Fashion & Beauty

My Facelift Journey

July 16, 2023


iStock photo.

By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column. She now splits her time between Manhattan and Tokyo.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at

THIS POST comes to you with a wide Duchenne smile—that’s the one that engages your eyes, not just your mouth. You’re able to see the Duchenne smile on the subject below, because though she chooses to have bi-annual neuromodulator injections in her forehead, she refuses to minimize the crow’s-feet around her eyes.

So when she smiles, the upper half of her face is engaged with the lower half. Why is this important? Studies show smiling can create a neurological loop that actually lifts your mood. One study showed that the Duchenne smile had the greatest effect (out of all kinds of smiles) in lowering one’s heart rate after a stressful activity.

Keep your crow’s-feet. They’re the least unbeautiful wrinkles.

How Not to F*ck Up Your Face columnist Valerie Monroe showing the Duchenne smile, her real live smiley face.

There’s also a selfish reason this post is delivered with a smile. Sure, I want you to feel happy. But a study has shown that, as Arthur C. Brooks mentions in a recent column for The Atlantic, happiness can increase our attractiveness, making it more likely we’ll be rewarded by others (hello, readers!). If this strikes you as one of those “no-brainer” study conclusions, me too. But when you think about it in terms of aging and attractiveness, there are some interesting implications.

Because if happiness increases attractiveness, aren’t we in a sinking boat if we feel, as many of us do, that our appearance is making us unhappy as we age? The more I considered this, the more I found myself drowning in an eddy of circular thinking and confusing emotions. What to do? What to do? When I finally came up for air, I still felt a little dizzy. Maybe because facelifts were on my mind.

I think if a facelift will make you happy, and you can afford it, then go for it; it’s a practical way to provide yourself with a temporary happiness fix. The same goes for less invasive treatments like neuromodulator injections, filler (if that works for you—but choose your injector carefully), and other in-office aesthetic procedures.

Though my personal goal is to have healthy-looking skin, there are aspects of my age (soon to be 72) manifesting such as jowling and fine lines and wrinkles. Another manifestation of aging is that the corners of our mouths droop, making us look impatient or fretful when we’re not—intensifying, especially if we’re already prone to it, resting bitch face (RBF). That situation is exacerbated by an unfortunate combination of gravity, bone loss, and reduced soft tissue volume. Neuromodulator injections and filler can help lift the corners of your mouth, but I’m not into injections in that area, because there’s a slight risk of losing the ability to enunthiate thertain conthonanths. (I’m super low-risk on the procedures scale.)

I can see what many doctors—and probably you—would call “flaws” in my RBF (not to mention my neck, yeesh). Sometimes when I catch my reflection in a harsh light, it actually scares me; how can I be this person who looks so much older than I feel? The dissonance is jarring. But like a blue mood, it passes. When I need to goose its exit, I look into my own eyes till I can see myself again—oh, there you are! And then the thought of taking a knife to my face or neck feels like a beheading. It is not the thing that lifts my spirits.

I’ve pored over—as many of you likely have—before-and-after photos of women who’ve had various kinds of surgeries, including upper and lower eyelifts and facelifts. And often, though I can see a difference, the difference doesn’t seem significant enough to consider surgery myself. My friends who’ve had facelifts say they were compelled because they hated—hated, a strong word—one specific thing about their appearance, most often their neck (which shows aging quickly because the skin is thin and exposed); or they say they look tired or angry when they’re not. They’re all women who thoroughly understand the poisons of sexism, paternalism, and all the other “isms” that snake through our unhealthy, confining beauty culture. Still, their choice made them happy.

But I also want to point out something I’ve previously mentioned that’s critical: Research has shown that facelifts won’t necessarily result in happiness because you look more attractive—because maybe you will and maybe you won’t. Your pleasure will come from your own belief that you’re more attractive. And since confidence begets confidence, you may enjoy a cascade of positive effects thanks to your new conviction.

Another study found the biggest correlation between beauty and success was not with objective but rather self-perceived attractiveness. So what contributes most impactfully to success? Confidence. And where you get yours from—choosing a flash of skin-toning laser, choosing a facelift, choosing neither of those—doesn’t really matter, does it? As long as you know why you made your choice and you’re content with it. For now, I’ve made mine: In spite of the cumulative and unwelcome adornments of age, it seems I’m as attached to this face as I am to the heart that beats below it.

I’ve said it before, and it’s worth repeating, especially to the flock of new readers. Your appearance is not a good stock in which to throw all your investments. It has a predictable payout—and one day, you’ll lose most of what you put into it. My best advice: If you’re going to play the game, keep your portfolio well diversified.

2 thoughts on “My Facelift Journey

  1. Val Monroe says:

    Nancy — “…all for whatever makes you feel good about yourself…” yes! Thanks for your comment.

  2. Nancy G says:

    My mom had a facelift about 50 years ago, at the age of 49. It was a birthday gift from her mother. She told me that if she had known what it entailed, particularly the recovery period, she wouldn’t have done it. On the other hand, she was terrible about taking care of her skin. I’m all for whatever makes you feel good about yourself, though for me, at least at present, it’s limited to fillers. Not to say I’m not thinking about my eyelids…

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