Face it: A little touching up usually leads to a lot of touching up

February 19, 2002|By Susan Reimer

IT ISN'T going to be easy for me to weigh in on Greta Van Susteren's face lift when the women in my crowd can't seem to make the commitment to regular manicures, but here goes.

The cable news legal commentator with the gravelly voice and scrubbed and unadorned good looks used the hiatus between TV jobs to have her eyes lifted.

From the before-and-after pictures of her on the cover of People magazine, it looks like she had a lot more work done than that. She says it is the residual swelling. Whatever.

In any case, her candor is being heralded as permission for women - not just TV women- to acknowledge how invested they are in the youthfulness of their appearance and to get some work done.

Most of us don't need permission for plastic surgery. Those of us in Van Susteren's generation (she's 47 and facing her 30th high school reunion) have been giving ourselves permission to do what we want to do since about 1972.

What we need is the money to pay for it, not to mention two weeks off from work and family to lay around and heal.

It would also help to have someone in our lives who would actually notice the difference.

It is a good thing Greta has People magazine and her Fox television audience to make a fuss over her new look, because her husband was quoted as saying she always looks 25 to him.

That's a lovely, if cautious, sentiment, but it reinforces my suspicion that the members of a woman's family might not be able to describe her to a police artist. My own family backed away from me in trepidation when they saw the results of one of those mall makeovers.

The inherent problem with plastic surgery for women is not the need for a nod of approval from People magazine. It is not even the fact that Dan Rather could do with a major overhaul and no one even mentions his gray hair.

The difficulty with cosmetic surgery is the same one that vexes women when they tackle a face lift for, say, the master bedroom. A little paint on the walls and every other room in the house starts to look really bad by comparison.

I have recently fallen into this trap myself, and let me warn you that one slipcover will put you on the road to tearing up carpet and moving walls and, eventually, financial ruin.

The same must surely be true with plastic surgery: If you have your breasts lifted, your tummy is only going to look more in need of tucking as a result.

And, thanks to Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller, women are keenly aware that as soon as we complete a plastic surgery overhaul, it will be time to begin it again. The need to "freshen up" the rooms in her house never leaves a woman, and I believe the same would be true of plastic surgery.

It is hard to imagine, in either plastic surgery or home remodeling, a woman declaring that she was finished making changes and content with the results.

Nonetheless, the Van Susteren plastic surgery supplanted even the grave injustice done the Canadian Olympic pairs skaters as Topic A among the women in the bleachers at recent high school wrestling competitions.

The headlines moved a couple of my brighter women friends to purchase a copy of People magazine in the checkout line at the grocery store. I subscribe.

There was general agreement among my women friends that we are uncomfortable with signs of aging to varying degrees but unwilling to schedule surgery over the fact.

I admitted that my greatest fear would be that I would die a silly instead of courageous death as a result, and everyone would know when my obituary described my family's loss "as a result of complications from elective surgery." What a terrible legacy to leave.

Finally, it was my friend Mary who resolved the conflict among these various forms of vanity: digitally enhanced photography.

Because I am a columnist and my picture runs in the newspaper, Mary reasoned, I can look good years past my prime with the help of photographic magic.

But thanks to the advances in picture-taking technology and computer editing, that benefit is available to any woman who wants to look younger.

A little time spent on the family photo disc and the Christmas cards sent to far-away friends and relatives will look as though hubby robbed the cradle.

But the bottom line continues to be the same, Greta Van Susteren notwithstanding: Most women want to feel comfortable inside their own skin, not with the texture of it.

And if we get to the former, we probably won't feel like we need the latter.

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