's off by a mile. Next, there's the visual aspect to consider. How old do I look to myself? I close my eyes and clutch, but no image floats into view. Instead, I remember my father telling me before he died in his late seventies that he had the mind and curiosity of a man in his twenties, but to his enormous aggravation, his body was wearing out (which leads me to suspect that none of us accurately perceives our own state of decrepitude.)
While my mind doesn't seem to be maturing much, my face has compensated by not missing a beat. The reverse could have been nice. This leaves me, I figure, with a nebulous self-image ranging loosely between four and ninety-four. My subconscious eye has utterly refused to log anything past thirty-five. How, then, did I wake up a decade later stumbling around in seared skin and sporting wrinkles like I've never seen on anybody? The answer probably coincides with my sudden inability to read print closer than two feet away. Impaired vision may be proof of God's empathy for the onset of middle age. Unfortunately, however, middle age is past the eleventh hour for anyone planning to enter the race toward serious cosmetic maintenance. So, what with Ms. Rykiel grinning back at me from photos, late-life parenthood, and Julia Roberts flashing through my marriage, I was ready for a radical leap. Lumped together in neon green, these phenomena comprised my Trigger Event, the springboard that nudged me well beyond the line o
f hesitation, gasping for an aesthetic airlift.
so what is a trigger event?
A Trigger Event can happen any time or any place to an adult of any age. It can be a comment from a stranger or a criticism overheard. It may be an awkward attempt at praise that fails and goes belly up. It can be an insult hurled in anger, or a passing glance in a well-lit mirror. It can even be seeing the positive results of a friend's cosmetic surgery. The Trigger Event forces us to suddenly reconsider our physical selves--and to assess ourselves objectively--as a new acquaintance might see us.
It can be straightforward and simple: One spouse dies and the survivor grieves. When it's time to consider dating again, the survivor is paralyzed with fear and needs a crutch to get back in the ring. She might have undressed and removed her makeup for only one person in the last thirty years.
Whatever it is, a Trigger Event has to occur naturally. Contrived, it would have no effect. A simple example is a woman's realization that she is presumed by others to be pregnant, when she is simply overweight. A stranger's comments along these lines can prompt a commitment to fitness that no amount of cajoling could have prompted before. Another potential Trigger Event is the hapless perception that a younger sister is the older. That the mother of a child is that child's grandmother. And worst of all, that a man's wife is his mother. (Think former presidents.) These innocent misperceptions impact in unspeakably powerful ways.
yesterday's cross to bear is today's trigger event:
a handful of real-life cases
My friend Nancy, forty-eight, is a personal manager in the music business and is constantly photographed with her clients. In Nancy's own words, "I got up every morning, looked in the mirror, and thought the woman I saw looked shitty. It couldn't be me, cause I looked so horrible. My trigger was seeing all these photos of myself in the trades. I couldn't bear to be photographed anymore. Then I saw you backstage at the Letterman show after your facelift and thought, my God, there's hope. You looked natural and just like yourself but revitalized. And it was only three weeks after you'd had the surgery. I knew then it would just be a matter of time for me."
It took Nancy five months to find the right moment. Her lift airbrushed her face back to what it had been at thirty-five. Her mother is thrilled, her boyfriend is puffing with pride, and a series of younger men concoct excuses for business meetings. In the past, Nancy was squeamish about the tiniest sight of blood. Today she is more beautiful than she was in her youth, and enlightened about her own personal strength. In spite of her fears, she was the best healer I've seen yet.
Another friend is an adored alcoholic who returned from a rehabilitation clinic restored internally to her natural joy and wit. But physically she had been obviously (in horse lingo) "rode hard and put up wet." She wanted to minimize the evidence of her years of self-abuse and felt nothing short of a facelift would be effective. Anna was right. She looked ten years fresher and, after a few months, got her original job back--something no one would have thought possible, starting with her boss. In Anna's case cosmetic surgery was an extension of forgiving herself and getting back on the carousel--of wearing not a hair shirt, but merely her restored face. She had cared enough to repair the external damage as well, though she had to pay for it on an installment plan.
Everyone can think of a husband who has split for a younger model. And our reaction is generally a function of whether we identify with the Wife or her Replacement. Self magazine has pointed out that if you think a facelift can save a relationship, there are two special words for you: "Ivana Trump." Self is right, to some degree. I suspect, however, that Ms. Trump's surgery helped rescue her self-esteem from those belittling years with The Donald--and I'm willing to bet it's had a lot to do with her fantastic successes since.
Mary Lee's case is remarkable. During her college years she was an extrovert, a cheerleader, and a university spokesperson. She even ...
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