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About-Face

Out with the gaunt and tight, in with the plump and juicy. There’s a new face in town—and it’s a baby’s.

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Photo-illustration by Nucleus Imaging  

A woman I have known for many years did something to her face not all that long ago, and for a few weeks afterward, I was not able to put my finger on it. Did she get her eyes done? Restylane injections? Botox? Then I thought, Oh dear God, she got a face-lift. No one whom I consider a friend and a contemporary had yet gone that far. But there was no denying she had done something major, and frankly I was worried. Had she ruined her pretty face? As the curtain of hair slowly parted a little each week, I could see that her lips were bigger. Nowhere near overcooked-hot-dog-turning-inside-out bigger like Meg Ryan’s, and not even duck-bill bigger like Courteney Cox’s—but big enough to make me feel uncomfortable looking at her mouth when she talked. Don’t look at her lips!

Then one day, about a month later, I ran into her at a party and she looked stunning. The puffiness had settled, the fire under the skin had gone out. Even her lips looked like they belonged on her face. They were shaped just like her old lips, but … juicier. Her whole face looked as if it had been pushed out and plumped up—not unlike a slightly tired but still very stylish down-filled sofa that looks almost new if you keep those cushions fluffed. I cannot say that she looked exactly like her old self—but so close! A fantastic approximation! An uncanny resemblance! She looks like a very impressive artist’s rendering of her.

But there was also a faint likeness to someone else. She looked a little like … Madonna? Strange, I know, since Madonna and my friend have little in common, at least physically. But when I saw the Big Ciccone on the cover of Vanity Fair a couple of months later, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities: the Mount Rushmore cheekbones, the angular jawline, the smoothed forehead, the plumped skin, the heartlike shape of the face. Their faces didn’t seem pulled tight in that typical face-lift way; they seemed pushed out. Looking at Madonna, I kept thinking of the British expression for reconditioning a saddle: having it “restuffed.” Perhaps that’s where she got the idea to have some work done. After the hunt, Madge dismounted her trusty steed and thought, My saddle needs restuffing. And, by George, so does my face!

Women have been availing themselves of new faces since the dawn of plastic surgery, but suddenly it seemed that there was a better new face to be had. There is a New New Face, very different from the old one, and both my friend and Madonna now have it. Once I starting thinking of it in these terms—the face as the new handbag, say—I started seeing New New Faces everywhere: Demi Moore, Michelle Pfeiffer, Liz Hurley, Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour. They all have it! Even the Olsen twins seem to have a starter version of the New New Face, with their big crazy doll eyes and plush lips. Just to be clear, I don’t presume to know exactly what any of these women have done to their faces, if anything at all. It’s possible (though in some cases before-and-after pictures would seem to suggest otherwise) that this face is occurring entirely naturally—after all, these are women who are famous for being beautiful. The point is that there is a noticeable aesthetic shift happening in the face, and that it’s dovetailing with quantum leaps in plastic surgery and dermatology.

Through some unholy marriage of extreme fitness and calorie restriction (and maybe a little lipo), women have figured out how to tame their aging bodies for longer than ever. You see them everywhere in New York City: forty- and fiftysomethings who look better than a 25-year-old in a fitted little dress or a tight pair of jeans. But this level of fitness has created a new problem to which the New New Face is the solution—gauntness. Past a certain age, to paraphrase Catherine Deneuve, it’s either your fanny or your face. In other words, if your body is fierce (from yoga, Pilates, and the treadmill), your face will have no fat on it either and it will be … unfierce. It was only a matter of time before a certain segment of the female population would figure out how to have it both ways, even if it means working out two hours a day and then paying someone to volumize their faces, as they say in the dermatology business. As a friend of mine recently pointed out, there is now a whole new class of women walking around with wiry little bodies and “big ol’ baby faces.” And they look, well, if not exactly young, then attractive in a different way. A yoga body plus the New New Face may not be a fountain of youth, but it’s a fountain of indeterminate age.


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