According to The Wall Street Journal, a backlash is brewing in Hollywood against the plastic-surgery trend. So many faces are Restylane-paralyzed and collagen-puffed, casting directors are reportedly having a tough time finding actors who look their age, let alone sitcom stars whose faces aren’t too frozen to frown, make funny faces or register surprise. As a result, the new buzzword in Tinseltown is authenticity. I must admit that I’m enjoying the irony in all this. First actresses mutilate themselves to meet market demand, and then they discover they’re no longer marketable.
The “Botox crisis,” as it’s been dubbed, is particularly dire in TV, where frequent close-ups put faces under the microscope, and high-definition programming and flat screens magnify scars and pulled skin. Finding a face that hasn’t been sliced, diced or cryogenically preserved is reportedly so difficult, some networks are ramping up their casting calls in England and Canada, where more actors still own the faces they were born with.
I realize that Hollywood’s a notoriously insular place; still, one of the things that leapt out at me reading the Journal article was how clueless showbiz insiders appeared to be about the fact that not everybody has bought into this trend. It was as if studio execs had had an epiphany and suddenly noticed what the rest of us have been watching in horrified fascination for years, namely that their industry’s slavish worship of cosmetic “enhancements” has spawned a generation of sideshow freaks.
“What’s really jarring is that some of these people are not very old,” said one casting director.
“Frozen isn’t funny,” said another. “Botox used to be less noticeable but high-def has changed that. Now half the time the injectibles are so distracting we don’t even notice the acting,” said a network president.
To which all I can add is, No shit, Sherlock.
I suspect there’s a lesson in all this about the wisdom of staying true to oneself, and the perils of blindly following a trend. Because, as trends go, this one reeks of desperation. And any way you slice, peel or cut it, desperation isn’t pretty.
Take Melanie Griffith, for instance, who used to be a beauty but now looks like a blowfish; Jessica Lange, who once was a goddess but now looks like an accident victim; Jane Fonda, who used to be a head-turner but now looks like Frankenstein. I don’t even want to talk about Nicole Kidman.
I loved these actresses. Two of them I viewed as role models. I would have deeply enjoyed watching them age onscreen. The idea of watching an actress age in the movies interests me, in the same way that it interests me to see a male actor of my generation such as Jack Nicholson or Al Pacino evolve before my eyes. Instead, when I look at Griffith, Lange or Fonda, I feel so discomfited by their desperation, I have to avert my gaze. It’s as if they’ve been in a car crash and it would be impolite to stare.
I understand what drove these women to make the choices that they did; still, I feel cheated by what they’ve done to their beauty, disappointed that they violated themselves in that way.
On those rare occasions when I do see a mature actress who hasn’t been pinched, pulled, inflated or carved like a Christmas turkey – Diane Keaton and Helen Mirren spring to mind – the experience is positively disorienting. And yet, I’m so hungry for the sight of an authentically ageing face that when I do come across one, I find its foreignness so mesmerizing, it’s all I can do to keep from staring. It’s as if I’ve been travelling in a foreign country where nobody speaks my language, and then I turn a corner and suddenly everyone’s chattering in English. The sense of identification is oxygen for the soul.
And so, if we truly are heading into an era of renewed authenticity, let me be the first to shout, “Hooray for Hollywood.” I don’t care if the trend is just as shallow and market-driven as its predecessor; if it means that we’ll actually be seeing more gracefully ageing faces, I’ll happily organize a victory parade down Sunset Boulevard. Something tells me I won’t be marching alone.