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The Real Face of 50

Science and surgeries now offer paths to delay the aging process. But not everyone is taking them.

In our 30s we worried more about our hips and bellies; after 50 we become concerned with our faces. Our eyelids begin to droop, our lips get thinner, our skin loses its fullness and elasticity. It happens on a deep, cellular level — and it happens to everyone. The loss of fat in the face is the most defining change, and it can leave people looking gaunt; the skin wrinkles and sags without its support. Ironically, for years the sought-after result of a face-lift was a taut, cadaver ­ like look, but these days surgeons often inject fat under the skin to produce a plump, somewhat childlike result.
Though each year many more of us buy into the antiage craze, polls show that millions of holdouts care more about being healthy than looking younger.

The quest to look younger has much to do with class and race. A preoccupation with one's looks is still a luxury of those who have money, and it remains predominantly a white phenomenon. Research suggests that African American women (who, as with all people of color, enjoy skin rich in melanin, which guards against age-related damage) are more accepting of their looks, but those who choose cosmetic surgery most commonly elect rhinoplasty or liposuction. Asians, reportedly in an attempt to improve their social standing by looking more Westernized, tend to have eyelid surgery more than most other procedures. Hispanics seem to focus more on their shape, preferring liposuction and breast augmentation.

But here's some encouraging news: Though each year many more of us buy into the antiage craze, polls show that millions of holdouts care more about being healthy than looking younger. Those who resist using artificial means to shave years off their appearance tend to reside in rural areas, and in the South and Northeast (with the exception of major urban centers such as Boston and New York), where tradition-bound populations disapprove of meddling with nature. Deeply held moral and religious beliefs also play a role. Buddhists, who acknowledge the impermanence of all things, are more likely to accept the face-changing inevitability of aging, as are devout Christians, who tend to believe that interfering with God's handiwork is sinful and vain.

Despite this, we're still largely an age-obsessed nation — and we're not the only one. According to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, countries such as Brazil, South Korea, Hungary, and Belgium share our fixation. The numbers are significantly lower in developing nations. "You're not worried about your face if you're spending your days surviving," says Calasanti. "Part of what makes Western society different from other places is that we have a strong belief inindividual responsibility. You can make changes; therefore you're responsible for making them. Phrases like giving up and letting yourself go are direct moral statements."

Next: What's next in age-defying treatments and therapy? >>

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