Ageless ageing

Article by Jan Masters /
Sunday Telegraph Magazine Stella /
January 11, 2009 /
Click here to view original /

‘The trouble is a few women get obsessive. They can’t stand to have half a line above their left eye’

‘I’ve just dug out a picture of me and my friends taken 10 years ago,’ an acquaintance said recently. ‘What’s striking is how much younger we look now!’ It’s true. This group of women are in their forties, yet their hair is sleeker, their wardrobes more youthful and their skin smoother, less lined. They take their lead from Hollywood actresses and models who seem to look fresher with every passing year. They don’t look young, exactly. They look… of indeterminate age.

But then ageing ain’t what it used to be. Women who grew up with Madonna are now accompanying her into an ageless version of middle-age. These are the women who can still bend it like bikram and slip into this season’s fetish wedges as easily as their mothers shrugged on a beige Dannimac.

Over the past few years the anti-ageing weapons of choice for this generation have been non-invasive procedures such as Botox, fillers, volumisers, peels and laser treatments (although quite how needles that shoot neurotoxins into muscles or deliver gels into the dermis count as non-invasive, I’ve never fathomed). The goal is to have the same complexion at 50 as you had – or probably didn’t have – when you were 30.

In 2007, according to Mintel, Britons shelled out pounds 900 million on cosmetic procedures – more than double the spend of 2005. Non-invasive treatments account for about 80 per cent of the near 1,600 procedures performed every day. (Hands up, I’m part of those stats. I have had Botox to soften my frown and forehead lines and I’ve had the red veins around my nose zapped with a laser.) These procedures can result in a more youthful skin. Not genuinely youthful but plumped up, pushed out, perky. It’s the skin that belongs to what in America they’re calling the New New Face – an aesthetic arrived at after studies concluded that the components of a gorgeous face are high cheekbones, a smooth forehead, a fine jaw and a juiciness to the lips. It’s this face that practitioners in ‘appearance medicine’ are now approximating, sometimes with facelifts that work on much deeper planes than of old, but more routinely with injectables.

Enter hyaluronic acid (HA), a natural cushioning substance found in the body that can be bio-engineered from a non-animal source. It features in Restylane, a family of fillers that plump out lines and folds, pump up lips and cheeks and de-sag jowls. The sought-after Paris- and London-based Jean Louis Sebagh uses Restylane SubQ or Voluma in his pounds 800 injectable facelift, Dream Sculpture, while Surgiderm is the HA filler in the pounds 2,500 Y Lift, performed here by Jules Nabet, so called because it gives the face a youthful Y shape (as opposed to a heading-south A shape).

The alternative to filler is volumiser – for example, Sculptra, made of poly-L-lactic acid, which, once injected, stimulates the production of collagen. Then there’s Radiesse, a gel containing calcium-based microspheres that form a ‘scaffold’ beneath the skin’s surface, encouraging tissue regeneration around the injection site. Lucy Glancey, the medical director of Glancey Medical Aesthetics, uses it in her Kylie Cheeks treatment, injecting it at the points that are highest when you smile.

There is strong demand for all of this. Women are fretting earlier about fading youth. Research by Olay Regenerist reveals that concern now kicks in at 28. Celeb-watching has undoubtedly fuelled this trend. We play spot-the-procedure and come over all judgemental if a star’s looks aren’t wholly natural, yet mock if their knees are sagging. We try to figure out why Madonna looks so great (on a good day) and Demi Moore so young (on any day). And we dream of looking like Angelina Jolie (even on a nightmare day).

We also have an ageing population with its antennae still tuned to youth culture. When the psychologist Lauren Rosewarne was studying the portrayal of older people in advertising, she found that less than four per cent of females featured in billboard adverts were portrayed as being over 30. ‘By rendering them invisible, the inference is not just that older women are not attractive enough for billboards, but that they are not attractive at all,’ she says.

Along with this, the age for settling down has risen, meaning that money once spent on disposable nappies becomes disposable income – available to spend on slurping fat from thighs or sticking it into lips. Technology has played its part, with new procedures launched all the time. And in an arena where you can have liposuction on your shoulders or hair follicles sewn into your eyelids, a shot of Botox seems tame.

Or not? ‘Too many women are looking like weirdo Stepford wives,’ said a female guest at a dinner party I attended recently. ‘They look glacially impassive.’ ‘Don’t you think women on television are looking too chubby of cheek?’ someone else chimed in. ‘Like they’ve had an allergic reaction to a bee sting.’

What I notice most is fit-to-bust lip inflation that can make older women look drag-queeny and younger women cartoonish. A face that’s had ‘too much work’ is so mesmerising; ironically, it flags up ageing. Where once it was a tight minidress and tottery heels that screamed ‘mutton dressed as lamb’, now it’s an older woman with a marble forehead, hamster cheeks and Lilo lips.

‘Having too much Botox and too many fillers is a mistake, because it looks unnatural,’ says Nicholas Lowe, a dermatologist at the Cranley Clinic. ‘The trouble is a few women get obsessive. They can’t stand

to have half a line above their left eye. But you have to retain some lines and look at the whole face and how it moves, not just focus on features in isolation. Otherwise you don’t look young, you don’t look old – you look not of this world.’

Women at my gym wonder where it will all end. ‘The more women there are who do it, the older the rest of us will look,’ one says. ‘Will we reach a point where imperfections or looking your age mean looking abnormal?’

The consultant psychologist Ron Bracey offers these thoughts: ‘Having a facelift doesn’t alter the facts that you’re mortal and ageing. By and large, what we look like doesn’t materially affect our lives as much as we think. Work centres on your ability to do what you’re paid to do, except in places like Hollywood. And changing your appearance won’t really impact on your leisure life or increase your pleasure during sex.’

However, we still cling to the belief that our appearance is inextricably linked to attracting the opposite sex. I’ve met single women approaching middle-age who want to look as good as they can, not just to boost their self-esteem but also because they find themselves back in the dating game after the end of a long-term relationship. Not so long ago a new hairstyle and a wardrobe revamp were the obvious makeover options. Now the treatment arena has opened up.

What’s more, although many women swore they’d never have jabs, some are finding it more tempting as the wrinkles appear. A friend of mine in her forties, formerly anti-Botox, has now decided to have just one shot – ‘just the one,’ she says – to target the frown line between her brows. She feels she’s betraying her principles, but that frown line is bugging her. She also admits to a degree of peer pressure. ‘I don’t want to look older or more wrinkled than my friends, many of whom have subtle jabs.’

Personally, I have no problem with the concept of enhancing looks. I do, however, have issues with safety. Intervention isn’t risk-free, which is why you should always go to someone who’s had the correct training.

The market is shifting. Where once non-invasives were marketed as an alternative to creams, now adverts for skin creams present them as alternatives to jabs. However, even if the economic crisis forces some women to practise restraint, it seems cosmetic intervention might be a permanent trend.

So, if you’re in the market to plump, the credo is keep it subtle. I saw a woman the other day looking rather over-preserved – a 65-year-old wearing the face of a 50-year-old. Or, more to the point, it was wearing her. Remember: it’s wisdom that comes with age, not killer cheekbones.