The Deep and Shallow End of the Fountain of Youth

It started with a swirling rumor and persistent text messages. Yep, juicy stuff coming up, people.

Some time ago former colleagues started dishing that a certain former boss had gradually, yet not so subtly, changed her appearance. Leaner, firmer, with a generous dash of youthful glimmer. Taking multiple leaves of absence, she eventually emerged looking not only younger by a few years, but by a whole couple of decades. In a mixed tone of shock and awe, the rumor mill spewed out speculation that, beyond rigorous exercises and diets, innovations from Korea were in play.

The messages, however, originated closer to home. A dermatology clinic at a fancy Singapore address has been sending me promotional texts on aesthetic procedures. I ignored them first and reasoned that active cellular GPS during my frequent Singapore trips must’ve been how they picked up my number—otherwise it would’ve felt somewhat insulting, like suggesting I had to have work done.

Then one day I decided to depart from gossips to gist. I launched a semi-scientific exploration that included dermatologists’ appointments, informal patient interviews and, as turned out to be quite insightful, chats with nurses and receptionists. Rather fittingly, my findings could be summed up to a mantra-like tagline; younger, faster, shorter, and wider.

Younger– the clientele. Mature ladies make steady business, yet twentysomethings are now also coming for mild needs (adult acne, sunburn) and many wants (eyelid crease enhancement and breast augmentation, just to name a couple).

Faster– the procedures. While full facelift or liposuction still need hours under general anesthesia, patients favor the less-invasive methods mostly developed in Korea; less than an hour under local anesthesia. “Lunchtime mini-lipo/lift” is the lingo that covers many services from eyebag removal to neck tightening and underarm slimming.

Shorter– the downtime. Urbanites no longer deign to disappear for a weeklong “spa retreat”. Now clients want scarless bruises that heal before Friday’s cocktail party. The aforementioned Korean techniques conveniently offer such ease.

Wider– the reach. Women no longer dominate. Men, and by no means limited to gays or metrosexuals, sign up for hair implants, chin tuck and, to put it descriptively, ‘manboob’ removal.

Many have long decried modern people’s vanity pursuits. Media-driven lifestyle, including social media presence, is tagged as the ultimate exacerbation of such shallowness. As active senior citizens now are on Facebook and chat apps, everyone’s feeling the pressure for not only doing cool things, but also looking their best doing those things. Everyone sucks their tummy or reapplies makeup before picture-taking, and scrutinizes the snaps after for the ‘sharing-worthy’ one.

I think the desire to look our best has formed since cave-dwellers finally made sense of the reflections on water staring back at them. The regimens have since run from basic grooming to fountain-of-youth-level preservation, like those peculiar potions Cleopatra reportedly religiously subscribed to. Seriously, which one of us who hasn’t been handed a jar of “trusted” concoction from our grandparents that promised to make our hair bouncier, or our teeth shinier? Vanity is no monopoly of modernity.

What the recent era contributed was a shift from looking the best that we can to looking better than we should. Forget looking good for your age, now you need to look like your younger self. The 46-year-old JLo has achieved that—looking better than her 30-year-old self, or any thirtysomething for that matter. But, strangely, while people seem to have developed the expectations, and applauded celebrities for accomplishing such feats, when a real fortysomething Jenny-from-the-block openly goes under the needle/knife, judgments rain down like February sky. I wonder why.

Our longer life expectancy is already turning “40 is the new 30” catchphrase into “40 is the new 20” lifestyle. Add the elevated pressure to be as fit and presentable as ever. Yet we refuse to accept that at this rate Spartan exercise and diet just wouldn’t suffice in the long run. Many opine that since celebs live off public life they’re pardoned for seeking professional help to remain preternaturally preserved, while commoners, who ironically aren’t born with great genes most celebs are bestowed upon, should strive to age gracefully in increasingly media-obsessed life. So strange the contradictory circumstances we set upon ourselves that is unclear where to tell depth from shallowness.

Can it go too far? Renee Zellweger made the latest poster girl for frivolity borderlining on psychological problems, and I’m sure she wouldn’t be the last. Yet tiptoeing on the ever-thinning self-restraint line is the price we all must pay for inducting selfie and please-like-my-picture buttons into our self-awareness realm. From where I’m standing, those who by far manage to tread the line, like JLo and my ex-boss, deserve equal nods.

None of the clinics I talked to released a definite number, yet from their qualitative remarks I could surmise that business is growing like collagen on 15-year-old skin. Old-moneyed Indonesians are longstanding clients, now new-moneyed Chinese, toting cash-filled satchels, fly to Singapore for tummy tucks and nose jobs. The same can be deduced for similar practices in Jakarta. I’m on the long-haul treatment for melasma (severe hyperpigmentation from years of unprotected sun exposure) and lately it’s hard to make my 45-minute procedure as my dermatologist is overbooked by patients scrambling for Korea’s latest; the V-shape, thread lift.

Nipped and tucked, in denial or not, into the deep and shallow of the fountain of youth we all dive.

As published:

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