When I was 21, I underwent breast reduction surgery, reducing my embarrassingly large chest to something that could at least fit inside a cardigan. Although there was some medical rationale for the procedure, the overwhelming reason was that I was sick and tired of every man on the planet being unable to look above my neck. Their fault, I know, not mine, and symptomatic of the baggage, both physical and psychological, women are forced to carry around with them. But once my own baggage was surgically removed, I felt amazing — lighter, prettier, healthier. Was this an indulgent move on my part? Maybe. Have I regretted it over the last 30 years? Not for a single moment. I had a problem, or at least what felt an awful lot like a problem, and I made it go away.
When it comes to aging, though, I’m torn. Because technically, growing older isn’t a problem; Mother Nature has it in for us all, reducing us to shriveled frames and crepey arms en route, eventually, to dust. And like most women in my liberal, feminist-leaning, highly educated peer group (I’m president of Barnard College in New York City), I am ideologically opposed to intervening in such a natural and inevitable process as simply getting on in years.
But like many of my peers, I am also a two-faced hypocrite, at least when it comes to parts of myself that may well benefit from a twinge of not-quite-so-natural intervention. Almost every woman I know colors her hair in some way, whether from a box or at a pricey salon. And these days, at least in Manhattan — and Los Angeles, London and even Paris, I suspect — many women will quietly confess to a shot of Botox from time to time, or a dose of filler to soften their smiles. It’s after that point that things become dodgy. Brow lifts. Estrogen. Tummy tucks. Cellfina cellulite treatment. Is it all a slippery slope to some kind of Kardashian hell? Or, like Propecia and Viagra — age-fighting interventions that men use and rarely take much criticism for — are they simply elements in a modern medicine chest, there for the picking? Does a little face-lift along the way constitute treason, or just a reasonable accommodation? I don’t know.