Bacall's bias against plastic surgery shouldn't shame actresses pressured to look younger

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Lauren Bacall

Lauren Bacall (Christine Gunnet / Reuters / August 13, 2014)

The Lauren Bacall gem popping up almost as frequently as the whistle quote in this week's tributes is one that speaks to the legendary beauty's rejection of plastic surgery.

"I think your whole life shows in your face. And you should be proud of that."

While the quote may have had nothing to do with plastic surgery — The Guardian's appreciation says she uttered it in defense of her smoking habit, despite cigarettes' wrinkling agencies — Bacall was famously vocal about her contempt for youth-chasing procedures.

"Never!" she told a Scotsman reporter who asked, in 2005, if she ever considered a face lift. "Why would I want to look like someone from another generation? Why do middle-aged women want to look 18?"

One year prior, she told The Daily Mail, "I have friends who are beautiful women, and they are having liposuction and boob lifts, and I say 'What are you doing to yourselves? Stop it!' I disdain this whole youth sickness thing."

I'm with her on the disdain. But I don't wonder why beautiful women do it anyway.

Celebrities who choose cosmetic surgery are a byproduct of "youth sickness," not the cause of it. Youth equals opportunity in Hollywood — at least for women.

I don't need to recycle the list of films that pair actors with much-younger love interests. OK, fine, I'll recycle a few recent titles: Liam Neeson and Olivia Wilde in 2013's "Third Person." He was 61 at the time, she was 29. Richard Gere and Laetitia Casta in 2012's "Arbitrage." Gere was 63 when the film came out; Casta was 34. Tom Cruise, 50 at the time, and Olga Kurylenko, then 33, in 2013's "Oblivion." (Check out this list from Vulture for more examples.)

Geraldo Rivera caught heck recently for telling Fox News, "What I think a woman brings to a marriage more than anything else, to a relationship, is her youth. Youth is a fragile and diminishing resource."

I hear people lamenting what Meg Ryan, Courteney Cox and other actresses have done to their faces and I think, "How about what the culture has done to their psyches?"

Why are we shaming women for doing what they believe, thanks to very good evidence, is necessary to keep them relevant in their chosen field?

I suppose there's a chicken/egg conversation to be had. If more women refused to go under the knife — if more adopted Bacall's approach — maybe Hollywood would be forced to change its ways. Maybe by allowing themselves to be afflicted with "youth sickness," actresses are playing Hollywood's game, rather than forcing it to change its rules.

Maybe. Meanwhile, maybe we could all resist the urge to pile on when the conversation turns to the supposed scourge that is plastic surgery.

I recently had the opportunity to meet and interview Marlo Thomas when she was in town for the Chicago Tribune's Lit Fest. As you probably know, Thomas is a feminist icon, the co-founder of the Ms. Foundation for Women, a tireless activist for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, a best-selling author and a celebrated actress.

But very quickly the social media conversation around her event turned to her face and the cosmetic work she's allegedly had done.

"The saddest thing I've ever seen," one woman commented on Facebook.

Sadder than sidestepping a person's accomplishments to talk, yet again, about her appearance? I disagree.

I think it's lovely to allow your whole life to show in your face. I think it can also show in your work. And that's just as lovely.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

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