Most of us master our societal two-fold prime directive quite early in life. Before our cells even have the chance to completely turn over once – an event that happens about every seven years for those of you who are curious – we already know there are two things that we as women must never do. What are those two things? Well, I’ll give you a hint: they have nothing to do with murder or adultery.
1. Don’t get fat.
2. Don’t get old.
Never mind they are both biological processes. Perhaps in a nod toward the inevitability of entropy, society has subtly amended the rules to specify that, fine, if you must get fat or old, for heaven’s sake don’t look it. And thus the pharmaceutical cosmetic industry was born.
However – and this is something that slowly dawns on us as we rack up those inevitable years – eventually the two become mutually exclusive. For the under-40 set, one can generally be quite thin without looking overly aged. But once a woman reaches a certain age, the lack of fat in her face from an overall-thin frame, can make her look older than she is. This concept of “which cheeks would you choose?” is not a new one. Catherine Deneuve famously picked the northern set. But now researchers, having seen a gap in the scientific literature on the subject (and perhaps just looking for a reason to stare at pretty women), have stepped in to quantify exactly how much older you look as you lose weight.
Researchers at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine studied the body mass index of 200 pairs of female identical twins for two years, reports The Telegraph. Doctors chose twins so that they could control for genetic factors and focus only on environmental factors. The study found that twins with a BMI 4 points higher than their twin looked younger by two to four years. Doctors say this is because people who have lost weight have less volume in the face. “This loss of volume creates jowls and makes wrinkles develop,” he says. “The older we get, the more the face gets depleted. When you lose weight, this look is enhanced andis accelerated,” says Dr. Bahman Guyuron, lead study author, according to The New York Daily News.
Everyone saw this play out a couple of years ago when Sarah Jessica Parker, beloved by many women for her sartorial sense and keen acting chops, was voted as the ugliest woman alive by (the dumbest magazine in print) Maxim. It wasn’t explicitly stated – in fact they used a phrase involving an equine feature that I will not repeat here – but I think a lot of her lack of appeal to a certain subset of men was that while she has the ideal body for high fashion, her face is drawn and gaunt. Terri Hatcher and Nicolette Sheridan are also good examples of this phenomenon. (Please save the irate comments – I’m not saying any of the above women are ugly. I’m saying their overt thinness ages them. I personally do not find aging ugly. Unless you’re Michael Jackson or Jocelyn Wildestein. But then you probably have more important issues to worry about that if your cheeks look gaunt.)
So it becomes a balancing act between keeping enough padding for a youthful glow and yet staying healthy and trim. The study’s authors admonish, “Even though being really thin is perhaps in vogue, we are not advocating that you lose too much weight because even though your body may look thin, your face will look older.” They add that “yo-yo dieting also ages the skin by creating volume loss and repeatedly stretching facial ligaments.” This adds to previous research that has shown older adults with a BMI in the “overweight” (but not “obese”) BMI category live longer and suffer fewer debilitating illnesses than their normal-weight counterparts.
The study also introduces another lifestyle conundrum: antidepressant use will also make you look older than you are. The study speculates that antidepressants cause the relaxation of facial muscles. So if you are depressed and worried about looking older, now you have to decide which will age you more: the stress from hating your life or the muscle laxness from the happy pills. The third lifestyle factor that most ages you is divorce.
Heaven help you if you are a depressed, dieting, divorcee. You’d better have your Botox injections scheduled out a year in advance.
Or – and here’s a thought – we could skip the plastic surgery and instead all work on becoming more tolerant of natural processes like, say, getting older.