Melissa Gilbert: Finally choosing to age naturally was the best decision


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There’s this constant message, everywhere you go, on how to improve your looks through medical interventions. The message is so ubiquitous — just drive any significant long distance, and, if you look at the billboards, even in a small town, in between advertisements for McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Cracker Barrel, it’s “Lipo,” “freeze the fat” and “Not happy with your breasts? Call Dr. So-and-so.”

Women especially get these really messed up mixed messages, and the people to whom younger generation are looking up are giving them these absolutely unattainable expectations. You cannot look like Kim Kardashian unless you spend $30,000 a month.

I realize that getting plastic surgery is nothing new — in my family growing up, it was just a given that everybody got a nose job, and there was not even a discussion — but now women (and this extends beyond Hollywood) are pumping their lips up, beyond what they looked like in the first place, getting these giant cheek bones, giving themselves squinty eyes, and getting their noses done. That aesthetic just looks freakish to me. And, for the women who do it to look younger, they end up looking different than they ever looked before.

My hope is that, if people are going to do what makes them feel confident and happy, that they find a way to do that without having a massive surgery.

I do believe that it’s a personal decision, and it’s up to every individual to make that decision for themselves. But my hope is that, if people are going to do what makes them feel confident and happy, that they find a way to do that without having a massive surgery.

Take breast implants, for example: I had them for years. The doctors don’t emphasize that all implants, whether they’re saline or silicone, have a shelf life and need to be replaced really every 10 to 15 years. So that means you’re signing up for surgery every 10 or 15 years. And what you don’t realize at the moment that you get them — or at least what I didn’t — is that you only get so many times under anesthesia. So as I got older, and I began to worry what would happen if I needed a hip replacement or a heart valve, let alone the surgical risk of having my breast implants replaced when I’m frail and feeble.

I was actually on my third set of breast implants when I first met my husband, Tim: I’d had the first set replaced after 15 years, and then I had a little problem with the second set, so I’d had to have them re-done. I was having neck issues, I was facing another spinal surgery, I was uncomfortable and I didn’t want them to be in my body anymore. I didn’t want to have to keep going through it all, and I expressed that him when we were first dating, and he said, “Well, get ’em out.”

My face, after all, is what I use to convey my emotions, so it really makes no sense to have my face not move.

It was one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. And that set me down this path of allowing myself to age naturally. My face, after all, is what I use to convey my emotions, so it really makes no sense to have my face not move.

I did have a slip: A couple of years ago, I decided that I didn’t really like these frown lines. So I thought, “I’m going to sneak a little Botox in and see if Tim notices.”

When I went to visit him on location, he said, “What did you have done?” He said, “That’s the face I love, and now it’s a different face. I don’t know what you’re feeling. I can’t read your expressions.” I felt really bad. So, that was the end of all of it.

I did not anticipate loving myself as much at this age without all of that “help.”

I don’t know that I ever thought about what I would look like as I got older, but I had unrealistic expectations that I could stay young. Some of that was what I bought into, but some of it was forced on me by the business that I’m in, and by the fact that, in order to be viable in the entertainment industry, one must remain an ingenue as long as possible — even if you’re a grandma.

That’s why I did not anticipate loving myself as much at this age without all of that “help.” I’d heard women say things like, I earned every one of these laugh lines, or I smiled all this time in my life, or This is from when I was sad, and This is from when it hurt. But I didn’t really understand what they meant until now.

Now I get it: This face is my face. I earned this face, I earned these expressions, I earned this depth that I have in my life, by walking through all of these events and difficulties and triumphs and tragedies. It’s all here on my face, and it’s beautiful.

As told to THINK editor Megan Carpentier, edited and condensed for clarity.

Melissa Gilbert is an actor, director, New York Times bestselling author and activist.



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