The burning question arose again recently-hardly for the first time: Has Hillary Clinton undergone a face-lift?
This time it was a voice in the crowd at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) who voiced the opinion that she should. Only a few weeks earlier, Fox News speculated that she'd had one already, with incriminating before and (allegedly) after photos.
While I appreciate Paul Begala's support of Clinton with his suggestion that only Republican socialites work on their faces, I would have preferred him to remind the crowd that the law has not yet been written that a woman's concern for her appearance is now a crime.
Like Hillary Clinton, I came of age during an era of highly vocal feminism, and, like her, was the beneficiary of some of its advances. I was seventeen when I entered Yale University, in its third class of women-where I found myself, for my scholarship job, bussing the dining tables of students at the Yale Law School. I don't remember clearing the plates of Hillary and Bill Clinton that year, but it's a good bet I did. And an even better bet that Hillary wore little if any makeup at the time. None of us did.
That was the year the Equal Rights Amendment was being fiercely debated, the year before Title IX, when the first issue of Ms. magazine hit the stands. In those days, it was a badge of honor to look as natural as possible-eschew makeup, nylons, possibly even underwear.
But as much as we talked in those days about the ways in which the standards of female beauty had served to oppress and subjugate women in our society, the most powerful force we had to fight against may have been the images in our own minds. The girls in my dormitory who hung banners out their windows in support of the ERA were among the same ones who disappeared into the bathroom to make themselves throw up, as their way of keeping acceptably thin. I was one such girl myself.
Now, at age 59, I stand in front of the mirror and pull my skin taut, like a woman adjusting her panty hose to smooth out the baggy knees. It's often painful, catching a glimpse of my face in the mirror and wondering what happened to the person I used to see there. (And then fighting off the guilt that I care as much as I do.)
Some of this is about simple vanity. But there's another reason. Though I never earned my living based on how I looked, it has not escaped my notice that I have seldom participated in a meeting about my work in which a reference wasn't made to my appearance. Had I lost weight? Was this a new hair color? Lately the line I get is "you're holding up great." Or this one: You don't look your age. The implication clear: that looking 59 would not be such a good thing.
(Now it appears that even looking 26 is suspect. Consider Lindsay Lohan's well-circulated mug shot, and the strangely tight and plumped and polished faces of a growing number of young actresses, not yet thirty, who appear to be not simply buying into the notion that a woman's value diminishes when there are miles on her face, but lowering the bar so the dropoff now commences somewhere around 24.)
It doesn't always go this way. But for every Meryl Streep who sails through, unassisted by dermatologists or surgeons, there are twenty Madonnas (and Nancy Pelosi's) who may have felt the need to make a different choice.
As for me, I haven't gotten a facelift, and I don't see that in the cards. Instead, I show up twice a year at the office of a very skilled dermatologist, who sticks needles in my face that have magically lifted my chin line back to its original location, more or less. The Botox I have injected in my forehead has not robbed me of expression. I just don't look mad all the time, the way I did for a while there. I don't plump up my lips and I don't get peels. I look like myself. Eight years ago.
A person shouldn't need a smooth chin line to publish novels or serve as Secretary of State. But if any of us had any doubt that she'd be judged for her face, (she looks too old, she looks too young) we need look no further than the conveniently anonymous Hillary-bashing of that CPAC attendee. That's how it goes for a woman over 40, facing the prospect of aging in the public eye. First they get you for possessing wrinkles. (God forbid, jowls.) Then they get you again if you do something about it.
Has Hilary Clinton had a face-lift? I honestly don't know or care. But I understand if she has. Sometimes, looking one's best is the best revenge.
Joyce Maynard's new novel, After Her, will be published this summer, and the film adaptation of her novel Labor Day, starring Kate Winslet, is due for release later this year.
More from Vogue:
Justin Timberlake's Style Evolution
Beauty Looks for All Ages
Vogue's Denim Guide
Spring Skin Prep