Dear Emuna

I’m about to turn 50 and I’m trying to decide how much “help” to get with my “maturing” skin. I am getting so much conflicting advice – from “just embrace your wrinkles, they are evidence of a life well lived” to “go for it all – juviderm, botox, microneedling, YOLO!” I am really torn and don’t know what to do. Can you help give me some direction?

Aging Woman

Dear Aging Woman (and fellow traveler),

This is definitely a question that many women wrestle with, particularly here in southern California where plastic surgeons seem to be as numerous as corner markets. Let’s begin with the extreme forms of plastic surgery which you actually don’t mention. Anything that involves a real risk (general anesthetic etc.) is taken very seriously by the Torah. A surgical procedure can only be undergone if there is a compelling medical reason. This may include psychological reasons but this is a complicated and personal question. The bottom line is we don’t risk our lives for what is typically called cosmetic surgery. If, however, the need is greater than the desire to just look better and involves some other type of issue (for example, some type of weight reduction surgery where the patient’s health is at risk or even something seemingly more minor where the patient’s peace of mind is truly at risk) then it may be permissible. This is beyond the scope of this column and requires consultation with both a competent doctor to assess the need and the risks and a competent rabbi to do the same.

Your real question seems to concern the gray area (I really didn’t mean to make a pun but what can you do?). If you can put on makeup, what’s the difference if you get your brows tinted? How about acrylic nails? Is it appropriate to dye your hair? There are certain things we take for granted – is it because they’ve just been around longer? Is it because they’re cheaper and more easily accessible? I confess to not having the answer but I think I have a basic principle or two.

In the first place, cost is definitely a factor. What would you have to sacrifice to get those procedures? Is there any way that your family or marriage would suffer for the sake of this (let’s call it for now) extra beautification? If not, then that is one issue out of the way.

Secondly, how important is this to you? The answer to this question can cut two ways. If it is VERY important, I might be inclined to say yes – but I would have strong reservations. Why is it so important? Do you imagine that your life will change in any material way if you undergo one of these procedures? Will you be devastated if no one notices? What fantasies are involved? What are you imagining? I like to joke (only partially) that I always imagined if I bought a certain lipstick I would look like Cybil Shepherd. Even though I of course know that isn’t true, I also recognize our susceptibility to the power of advertising. Somewhere, on some emotional level, I still believe it to be true. And I keep buying the lipstick.

If you are indulging in fantastical thinking about the dramatic differences in your life that will follow these interventions, I don’t think you should do it. You will inevitably be disappointed and your issue has nothing to do with your aging face and much more to do with your unresolved issues and life goals. You need to delve a little deeper into who you are and who you want to be and not stay on the literal surface.

If, on the other hand, you approach these procedures in a much more matter-of-fact way, with a similar attitude to your purchase of the newest Bobbi Brown product, then why not? If it makes you feel a little better (like a new dress or working out) and the cost is relatively insignificant, then I don’t see the harm.

One more caveat. The goal is not to turn back time. Time cannot be turned back. However good you feel (and I hope you do) and however excellent shape you are in (and I hope you are) and whatever the results of your visit to the dermatologist, your age won’t change. It’s appropriate to not just come to terms with that but to appreciate and celebrate it.

We need to be grateful for the years we have had and particularly grateful and happy if we have used them well. We don’t want to pretend we are younger; we don’t want to give up valuable lessons learned or respect perhaps earned.

We just want to look slightly more attractive – for ourselves and our spouse. If this can be accomplished with minimal cost, effort and risk, then who am I to object? Actually do you have someone you recommend?