Just a Little Off the Jowls, Please

Like lots of women, Margery Eagan never considered herself a candidate for plastic surgery. Here she reveals what made her get a facelift, why she lied about it to her coworkers and kids, and just how much “growing old gracefully” has changed.


The good news: I had my facelift Friday. Wide awake. Heard the scissors snip, snip. Saw the needle stitch, stitch. Just a mini lift. Didn’t hurt. Drove myself home.

The bad news: On Saturday I dramatically unwrap the stretchy-bandage contraption from under my chin, round and round. “You don’t look any different,” says my sister.

Oh, no! She’s right! Shoot myself now!

“Mom, what was that thing on your head?” asks my 14-year-old son. “Jaw surgery,” I tell him. He considers that for a moment. Then he flips on ESPN and asks for his usual cheese omelet and toast. That’s more good news. For weeks you fret: What to tell the children? Apparently, you can tell them anything. The teenage ones don’t care what you wear on your head. They don’t care if you have a head at all as long as you’re quick with the cheese omelet and toast, which I was, a mere 24 hours after surgery. The oldest child, happily, is away for the summer. I do not yet need to justify to her this demented self-mutilation. But then, what would she know, at 21, of the tyranny of the jowls? Or of how a girl who once had them hopping at gas stations, office parties, just existing in a summer dress—well, how that same girl fades into the background more and more with each passing year until—poof!—she’s invisible?

The morning after the lift, like some matronly version of Dorian Gray, I spend every spare moment staring at myself. It’s what I’ve been doing, pathetically, for months before my “procedure,” maybe 10 times a day. I’ve stared while washing my face, while sitting in the car at a stoplight, while driving 75 mph down I-93. I’ve stared, horrified, whenever I’d catch my drawn reflection at the end of a two-job-six-day-workweek, divorced-mother-of-three day. I’d see how my once sharp jaw line was rounding, sagging; how my once smooth, taut cheeks were collapsing over my mouth. Would my lips be disappearing soon?

Then I’d fantasize. I’d take the index and middle fingers of both hands, pull the skin of my cheeks back, and imagine how I’d look post-knife, how my life and confidence would improve, how I’d now be able to date someone—let’s not get too carried away here—younger than 70, perhaps?
On this Saturday, I have the big hand mirror going, the three-way reflection set up, every angle, up and down and profile. My neck. My jaw. My cheeks. My mouth.

Thankfully, I do not look ridiculous, like Farrah Fawcett. I’m not bruised, hardly swollen; my stitches are well hidden by my ears and hair. But do I look “tighter, younger, rested, energized”—the supposed reward of the so-called weekend mini lift that’s far less drastic than the full-fledged deal? In on Friday, back to work in less than a week, with nary a telltale sign?

At night I visit two of my lifelong friends. Neither tells me how wonderful I look. But one of them does ask why, when I turn to the left or right, I move not just my head but my entire body, as if I’ve swallowed a fishing pole. “Jaw surgery,” I reply.

For 18 years, I’ve written a column for the Boston Herald. For seven, I’ve cohosted a political talk show on 96.9 FM. I’ve raised my children with reasonable success. I may be vain, shallow, and superficial with an irrational terror of growing old. But I am not deranged, yet. So what does it say when my mood roller coasters from agony to ecstasy based on hearing—or not hearing—that my jaw line has improved?

A few days later, I’m with my sister again. We sit on the porch in full daylight, the cruelest kind. “I can see the difference from the side,” she says, unsolicited. “Your neck. And you have cheekbones again.”

I smother her with kisses.

Later that night: “You look fantastic,” says Disapproving Friend No. 1, who thinks plastic surgery should be banned. “You don’t notice much because you didn’t need this in the first place. It’s subtle. It’s perfect.” But then, he always says things like that.

Dr. Mack Cheney of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, a Harvard Medical School professor, is my mini-facelift man, and so much more. Within hours of stitching me up, he’s off to Ecuador with the Medical Missions for Children Foundation to surgically craft new ears for children born without them. He also treats patients with facial paralysis and those disfigured by burns or cancer. In other words, he’s got gravitas. In this context that means, reassuringly, he’s not just rearranging the skin of middle-aged women like those of us speculating madly about one another—stealing secret glances here and there—as we wait in his elegant outer office with its dark wood walls and rich leather couches high above the Charles and the sailboats, the young and taut joggers reminding us of our distant salad days.

“Tell me if you feel anything,” Dr. Cheney says with a soothing Tupelo, Mississippi, drawl, like one of those comforting pilots out of The Right Stuff, eternally unruffled. He’s playing Country 99.5 in the chilled operating room, and he tells me he’s got tickets for the Dixie Chicks. He gives me three shots behind each ear. It stings, but not much. A half hour later, he gives me three more shots, each side. I feel nothing. Three more shots a little while after that, and then I lie back, turn my face to the right, and hear the incision on the left side of my head, behind my ear. I feel him pull the skin of my neck. On the table beside me the bloody gauze bandages pile up. Yet we’re chatting, joking, and in less than an hour, he’s done.

“You can wash your hair tomorrow,” he says as his assistant Marcelles wraps the Ace bandage around my head. I add a big blue scarf. I feel fine, excited. It’s a new day. As I stroll out I pass a limo driver’s wife who’s waiting for her own procedure. She’s been saving, she tells me. Mini facelifts cost between $3,000 and $3,500 at Mass. Eye and Ear, compared with $10,000 and up for a full-fledged one. “Nothing to it,” I tell her, and it’s true. Surgery center manager Missy Allen, who had her own mini lift televised on Channel 5’s Chronicle, says, “Women do this now like they whiten their teeth.” That’s true, too. They just lie about facelifts more.

Cheney prescribes Vicodin. I don’t need it. A day of ice packs and Tylenol and ice cream (I do not want to chew) and I’m walking the dog, getting takeout at Whole Foods. A part of me feels embarrassed and even sinful about what I’ve just done. Children are starving, etc. Another part of me thinks, what’s the fuss? Why the big bugaboo about plastic surgery—the evil thing all of Hollywood, and many of my acquaintances, pretend they haven’t done when it’s obvious they have?

I once joked with a friend about what would happen in these perilous times, if the terrorists were to win and ban our great American beauty regimes. No more trips to the hairdresser or the eyebrow waxer or the dermatologist for the Botox and Restylane, never mind the Vietnamese pedicurist to revive our dry, cracked heels. Within days, millions of American women would sport two inches of gray roots, unibrows, refurrowed foreheads, and deep canals between nose and mouth. However, those with the foresight to get a facelift, while hirsute, would maintain their status quo for five years or more. Thus are the “lifted” better prepared for a terrorist invasion.

So, why did I do this?

Fear.

I am a tall, thin, blue-eyed, straight-haired dark blonde, with help covering the gray from Anne at Tintelations.

I am also post-45. I refuse to tell you exactly how much post-45. You’ll have to guess. In any case, I am now almost the oldest woman at both of my jobs, which is scary. Until I was 40, I wondered: Do my bosses really like my work, or just me? Now I wonder: What happens when the bosses stop seeing me, aesthetically speaking, among the sea of computers? The demographic my radio station wants is 25 to 54. What happens when I edge too close to the upper end? Am I then too old and ugly—and fired?

Like Betty Crocker or Ann Landers, a picture of me runs next to my column. Ten years ago an expert stylist spent three hours making me look like Ms. Come-Hither Reporter. Here’s what happens: I go out on a story. I hear, “Boy, you look different in the paper.” Two months ago a twentysomething man rushed up to meet me after I’d given a talk to some Tomorrow’s Leaders types. I could tell he was disappointed. I could be his mother. “You sound so much younger on the air,” he’d said. Such is the stuff that rattles one’s confidence. I almost feel it necessary to apologize for not being Norah O’Donnell on MSNBC or one of those can-my-lips-get-any-wetter-or-fuller Fox News babes, the ones with skirts like Band-Aids and teased-to-withstand-a-hurricane hair. The talking-head men, however, can be bald, fat, and 50. Or older.

Meredith Vieira’s replacing Katie Couric on Today is such a joyful exception to the rule. Vieira’s 52, and looks it. Couric’s 49, and doesn’t.

But don’t get me wrong. My mini lift was not only about the job. It was about keeping up with other women. If none of us could do anything—from Botox to facelifts, maxi or mini—then we’d all go to seed together. As it is, we have this arsenal of options available. They work. Ignoring them has become akin, at least among certain women, to “letting yourself go,” as Mother used to say. The dilemma’s analogous to steroids in baseball. If half the team’s doing them, the other half loses its edge. Then what?

I resent these expectations, actually. I admire women who say the hell with it all.

I don’t know many. But I do know lots of hard-driving, tough-minded, shatter-the-glass-ceiling, post-45-year-old businesswomen, administrators, and political and media types who, in the privacy of a back booth over lunch, can’t wait to chat about their fountain-of-youth dreams.

You know, when I was 16, Gloria Steinem, in miniskirt and signature bug-eye glasses, spoke at my sister’s Smith College graduation. She said the words “orgasm” and “lesbian.” She spoke about a coming world where women would be judged by the size of their brains, not their breasts; by their wit, wisdom, and achievement, not their dewy youth and baby-making potential. My maiden aunts about had a heart attack. Small-town me? I’d never even heard such ideas, and I remember thinking that something revolutionary was at hand. Sometimes I wonder: Are we going backward?

Three weeks after Dr. Cheney and the Dixie Chicks, I have this last bit of very good news: His mini lift has done what it was supposed to. Near-obsessive mirror gazing has convinced me that I do look “tighter, younger, rested, energized.”

“Don’t worry,” Cheney had told me in that first week of postoperative angst. “This will tighten up nicely.” And it has. In fact, were I not announcing my mini lift here, no one would guess my preemptive propping up before significant and dreary collapse. That makes me sorry for this confession—but not sorry I did it.

Bottom line: For less than the cost of a family vacation—and with less downtime than a mild case of flu—you, too, can be slightly nipped, subtly tucked, maintain that all-important edge. Big breasts don’t always beat big brains anymore. In 2006, ladies, you’d best have both.

Margery Eagan is a longtime Boston Herald columnist and cohost of the radio show Eagan & Braude on 96.9 FM Talk. She lives with her three children in Brookline. This is her first facelift.

  • DianaBrowning

    I’ve been having many of the same fears that you just mentioned in your article, and therefore surfing the internet for answers – diet, exercise, even surgery. The best medicine for me, however, was reading about YOUR experiences. Sometimes, it is the soothsayer who has the true answers, and I certainly think that applies in this case. I’ve now concluded after reading your piece that aging gracefully and being at peace with oneself enough to do so is what really makes one beautiful, inside and out! I now officially reject all the shallowness and superficiality of the cosmetic Hollywood world, and that is how I plan on dealing with any fears I may experience regarding aging int the future. And yes, we HAVE gone backwards, in my opinion! Being a person who’d like to see some forward progress, I am pro any-movement-that-makes-a-woman-feel-like-a-whole-being….so, to hell with the chronological age thing/judging-a-female-on-whether-or-not some-man-feels-like-he-might-want-to-stick-his-penis-into-her, which is really what the whole physical aspect boils down to. Amen to real freedom for real women!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000120863590 Cori Camper

    Great article!

  • Maryann Kussmaul

    Good for you, Margery. You have encouraged me to do the same. Thank-you.

  • Susan Janes

    As the saying goes…I’m not trying to look younger, I’m not trying to look beautiful…I’m just trying to look better. I had a major facelift, plus some eye work and later some pullups. The difference is that I can look in the mirror without thinking OMG! I didn’t care what anyone else thought about it. I was very uncomfortable. My jowls and turkey gobbler were down to HERE, and my eye bags in the middle of my face. Why should I stay that way?