It didn't start with Jane Fonda, but her comment to Larry King about not being proud of having plastic surgery is part of it.
I do think the high-profile, heavily publicized surgeries – and the outcome – on Heidi Montag play a significant role though, and understandably so.
But there are a number of factors that play into what looks like a plastic surgery backlash of late. A recent New York Times story (get it while you still can) entitled "Appreciating Your Value as You Age" ends with a Betty Friedan quote,
If you are going to pretend it's youth, you are going to miss it."
This is true, and a reminder that's always good to hear. But it's a tightrope as far as proscribing how one is supposed to age and who determines that. I've seen articles written by 20-somethings insisting that women champion their age. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, but how you choose to handle things when you reach a certain age can be vastly different than how you thought you would feel in your 20s and 30s.
And I'm sorry, but the days of the young calling the shots (or whether you have any) need to be over. Witness the effect of 31-year-old "Fabulous Fab" Fabrice Tourre on the economy.
Tom Brokaw's BOOMER$ points out a similar sensibility.
But the Times article was talking about a new book called Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change that's gotten a lot of coverage lately (here and here, for example).
The book explores, through interviews with women 35 – 65, how "women connect their self-worth to how they look." The authors, two former models — Vivian Diller and Jill Muir-Sukenick — are now both Ph.D.s and practicing psychotherapists. They admit it's a complicated issue, and seek to steer women toward an internal mirror, rather than just an external one — a worthy goal.
The backlash on actors having plastic surgery stems from directors and others who want their faces to move. Also worthy, but these are often the same people who insist, mostly behind closed doors, that actresses look good, which usually means a certain youthful appeal. If you don't happen to look that way naturally, tough luck.
Case in point: One actress I interviewed, on another project a few years ago, related a call she got to play a grandmother. She was in her early 50s at the time, and actually only a few years older than the lead whose mother she was meant to portray. But her agent relayed the information that the grandmother had to be someone you'd want to… um, well, she used a succinct term… I'll say sleep with here.
Aside: Oftentimes, the actresses cited as exemplary for not having work down, have actually had some; it's just not as easy to tell. So the praise is disingenuous, misleading, and further disempowering.
The fact of the matter is, even though this backlash can be seen to support women growing older naturally — it can also cut the other way. As a huge portion of the population starts to age, there should be a more universal acceptance of aging. But how everyone chooses to handle it is up to them.
This also comes just when women, it seems to me, were feeling more comfortable about admitting how they stay youthful looking. The backlash can be an insidious way of making women feel "dammed if you do/damned if you don't."
That's more likely. Evinced by Ms. Fonda's guilty admission: "I caved." But she adds that she feels happy, and "didn't wanna look kinda tired and jowly anymore." She also admitted it because she's writing a book about getting older and didn't want to lie. Refreshing. As was her statement: "My prerogative." Yes, indeed.
This is obviously a big topic, and I can go on and on (and possibly will). But for the time being I say, do what makes you feel good about yourself!