Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Making faces: People's "100 Most Beautiful" issue

Hank: This morning I drank too much coffee, and as so often happens I have been experiencing a bout of intestinal distress. It has given me a chance to look at your "100 Most Beautiful" issue of People. Is there one particular cosmetic surgeon who specializes in computer-generated faces, honey, or is it a bigger trend? Halle Berry used to be so gorgeous, and now she scares me. I miss bad facelifts. They were entertaining. Today there are so many blank, perfect faces on old and young alike that it just makes me sad. Do you know what these women have, Phyllis? They have mall faces. Their mugs look like anonymously, efficiently designed high traffic public spaces.

Do you remember George Orwell's observation that "On their fiftieth, everybody wears the face they deserve"? I think he was talking about the way your experience gets written into the lines of your face. This is why Gwyneth Paltrow's mom is still hot--at, what, 60?--and Halle Berry and Sarah Jessica Parker and Meg Ryan are not; on
their fiftieth, they will only have the faces that they paid for.

It also calls to mind the words of Roland Barthes (still, for my money, the finest critic ever run over by a laundry truck), who once said that it was not nudity that was erotic, but the intermittence of clothing and skin. And isn't that like saying it's not natural beauty that's sexy so much as the mixture of natural beauty and world-worn lines of experience?

Are there any Hollywood faces that particularly bother you, sugar?

Phyllis: I am coming to think that plastic surgery, when it's not wholly egregious and monstrous, is sort of like urban development--when a building that's always been there is suddenly demolished and replaced with a parking lot, it's hard to remember where exactly that deli or corner store or nail salon once stood. That said, there are certain faces that I really can't take:

1. Nicole Kidman: She was never particularly beautiful, really, but she had a pleasant softness to her. Now, neither her face nor her person has any personality. She is tight, pursed, shiny, and mean. I don't like her anymore. But I continue to love
Moulin Rouge.

2. Nancy Pelosi: Her nose could open envelopes.

3. Posh Spice: Burn victim who had no choice but to construct a nose out of bone cartilage.

4. Michael Jackson and his whole family, Courtney Love (she still looks pretty messy, which is human at least), Melanie Griffith, Meg Ryan (she was never pretty, but that doesn't mean she has to look like a duck), and Tori Spelling.

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