Since I've turned 47, I've noticed that when I move my head, my skin is increasingly reluctant to follow. As a strictly journalistic inquiry, I consulted four plastic surgeons to see what I could do about this. I now know that my problem lies either in the upper, middle, or lower third of my face. I was told variously that I needed a face-lift, upper and lower eyelid resculpting, jaw-line liposuction, laser resurfacing, a chemical peel, facial implants, a brow-lift, and Botox injections. Either that, or wear a burka.
In the past decade, the number of cosmetic surgery procedures performed on Americans has tripled, with more than 1.2 million done in 2001. Even subtracting those surgeries done on Michael Jackson, the statistics show aging scalpel-free is going to be increasingly lonely. So I decided that "Human Guinea Pig"—a column in which I go out and experience odd corners of life—should start at the plastic surgeon's office.
I found doctors by looking them up in Washingtonian magazine's top doctors issue. A few of my surgeons were actually listed; the others merely advertised. My sole criterion: a free consultation. I tried to get a woman's perspective, but all the female doctors I called charge between $100 to $250 just to tell you how awful you look. I did not tell the doctors I was working on an article—no one asked my line of work—so I am not revealing their names.
Dr. Gravity's waiting room is drab—a bad sign, I think, for a practice that is selling its aesthetic skills, although the two receptionists are young and flawless. Dr. Gravity, who looks like he just graduated from medical school, calls me into his consulting room, puts me in a sort of paper-covered dental chair, and sits opposite me on a stool. We enter into a game of cat-and-saggy-mouse.
"What can I do for you?" he asks.
"I look old and lousy," I say. He begins to press me on what specifically I want done, and I tell him I don't know, I want his advice. He says it's unethical to tell someone she needs a procedure, unless it's obvious she has skin cancer.
"My jaw line is cracking up," I say.
He nods, "Anything else?"
I realize from his tone there is a right answer.
"My eyes?" I reply. Bingo!—he nods his head again.