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Unreal World

In an industry where nips and tucks are the norm, ANDREW MCCARTHY explores the beauty of self-acceptance.

Grace Under Pressure – Whether they rely on genes or have had a little help along the way, these women have perfected the art of aging well. From Fashion (May 2013)

Grace Under Pressure – Whether they rely on genes or have had a little help along the way, these women have perfected the art of aging well. From Fashion (May 2013)

By Andrew McCarthy

First, the disclaimer: i’m a man, so I can’t speak first-hand to the pressures women feel to look a certain way. But as an actor, and consequently someone who has made a living based largely on how I look, physical appearance is a topic I consider frequently. In my youth, the idea of cosmetic surgery amused me as something relegated to Beverly Hills dowagers and fading starlets. But as the years have passed, and with the advent of so many new techniques, more and more of my peers have succumbed. The buff and plump, to say nothing of the nip and tuck, have become de rigueur. Yet something about all the peeling and freezing troubles me. I just couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was—until recently.

It isn’t necessarily the physical effect, though I often find that odd and unnatural-looking. The thing that is so unsettling, so worrisome to me, is the message cosmetic surgery is broadcasting about the person who has had the work done. I know it’s not the signal they want to send.

What got me thinking about this, and how I came to my realization, was learning that a certain (male) rock star—someone whose career I have long followed, whose albums I own and whom I have admired for his seemingly genuine sense of self—admitted to having Botox. Some may praise his courage in coming clean, but this information made me sad. And I wondered why it did.

While it’s difficult to find a newscaster sitting behind a desk on television who can knit his or her brow when reporting horrific stories, this revelation about my rock idol shed light on something that I had previously not considered. It told me something of his character that I wish it hadn’t. I was somehow disappointed in my rock star.

In examining my disappointment, I found myself asking: What exactly is it that’s attractive about a person? For me, there seems no one specific physical characteristic that is consistent in all the people I find beautiful. Something more elusive, it seems, is at the heart of the matter; something that is perhaps not even a physical trait. It finally dawned on me that every person I find beautiful in one fashion or another does share one quality: the acceptance—I’d go so far as to say the embracing—of their imperfection, humanity and fallibility. Their willingness to let others see their humanity, instead of some mask, is what I find so attractive. It is, to me, at the core—perhaps the very essence—of beauty.

Have you ever seen a fat man dance well? It’s a gorgeous thing—somehow even more dazzling than seeing a thin man dance just as well. I think the reason is it boasts a certain joyful confidence born of self-acceptance, which is undeniably attractive. And it’s just that lack of self-acceptance that I see broadcast across my rock star hero’s forehead— when what I know I’m meant to see is a smooth and chiselled polish.

I understand that not everyone can be Helen Mirren or Jacqueline Bisset, the poster children of graceful, sexy, natural aging. But isn’t beauty—and sexiness, for that matter—more evident in a certain aura, or energy, than it is in a jaw line? Don’t we all know a man whose nose is across his face, or a woman whose smile is crooked, yet when we look at them it doesn’t seem to matter—they’ve simply got it? But what exactly is it? Isn’t it something intangible these people radiate that proclaims (with humility), “I’m me”?

There are things about my own face I’d be very happy to see realigned. My nose bends off to the right, my mouth droops a little on the left—in fact, the entire left side of my face hangs lower than the right side. As for that extra skin under my chin, I’d be very happy to live without it. Then there are the three scars and my crinkly neck. But they are me, and if I change them, what kind of message am I sending myself, let alone the world?

Perhaps I’m attaching too much meaning to all this. People often say they simply feel better about themselves after cosmetic surgery, so why the hell not? And if aging has taught me one thing, it’s that my feelings and positions evolve. (And thank God for that. At nearly 50, would I still want to be listening to The Doors sing “Light My Fire” every afternoon?) So maybe one day I will have myself plumped, scraped, tucked, lifted and buffed. But for now, I think I’d rather go dancing.

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Tuesday, March 28 at 7pm Barnes & Noble Union Square In conversation with Gayle Forman 33 E. 17th St., New York, NY 10003 Wednesday, March 29 at 7pm Barnes & Noble Vernon Hills Shopping Center 680 Post Rd., Eastchester, NY 10583 Thursday, March 30 at 7pm Books & Greetings 271 Livingston St., Northvale, NJ 07647 Saturday, April 1 Texas Teen Book Con | Houston, TX Sunday, April 2 Alamo Drafthouse | Austin, TX Monday, April 3 at 7pm Books, Inc Opera Plaza Not Your Mother’s Book Club 601 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA 94107 Tuesday, April 4 at 7pm Book Passage 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA 94925 Wednesday, April 5 at 8pm Live Talks LA In conversation with Pico Iyer Ann and Jerry Moss Theatre, New Roads School 3131 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90404 Thursday, April 6 at 7pm Elliott Bay Books 1521 10th Ave., Seattle, WA 98122 Friday, April 7 at 7pm Powell’s Books 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton, OR 97005 Sunday, April 9 at 5pm Politics & Prose 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 Monday, April 10 at 7pm Boswell Books 2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53211 Tuesday, April 11 at 7pm The Book Stall at Chestnut Court In conversation with Betsy Bird 811 Elm St., Winnetka, IL 60093 Wednesday, April 12 at 7pm Talk of the Stacks Series Hennepin County Library Minneapolis Central Library 300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55401 Thursday, April 13 at 6:30pm Parnassus Books Hillsboro Plaza Shopping Center 3900 Hillsboro Pike #14, Nashville, TN 37215 Tuesday, April 18 at 6:30pm Rainy Day Books At Woodneath Library 8900 N. Flintock Rd., Kansas City, MO 64157 Wednesday, April 19 at 7pm St. Louis County Library With The Novel Neighbor 1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63131 Thursday, April 20 at 7pm Georgia Center for the Book With Little Shop of Stories Dekalb County Public Library 215 Sycamore St., Decatur, GA 30030 Friday, April 21 at 7pm Books & Books 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, FL 33134 Tuesday, April 25 at 7pm Barnes & Noble Market Fair, 3535 US-1 #400, Princeton, NJ 08540 Wednesday, April 26 at 7pm Brookline Booksmith 279 Harvard St., Brookline, MA 02446 Monday, May 1 at 7pm Darien Library In conversation with Dani Shapiro 1441 Post Rd., Darien, CT 06820

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