The Handmaid's Tale / Series Trailer / Hulu / YouTube
I was nineteen years old when I first noticed a vertical line starting to appear between my eyebrows. Nineteen! I was outraged. I’m far too young for this to be happening, I thought. I’m going to look like an old hag by 25, I thought. No one will ever love me if I look like I’m permanently frowning, I thought. Panic set in quick, clearly.
Before I even turned 20, I became totally preoccupied with the way my face was ageing. I was constantly massaging my forehead in the mirror and checking my face in shop windows during the day. I bought a silk pillowcase so my face couldn’t crease in my sleep. I tried wearing masking tape on my forehead for hours at a time (all that got me was some fresh acne).
I thought women - or at least the kind of women that I dreamed of being just like - didn’t get wrinkles until they were quite old. I thought nineteen years of resting bitch face should have no impact on the composition of my face. And I thought that any sign of ageing was something shameful and ugly that should be hidden and/or fixed, stat.
This is the messaging women and girls are sent from day dot, from every TV show, film, advertisement, magazine and celebrity. According to Hollywood, a woman’s face doesn’t show any signs of use until at least 65 - and even then, the wrinkles are few and far between. The foreheads of my onscreen heroines are smooth and unbothered by the very dramatic circumstances of their lives. They’ve got murderous husbands, scandalous affairs and secret children to deal with but my girls barely raise an eyebrow. Meanwhile, I get a new wrinkle every time I miss the bus.
The faces of the women on screen simply do not reflect the faces of the women I know in real life. In real life, women have a six pack of lines on their forehead and creases from sleeping on their side and blue bags under their eyes from working in front of a computer screen all day.
This distinct lack of wrinkles on screen is so ubiquitous that my mum and I routinely send each other a message whenever we see an actress with a noticeable frown line. “Routinely” is probably a bit generous. Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale, Aya Cash in You’re the Worst, Ellen Pompeo in Grey’s Anatomy. That’s all I’ve got.
The problem is that representation is circular. When the media isn’t reflecting reality, it’s helping to create it. When people don’t see people who look like them given any value in a mainstream way, they start to change themselves to reflect how they’ve been told they should look.
A good majority of my friends (all in their early twenties) have decided they’re going to get botox before they hit the age of 30. And while that is their personal choice, I can’t help but be saddened by it. Women shouldn’t feel like ageing is something they should be ashamed of. Women shouldn’t feel like ageing is something they have to fight. Women shouldn’t feel like they have to surgically alter their appearance because it isn’t considered beautiful to have a single line etched into your face. This shouldn’t be the new normal.
It’s true that the decision to get plastic surgery is a personal one and should be respected as such, although that choice is heavily influenced by societal and institutional beauty pressures placed upon women - and only women. It’s also true that women in Hollywood are under particular pressure to look perfect at all times, and that their culture is one in which plastic surgery is a lot more normalised than it is in mine.
However, I should be able to think of more than three famous women in their 20s, 30s and 40s who show a single sign of ageing. Representation of women should act as representation of real women. Watching a movie or reading a magazine shouldn’t make everyday women feel bad about themselves for not looking like they’re fresh out of the womb in middle age. It’s not insane to start getting lines on your face when you’re nineteen, but in my view it is insane to consider botox at nineteen.
Ageing shouldn’t be shameful, and women shouldn’t be expected not to do it. It’s a privilege to live long enough to have a frown line.Support Villainesse