Ladder of Years: #A-Z Challenge

” ‘When my first wife was dying,’ he told Delia one afternoon, ‘I used to sit by her bed and I thought, This is her true face. It was all hollowed and sharpened. In her youth she’d been very pretty, but now I saw that her younger face had been just a kind of rough draft. Old age was the completed form, the final, finished version she’d been aiming at from the start. The real thing at last! I thought, and I can’t tell you how that notion coloured things for me from then on. Attractive young people I saw on the street looked so…temporary. I asked myself why they bothered dolling up. Didn’t they understand where they were headed? But nobody ever does it seems.’ “

Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler

A woman I know wasn’t happy with her true face as she aged. She stayed at work an extra year, retiring only when she had saved enough money to afford an expensive facelift. She thought the results were worth every cent and every minute of pain. It was empowering, she said, to make a decision that made her feel better about herself.

Rejecting Your True Face

She isn’t alone. Cosmetic surgery is a $7 billion dollar business in the United States. An additional $5 billion is spent on non-surgical procedures, such as Botox and skin rejuvenation.

Nearly one-third of surgical procedures are performed on patients over the age of 50. The top three are liposuction, eyelid surgery, and facelifts.

While there’s an increase in the number of 50+ men booking both surgical and non-surgical procedures, women still receive 91% of all cosmetic procedures.

In researching for this post, I googled “reasons not to get a facelift.” The first article was a response to my question. The second one was an advertisement, masquerading as information, by a plastic surgeon, titled “Top Reasons to Get a Facelift.”

Is it important to you to look younger than you are? 


Join the tribe:


  1. Nope, not important to look younger than what I am. I’m not trying to fool anyone and I am happy to still be around at almost 59 years. So many people I used to know, aren’t even here anymore. That being said, I developed a deep frown-line between my eyebrows that caked with makeup as the day went on and this drove me crazy, but a bit of botox took care of that very nicely. I’m also in the process of straightening my teeth with Invisalign. Because my increasingly crooked teeth were also driving me crazy every time I looked in the mirror. I don’t apologize for doing these things. It’s my body and I have the $, finally to do things for me that please me. So, long story short – not trying to look younger but do like to look my best self.


  2. I don’t have money set aside for plastic surgery, Karen. I’m embracing my aging face and body as best I can. I think older women who masquerade around looking much younger look like freaks – the surgical equivalent of a comb over. I saw Carol Burnette on a special she did this past year and wondered who she thought she was fooling with her mask-like face. I love the excerpt from Anne Tyler. What a great job you are doing on the A-Z challenge!

    1. I haven’t seen Carol Burnett. But I did see a photo of Goldie Hawn and felt desperately sad for her. Like Carol Burnett, she used to have such an animated, expressive face. Now it hardly moves. And those are women who can afford the huge bucks for the best plastic surgeons. Scary to think what a crapshoot the experience is for the average woman.
      Thanks for your kind words about the challenge. I love doing it.

  3. I love the quote you chose. Essentially, your face in old age is the finished product. That is a mind shift if I ever saw one. Once again, thanks for the new perspective.

  4. Have you noticed that there are so many commercials on the radio now for cosmetic surgery? Talk about driving people’s insecurities about how they look – particularly targeting young mothers and their post-baby bodies.

    I wish I could say I was immune to it, but I’m not – even though I’m far from young 😖

  5. I don’t have the big bucks for plastic surgery or botox or any of that, nor do I care to go that route anyway even if I could afford it. I am not here to impress anyone. I was always made fun of for how I looked in school (overweight) and as an adult, I have reached the point where I just don’t care anymore. I have lost some weight and now my face is puffier than when I was younger. There are wrinkles and laugh lines and thanks to heredity my hair is pretty much gray/white all over. You can’t see the true state of my hair though since dye kits are my friend and have been since I was in my early twenties (now 56). I do colour my hair but it’s for me. I just didn’t like how old I looked or felt every time I saw gray hair in the mirror but weirdly enough the wrinkles and puffiness doesn’t bother me. One day maybe I will just let the hair dye go too but only when I am ready to. Meh, I am who I am….no makeup either. We refer to it as war paint in this house…I never did care for it when I tried it when I was younger. It always felt goopy on my face and unnatural.
    That is a great quote you start with up there, Karen. I am not denying my true face but, for now, at least, the hair framing it gets an every 6-8 week colour to freshen it up.

  6. I appreciate how we each make the choices that are best for us, and that we are supportive of everyone else’s choices on this site. And it’s so interesting to me that we each have different things that are important to us. Like Deb and her teeth, or you and your hair colour. I’ve let my hair go grey and am happy with that, but do find it disturbing sometimes that my eyebrows are pretty much gone – thanks to a combination of my thyroid disease and the grey hair. We all have our issues 🙂

    1. You are right Karen, we all do have our issues but I think that is just the human condition. I can totally relate to Deb wanting to fix up her teeth. It was her comment that got me thinking about anything I feel the need to change for my own happiness. It is my hair colour that drives me crazy.

      Thanks, once again, for an insightful post that a) gets conversations going and b) helps all of us reflect on us and where we are in life. I truly love this site that helps us all be our best selves. So proud to be a member of the tribe! 😀

  7. Hi Karen, I didn’t forget…
    Copied from April 3, 2018 at 12:03 pm (per your request 😉
    “I was thinking the other day about when grandmas looked like grandmas. Now we have a culture that is so perfection and youth-centered that we no longer feel comfortable with a few lines on our faces and a little extra around our midsections. I know that it’s good to be healthy and active, but I wonder if there is some sort of happy medium. I always loved that Jamie Lee Curtis took a stand on this, eschewing airbrushing and plastic surgery-and even stopped coloring her hair. It made me feel powerful somehow, knowing we don’t have to keep up with Hollywood. (Stepping off the soapbox now).”

    Have a wonderful day!

  8. I did start to consider cosmetic surgery when I started online teaching. There, all my students see is my face. We don’t really interact any other way. And my field is technology-in-education. I thought I should project more youth to them.

    I haven’t taken the leap yet!

  9. I’ve accepted the aging me, and as Heather said, I simply look like a grandma. If I was worried about my true face with all the wrinkles, sags and spots, I would have to put an expensive plastic surgeon on retainer!

  10. I too love your opening quote, Karen. I’ve commented previously, that my favourite thing about retirement is that I get to be more of my true self than I have ever been before. That goes for my appearance as well. Even if plastic surgery was free, I have no desire to physically alter how I look. I’ve worked hard for these laugh lines (among other features). I want to keep them!

  11. I don’t ever want to get cosmetic surgery. But I have to also add, when so many other woman are doing facelifts, it becomes harder to be the only one in a group who isn’t. It can make you look even older than you already are. Not easy.

    1. I think I must roam with a different crowd, Cathi. I don’t know anyone who has had a facelift, other than that one acquaintance I mentioned at the beginning. But I can well imagine that the peer pressure would be significant.

  12. Anne Tyler is a very wise woman, I love her books. I can’t remember if i’ve said that here before – i’ve certainly discussed her on somebody’s blog recently.

    I would never have plastic surgery, I don’t think it fools anyone (and I don’t want to fool people anyway). But then I haven’t worn make up for years (even hypoallergenic stuff irritates me and eventually I got to the age where I didn’t care) and I stopped colouring my hair years ago too, so some people would probably say I don’t care much about my appearance. But I do! I like to be smartly turned out and co-ordinated, and if I look my age, so what? I’d rather live life than spend hours titivating before I considered myself fit to step out the door.

    1. I had to look up ‘titivating’. Great word, Anabel. Thanks for adding to my vocabulary.
      Yes, it was on this site that you mentioned your love for Anne Tyler’s work. I agree, and am happy that there are still several of her books that I haven’t read yet.

  13. I’ve never been one to be concerned about my looks. I know I am neither gorgeous nor hideously ugly. For the most part, I’ve rejected the cosmetic culture — except for a brief 3-year stint in administration a few years back that involved high-level fundraising — never wore makeup or dyed my hair. I believe I deserve every grey hair and wrinkle as a gift and sign of the wisdom that comes from aging. I appreciate when others sport makeup and hair color that works for them, compliment others on their appearance, and fully embrace my choice to opt out of such. I think the world would be a much better place if everyone felt confident enough to do what makes them feel good instead of worrying about what others think.

  14. it is interesting how important this is – how we look – and it seems to hold more importance then how we feel about ourselves. I recognise my vanity ( seeded by society no doubt)- recently I had passport photos taken and I despair at the me I am looking at and yet I am also philosophical about this as well- hey this is me and really I dont care. I am beautiful on the inside despite crooked teeth and all . I have no interest in plastic surgery and grapple to understand it .

    1. You’re right, Sandra. The comments make it clear that this is not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for many of us. There are many shades of grey, and they’re not all in our hair.

  15. I can’t even think of necessary surgery, let alone elective. The pain, the suffering. And it seems it’s hardly a one-time event, but there comes a time when retouches are needed — more pain, more money. Then again, I’ve changed my mind on things before. I know women who look very nice without surgery. Maybe the personality shines through? Not sure. They use various creams and treatments, eat well, sleep well, exercise. And I’ve come across women who have had surgery and something on their faces was lost. Something personal and endearing. That saddens me a little.

    1. Elective surgery worries me too, Silvia. Every time anaesthetic is used, there’s a risk. Just spending a night in a hospital is a risk for all sorts of super bugs. Not that I’d think too much about any of that if surgery were necessary, but if it’s not, maybe it’s not worth the risk.

  16. I work for a surgeon who does breasts and abdominoplasty – I’ve had kids, my boobs droop and I have a little pooch on my midline, but you know what? They are “me” and the cost and pain and recovery time to achieve something that is fake to make me look “perkier” just gets less attractive all the time. I’m a midlife woman who is allowed to be less than “perfect” – we should be celebrating that not faking it.

    Leanne |
    M for Make It Happen

    1. You have a front-row seat to the world of cosmetic surgery, Leanne. Your thoughts are very helpful to me, especially when it comes to those particular body parts, which I don’t love but am working at embracing rather than excising.

  17. Cosmetic surgery to look younger is ridiculous. I understand if you’ve been in an accident or been burnt – that you want to resemble how you looked before but this…
    It was a lovely post and I don’t think looking younger than one’s years is something to strive for.

  18. In theory, I love the idea of just aging naturally. I admire the signs of age on others. There are many beautiful old people out there, and not beautiful because they fit a youthful ideal. In theory, I think I could embrace that. And yet, when I look in the mirror, it is with a critical eye. I see my thinning hair, the sagging flesh under my chin, the vertical lines that frame my mouth…and none of that fits any ideal of aging gracefully. I have never had an income that would allow me to consider options, so I don’t know if I would. Thoughtful post, Karen!

    1. Thank you, Cindy. I’m thinking that not having the income to consider the possibility may be the blessing in disguise. When I look at your profile picture, I see a face that is animated, curious, fully alive, and fun.

  19. I’m happy to report that I never cared too much about my looks. Inner beauty is more important to me, when it comes to myself or others. I’ve never been affected by beauty ads, or any ads for that manner. I never use make-up (fits in nicely with my minimalistic approach to life), am not fashionable at all, and go to a cheap $20 hairdresser twice a year. When we were on our boat, my hair was longer and Mark cut the ends once in a while. We still cut his hair at home every couple of months. I wear my clothes until they NEED to get disposed and hate shopping. I love the fact that we don’t need much and don’t spend much. And, that all my clothes are comfy!

    So no, it’s not important to me to look younger than I am. I actually have no idea how old or young I look. The one thing I wish I could change, though, are my crooked teeth! And, it would be nice to see better as well. 🙂

    1. Hi Liesbet,
      When you respond to posts like this one, I am reminded again of what a very different life you lead. A “life less ordinary” for sure, and one that is a great reminder to all of us that there are options for how we live and shopping, dressing up, monthly haircuts, wearing makeup – all are choices, not requirements!
      Seeing better isn’t a cosmetic change at all. It needs to be, especially for a writer!! I hope that’s something you’ll have an opportunity to do something about.

  20. So thankful that you found my blog and left a message on the Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone post there. If I could wave a wand and have my pre-cervical spinal surgery neck without its waggles and wobbles, I would. I realize that my scar is a kind of badge that says I had this surgery and I have survived. Or more than survived, I have continued to flourish and live a wonderful life. But I would hope that my life would speak to that without a wiggly neck!

    It has been my very limited experience through others that cosmetic surgery opens a kind of Pandora’s box. You start with one surgery and that multiplies and leads to more, and rather than finding satisfaction in your new, improved look, you find more dissatisfaction in every other part of your part. Snowballs things.

    Here’s to being happy with who we are, inside and out! Maybelline makeup or Sephora. Padded bras or breast augmentation.

    1. Yes, Leslie, you have done far more than survive. You have thrived. You are thriving.
      And double yes to being happy with who we are. Not just accepting, not just okay with it, but truly happy. It’s a quest, but one worth going on.

  21. I, too, love reading Anne Tyler. Very wise comment. I’ve been ruminating on this post. I know that good looks are important, and know that my appearance did help me advance my career over the years. While I personally never discriminated on the basis of looks when I was on a hiring team, I know that many do. My friends that are still working color their hair; those who have retired, do not, for the most part. Perhaps perceptions of youth being more energetic? Which they may be, but …..How about forging perceptions of older is wiser? Being well-groomed should be enough. I hope for the day when we do not consider appearance as a major factor in hiring.
    I have had many major non-elective surgeries over the years, plus skin cancers, which have left me with visible scars. After spending a summer away from the beach, I decided that vanity was not worth it, since I love water, especially the ocean, so slathered myself with sunscreen and off I went, scars and all. A couple of years ago, Lands End came up with sun swim shirts and cropped swim pants, so now I am fully protected from the sun and can swim my laps! I was initially embarrassed by my swim attire, but now embrace it, as I can stay at the beach and swim or kayak all day. I only need two to three haircuts per year, being fortunate to have long, straight hair. At age 66, I keep thinking I should cut it short, but can’t seem to do it, since I still like it halfway down my back, and it is still half blond mixed with the gray. Convention would say, cut it, but I don’t. I’ve never had a pedicure, and only once a manicure, mostly due to allergies. Might it be fun? Probably. Friends tell me I ‘should’ get those for the summer at least, but I resist. I admit, I have used anti-aging creams for years, and they do help to mitigate the appearance of lines, which probably means I am not totally fine with the aging process. Exercising has been more for staying healthy, particularly in light of all my surgeries, but I can’t say I diet to stay thin, which I would like to do, but would rather not count calories!
    Society, in general, focuses way too much on appearance. How one dresses or wears their hair seems too important not only in professional life, but life! Think about negative opinions of visible tattoos, men with long hair, etc. I always ‘knew’ how to dress for the appropriate occasion, and coached my students and my own child, but inwardly cringed that we all needed a dress code so as not to be judged negatively by our appearance.
    If we are less concerned about our outer appearance as we age, we have more time to be concerned with developing our inner self. I am drawn to those people with a shining aura, and try to work towards that aura as well. Then, no matter our age, our light will shine through.
    Maybe that’s part of the aging process – we can accept who we really are, as we are, without worrying about who we need to be according to the general societal rules.

    1. Hi Carol. Thank you so much for your very thoughtful comment. It’s clear that this is something that you’ve given a great deal of thought to, and you seem to have come to a place where you feel fairly happy with the choices you’re making while still looking forward to being more inwardly focused as time goes by.
      I like your comment about the shining aura. I was doing a meditation once where I was supposed to imagine what I looked like ten years from now. What I really wanted, more than anything, was to have the kind of face, body language, and mannerisms that exude a calm, positive wisdom. That image had nothing to do with how much I weighed or what I was wearing. It felt good!

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