Reprise—award season, and Vickie Lester has to speak out about: beauty culture, plastic surgery, cosmetic procedures, and aging

Women in Hollywood aren’t encouraged to reflect life experience in their faces… Which is rather ironic considering their faces become “faces” because they’re expected to do just that; inhabit a role, transform, emote, reflect, take us on life’s journey… You get the picture.

expectancyHere’s “the journey” depicted in the work of John Singer Sargent. I see beauty in every phase.

Young_Lady_in_White+color+corrected_smThere is a lushness to youth; big features, skin plump, life pliable and ready to be written in the eyes…

Ena and Betty, Daughters of Asher and Mrs Wertheimer 1901 by John Singer Sargent 1856-1925And, this is the stage plastic surgery sets the standard by…

1354569305-flora-priestley-also-known-as-lamplight-study-1889Jaw firm, cheeks high, skin taught… Done subtly, it’s fine. Done repeatedly or extremely the results are cartoon-like, and a life’s experience erased to resemble a plasticine robot. You know who I’m talking about. The thing about cosmetic procedures, from laser facials to going under the knife, is to do it sparingly — there’s no going back if you go too far. Apple cheeks look weird on a fifty year-old, over-lasered  GLOSSY skin looks bizarre on anyone, too many tugs and your eyes look like an alien’s, bridge of your nose shaved too much: Kardashian. Babies let the beauty unfold…

An_Egyptian_Woman_bSuffragette, composer, author, it’s all there in her face, probably in her late forties:

John_Singer_Sargent_Dame_Ethel_SmythThis woman was a force to be reckoned with, first woman to qualify as an M.D. in Great Britain and France, a surgeon, founded a hospital, became dean of a college and served as a Mayor and Magistrate, also a first in her native country. Tell me you don’t see the strength and age in her face…

elizabeth-garrett-anderson-1900I am currently hunting down this Lady’s memoirs because I know she had stories to tell, you can see it…look at those eyes…

As a close confidante to Queen Mary, Lady Airlie was a close observer of the fluctuating relationships within the British Royal Family, and detailed her reminiscences about them in her memoirs, which were unfinished at the time of her death (at the age of 90 in 1956). They were later discovered by Jennifer Ellis, who edited and published them as Thatched with Gold: The Memoirs of Mabell, Countess of Airlie in 1962.

via Mabell Ogilvy, Countess of Airlie – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

NPG D7185; Mabell Frances Elizabeth (nÈe Gore), Countess of Airlie after John Singer SargentWouldn’t it be nice if women in Hollywood were allowed to tell their stories and look their age? Well…hold on a second… Let’s hear it for Diane Keaton, actress, architectural preservationist; pictured here accepting an award on a director’s behalf at the Golden Globes. Now my darlings, hers is a beautiful exception to the Hollywood rule – so refreshing:

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 11.52.16 AM


  1. Diane Keaton is so her own woman and I am struggling to think of younger actresses who will follow her path to natural aging. Love the long grey hair!

    Did you see Julia Louis Dreyfuss in “Enough Said” – she looked so wonderfully ordinary and I mean that in a good way, very little make-up (or so it appeared) and enough lines on her face to tell the story.

    • I still have to see “Enough Said” – love the director, Nicole Holofcener – and it’s a character driven story with a great cast. I’m looking forward to it.

      Diane Keaton’s shaggy grey mane is something I aspire to!

  2. Dearest V
    Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. What a woman.
    Her torturous route to being a doubly qualified doctor and all the doors that were slammed in her face and after her… well I could (and regularly in another life do) go on.
    She was, long before being a Mayor of Aldeburgh (of the music festival) the first woman elected to public office in the UK and a member of the London School Board and her sister and best friend were no shirkers either…
    I don’t wish to do that awful Greece to Rome thing that we Brits sometimes do, but might I point out – as I may have done before – that many of our most famous actresses are pretty surgery free… Judi, Maggie, Helen, Emma, Kate and on and on.
    It doesn’t seem to have stopped them, how many Oscars and Emmys would that be between them?
    I know it’s not hard cash, but surely there’s a question of priorities.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • Who were EGA’s sister and best friend?

      Emma and Kate, I believe, have started their own league in reaction to the “Deep Plane” (that’s a term for a facelift), Restylane, and Botox habits of Hollywood… I think they refer to it as Actresses Against Cosmetic Surgery. I’m way more on the fence then those dames, but then I call this place home. I have a friend who is an actress, in her early sixties and she’s never had surgery, she works consistently (and brilliantly) but when she was 50 she started being cast as, say, a 35 year-old’s mother? Another friend in her thirties had the bridge of her nose shaved and her bust increased from 34B to 34C and the roles poured in…

      • Dearest V
        EGA’s sister was Millicent Fawcett her friend Emily Davies. Legend has it they decided one night to take on the bastions of medicine, education and politics… each specialising in one, but as history tells tending to branch out into the others.
        Yes, Emma and Kate and Rachel Weisz have established the British Anti Plastic Surgery League. I don;t take such a moral view myself, though I understand the feminist argument, which is exemplified, sadly, by the tale of your two friends.
        One thing occurs however, as plastic surgery becomes as commonplace in the US as say, orthodonistry then all actors and actresses will have to have work done simply to reflect the society in which the live accurately.
        I must confess to being struck, not just in NYC and Miami, but in DC and The South but quite how many people seemed to have ‘been under the knife’. Either the surgery is more widespread with you or less subtly done (which I doubt).
        This, I fear, is not a change merely on our screens but our streets too… soon it will, like vagrancy and begging be socially unacceptable to be old, or at least to look it.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

      • Also “the look” will be only attainable by those who can afford it…very, very, disturbing. Another thing I don’t think people realize is the pain endured and the length of recovery for some of the more radical procedures… Nobody talks about that!

      • Dearest V
        Quite so.
        Nor are the dangerous of anaesthesia spelt out plainly enough in my view… especially repeat exposure. My friends who are surgeons (not in that line) are very clear one should really only go under if one must.
        The money thing is very true… of course you can end up with the absurd position as in Brazil where people are arguing that the crumbling, near collapsing public health system should perform cosmetic procedures because everyone has the ‘right’ to be beautiful.
        Much better to live in the humble flat across the street and look out the window at the palace each day says I.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

      • Oh! There was a story in the papers recently about someplace in South America (Venezuela? Brazil?) where women were having body sculpting done surgically to look like mannequins, EEKS!!!

        The anesthesia aspect…I have never been so sick in my life as when I had to have medical tests and was put into “twilight”. Scares the heck out of me to think what will happen if I ever have to be “out” for surgery.

        Goddamn palaces! So many rooms! So hard to keep tidy 😉 .

  3. g.

    Isabella Rossellini has some wonderful observations about ageing in the media: “If you ask any woman, even a young woman, they’re resentful of it. Because when you’re twenty you know that one day you’re going to be forty or fifty. And the fact that beauty is never represented at those ages … it’s offensive and scary. If you’re young, it’s scary. If you’re old, it’s offensive. So all the way through it’s bad news.”
    Rossellini is beautiful as ever–as are Keaton and Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep. Nichelle Nichols might actually be getting MORE beautiful.
    But the other thing that drives me mad is the scorn heaped on women who opt for surgery. (Especially if it’s not Demi-Moore-perfect.) In a system that discards its older women, you have to expect many women will try to arrest the ageing process to remain relevant–but when they do, we make fun of them. As Ashley Judd wrote in her amazing open letter, “There is no winning here as women. It doesn’t actually matter if we are ageing naturally, or resorting to surgical assistance. We experience brutal criticism. The dialogue is constructed so that our bodies are a source of speculation, ridicule, and invalidation, as if they belong to others…”
    Like Rossellini says, it sucks all around.
    (Can you tell I get really worked up about this stuff?! Sorry.)

    • Baby! (and I say that with all due respect) Please do vent! I think it’s astonishing how perverted and artificial the beauty aesthetic has become…and the pressure that comes to bear is astonishing. Thank you for sharing what the GORGEOUS Isabella R. had to say.

  4. Luanne

    Yesterday my friend posted Keaton’s pic on Facebook along with a pic of her “airbrushed” by L’Oreal. Now I see others are starting to speak up about it. I wonder if Keaton thought of that before she showed herself in all her glorious wrinkles. Sigh. My mother just got her eyes done, and now I have a photo taken the other night with her, and I look older than she does.

  5. Thank you for this article, Vickie! Diane Keaton, “love” her beauty, wit, sass, and style. Annie Hall is all grown up today and I like the evolution, the stories one sees in her eyes and the gentle strength one hears in her voice. A beautiful woman.

    • There were other notable actresses there well over forty, and the best of them let their age shine through… I have to say I loved Emma Thompson walking onto stage carrying her high heels, even on the young women it gave them a beautiful line in their gowns, but a strangely tottering gait.

  6. GREAT post–love your commentary. Diane Keaton is remarkable and beautiful. I looked at her and was impressed. I looked at Laura Dern who was so altered by the knife, it made her father look like her grandfather.

    • Diane Keaton is fab, and appears to be so comfortable in her skin! I think (and I could be mistaken) Laura Dern made a quip about having to move to France if she wanted to continue her career on the screen and not succumb to a facelift… Maybe it was Botox?

  7. George Kaplan

    Wonderful article Vickie and, oh, such beautiful portraits! Sargent is one of my favorite painters. Such rich and compelling work.
    The obsession with “youth” and “beauty” (not *True Beauty” mind you, I’m rather afraid there’s little evidence that society has any notion of what that even is) has become corrosive over the past twenty- thirty years or so. The fact your friend had to resort to procedures and *then* got more work is sad while it’s fantastic that your other friend has been able to resist the pressures of a ludicrous, shallow, and sexist culture (and it’s important not to fall into the fallacy of blaming it entirely on men, not only are we not all idiots but there are plenty of women who are responsible for propagating moronic ideas on youth and “attractiveness”. It’s also worth noting the pathetic strictures on what is and isn’t considered attractive for men too, neither sex is free from stupidity. Boy, I’m cheery…but right! ;-)) but that she found herself playing “mom” roles so early is so typical and anger-making! I watched a few minutes of some crappy WB drama showing here on terrestrial tv and there was an actress who is barely 40 playing the mother of someone supposedly 15, the problem being that the mimbo actor looked around 25! How effing insulting! Hollywood’s idea of suitable roles for many 35+ women is shockingly inadequate – moms, basically – with only a few escaping this. Grrr.
    The odd thing about those who have cosmetic surgery is that often they DON’T look younger they just look BLANDER.
    Hooray for those women secure in their mature beauty, within and without. And Hooray for those men and women who stand against shallowness and lack of taste.

    • George, you’re so right. Some of “beauty culture’s” strictest enforcers are women. I’ll only quibble on one point, they don’t look blander to me, they look weirdly altered…and, as you pointed out, still the same age (or the weird limbo age they’ve created of anywhere between 50-80) !!!

  8. George Kaplan

    I don’t know if Julia Louis-Dreyfus has had anything done – and if she has it is minimal – but she is at 53, 54 as gorgeous as ever and not trying to look 20. Also, Rachel Weisz looks so much more characterfully attractive now that she’s more mature than she did twenty years ago. Experience and time can enrich while futile attempts to turn back the aging process usually result in a somewhat pathetic and eerie plastic smoothness and deadeyeness, something that the Helen Mirrens and Diane Keatons do not have.

    • Julia Louis-D is gorgeous, isn’t she? Somebody brought up what I thought was a good point, and that’s a double standard between expecting ageless beauty, but then vilifying actresses who do have “procedures”. If she’s had anything done, it’s very subtle.

  9. Jen

    A good and thoughtful post. This is something that has long interested me (to the point that I no longer read fashion or pop culture magazines, because the ideal presented is impossible to attain). You make a good point about actual youth—and truly, to try and “bring it back” on a 40 year-old face or to mimic it is just so odd and ultimately impossible to do, because the innocence and curiosity and other things go along with it are long gone as well. A child’s looks suit their character traits, and it’s right…to try and re-create that on a woman old enough to be mother or even grandmother to that child is bizarre indeed!

    It makes me glad to see women like Diane Keaton and to hear of the British actresses who refuse the knife. Truly, I don’t mind a little lift or line reduction, but most doctors and patients don’t know when to stop, and frankly seem more interested in creating a new face entirely, not gently blurring the evidence of time’s passing and a life lived. Surely our culture is to blame for this—but as we all know, money talks. Stop buying the magazines, patronizing the advertisers, and watching the films, and perhaps things will change. (Perhaps!) Of course, plastic surgery is practically outpatient nowadays; I know plenty of women who’ve had major work done and breast implants and the like.

    In addition to our sex-obsessed, women-are-goods-to-be-consumed culture…sometimes I think we don’t like to see the signs of aging because the idea of our decaying and eventually dying seems so terribly wrong to us. Seeing someone who looks their age (GASP!) is a reminder of our ultimate end, whether you believe in an afterlife or no, and we rebel against that.

    • I think you’ve hit on a broader and deeper problem here, and that’s about appearance obsessed culture… It’s pervasive and even if, as an adult, you avoid its influence, as a child or teenager the emphasis on unattainable physical attributes can do deep damage.

      Oh, what a world!

      Hugs, V

  10. aubrey

    I’ll be honest, if I could erase the lines by my eyes I’d be a happy person – nothing ruins a cats-eye line like an…interruption in the skin. They only thing my wrinkles say is that I’m over 50. But cosmetic surgery is complex, invasive, and a slippery slope to boot. Best to leave things be.

    But a smooth face does not a beauty make. Character will – and it isn’t necessarily something that experience will give you, or time. You can be born with it, you can recognize it in someone else and take it for your own. Character hides in the light in one’s eyes, the curl of a lip, a stance, a pose…if we must choose from actors, I’ve seen character in Kiernan Shipka, and I’ve seen it in La Mirren. And it transforms them, and elevates them above all others.

    And DO NOT get me started on dressing one’s age. I believe I’ll wear whatever I jolly well want, and I freely admit that my dark, dried-blood colored lipstick gives me great joy.

    Also…these Sargent portraits are wonderful. Nice to see his range and skill – rather than to see him as merely a society portraitist.

    • You might like Sargent’s watercolors, he did tons of them, like snapshots from around the world. Good stuff!

      I am with you about the beauty of character, and the nuance of expression… It’s probably why animation doesn’t do much for me, I don’t see humanity reflected in the faces.

      I think you and I have to go to tea with our over-fifty year old selves and wear whatever we “jolly well want” (love that)!

  11. Don’t get me started! 🙂 I think it is so sad to see these women (and men) who have faces filled with character who suddenly arrive back on our screens looking (as Mr Kaplan said) completely bland. We watch movies for acting and emotion, not merely a recitation of the script.

    We were watching a movie with the wonderful Judy Dench the other day, the slightest change in her face and you know exactly what she wants you to think/feel. Acting! Acting I say!! 🙂

    If only everyone resisted early on it wouldn’t have become the norm, I fear it is too late now to stem the tide. Kudos to those who have decided to age without fighting it!

    • Did you see Philomena??? I hear it’s wonderful.
      The scariest thing to me aren’t the temporary cosmetic procedures, but the surgical approach which in some cases involves shortening muscles in the neck and face, etc. It really does make people look like strangely altered versions of themselves…

      • No, I haven’t seen Philomena, but my parents did the other day and loved it.

        Muscle shortening, ewww…..Imagine what it would be like having such a dramatic procedure done…. Like waking up wearing someone else’s body! Just like they have been taken over by aliens. 😉

  12. angryricky

    I was telling someone how weird Ruth Wilson’s mouth looks in The Lone Ranger, and she told me that Wilson probably had botox injected in her lips. Plastic surgery shouldn’t make people look like there’s something wrong with their faces. It’s not sexy; it’s bizarre.

    • I couldn’t agree more, bizarre is not good. Didn’t see the Lone Ranger but if her lips were puffy it was probably a filler, Botox paralyses muscle (yeah, immobilizing an actresses face, so good for conveying emotion). It makes me wanna scream!

      • Lisa miller

        The funny thing is Ruth Wilson never had an plastic surgery on her mouth,if you look at her brother,he has the same mouth,from all the cruel comments she gets about her lip,she’s been secure enough in herself NOT to have it altered,but I guess there will always be cruel people who just love to make fun of others because they were born different,by the way I think she’s beautiful and it’s so refreshing to have someone who is truly unique instead of carbon copies of everyone else.I bet if she did alter her lip (to look like everyone else,)people would criticize her for that!

      • That’ll teach me to comment off the cuff, having not seen her in that film. But I did see Ruth Wilson for the first time in “Saving Mr. Banks” and you’re right, she’s beautiful, truly unique, and a wonderful actress. Apologies.

  13. Simply wonderful post, Vickie, and so necessary…. Given that older women are basically “erased” in the mainstream media (something my mum has commented on many times: “We’re invisible!”), we badly need to see images of women with grey hair, lined faces, and the wisdom, experience, and gravitas that they exude. Bravissime to the unaltered ones out there for their courage and beauty, and brava to you for helping to bring them out of the shadows!

    • Cheers to you and Mum, and a very belated thank you for your links on I shared them with a young one researching historical attire for a University project. xox, V

    • Indeed, it is troubling that pressures come to bear that have nothing to do with wisdom, experience, or awareness of life’s cycles—for many who appear on the screen it boils down to maintaining a standard set by the entertainment market—and achieving a “natural” look which is anything but.


    I love this post and your comments, and the pictures you have chosen. In my opinion, the more you let people be obsessed with how they look and how old they are, the less they worry about things that matter. Add in the massively aggressive pop & ad culture where everything is “fun” and “sexy” and “effortless” and fake, and you’ve got yourself the recipe for a psychological desaster for an unhardened mind.

    On a completely unrelated note: I am delighted to see that our dear Perfumed Dandy (who isn’t blogging since August) at least shows up here 🙂

    • That’s it! “…psychological disaster for an unhardened mind…” Celebrity and fame can often be mind warping, especially if visited upon the young.
      As to the Dandy, I believe he is working on museum exhibit in London, how fascinating is that 🙂 ?!


        It’s a general rule that having no challenges in early life makes one a boring person, or so I’d say. People you like to hang around and can see some fire in their eyes often are those with quite a history.

        That’s uber-fascinating. Going by his tweets it’s something medical?

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