Friday, June 7, 2019

Death becomes the ad industry: What is wrong with growing older?

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly
Le nez Libanais (the Lebanese nose) - so was the title of a reportage done by a French TV station on the ubiquity of plastic surgery in Lebanon and the uniformity of the nose that came out. Plus, I always go back to that FNB ad (dating back to 2007!) that gave you loans to do plastic surgery. The "legal excuse" girls opt to get the insurance to pay for the operation is "3indi lahmiyye" (I have sinusitis). Please look at the image below from my book "The "hole" truth" published with Fady Chahine in 2011 which you can consult here.
Artwork by Tarek Chemaly and Fady Chahine
When I was 15, I was on the balcony of our family my (now late) father approached me and simply stated "by the time you will be thirty, you'll already have grey hair". And indeed, by the age of thirty my hair was greying - the problem was that my face remaining not just youthful, but a bit childish, so much that when I cut my hair incredibly short (which I did since 1989 so much that I do not even own a comb!) and ergo the greyish patches got shaved off, I was once denied entry to a nightclub because I was too young (while already 32 years old at the time).
Forward to present time: You know the saying? "The bags under my eyes are, Prada"? Well, my jacket is Prada but the bags in question are not, and no, they have nothing to do with an insomniac night (at my age - born in 1974 (you do the math) - all-night ragers are not even a question so it has to be insomnia) and are basically caused by looking my age. The thing is, the bags in question adjusted themselves in a flappy wrinkly droopy mass under one eye (the right eye, thank you for, not just asking, but noticing), so much that my dear aunt kindly suggested on my last visit to her "Tarek, did you consider a night cream?" - but to be fair to her she was more worried about my wrinkly forehead which has a gesticulating life all to its own rather than the said bag under my eye(s).
If I am raising all these issues today, it is because we do live in an society where growing old seems to be still a no-no, especially in the media or ad industry. Face it people. We do grow older, some more gracefully than others. The Lebanese saying goes "El chaybe haybe" - "greying hair gives you gravitas", and whereas I did see plastic surgery save lives and restore long-lost self-confidences (I think perhaps of the supermarket check out girl who had a crooked nose but otherwise a lovely face), I cannot but go back to what model-turned-designer (and longtime Chanel muse) Ines de la Fressange said: "for the time being I have not seen any convincing results" - when quizzed about her lack of enthisiasm for said surgeries.
Hollywood at large is experiencing a major form of de-ageing. Meaning digitally, "enhancing" not the best word with actors geeting their wrinkles erased digitally (this The Guardian article cites examples and a lament from Martin Scorcese). And yes major brands are now launching men-centered creams and treatments (Armani just announced it is jumping on that bandwagon while Nivea had ex-James Bond Pierce Brosnan as a spokesperson for its male line). It is also known that men once they understand that a trend has become socially acceptable they tend to follow it (case in point, several years back a student was explaining to her boyfriend what "metrosexual" was - men who are not gay yet tend to themselves and their appearances - after laughing it off he goes back at the end of the dinner and asks her "so, do you think my nails need a manicure?").
And just to be clear, selling hope through creams is wonderful, if you want to go and get yourself a surgery please be my guest (and this campaign comes to mind!), yet - please do pay attention: Anthropologically, small "retrousse" noses mean gullibility, whereas large lips mean fierceness and boldness. So women who go to surgeries and cut down their noses only to inflate their lips are sending anthropologically mismatched signals.
But all this is to go back to the original point: People, there is nothing wrong with growing old and showing signs of it but the ad industry is certainly not a place to look for such people (hint, neither are Ramadan soap operas for that matter). By that I mean neither in front of the camera where everyone is either barely legally young (or wanting to look the part!), or is being digitally enhanced/photoshopped for the purposes of some poster or promotion; nor behind the camera where fifty-something "creatives" wear Chuck Taylors (which they cannot see due to their inflated guts) as they cover their thinning hairlines with backwards-worn trucker hats.
"Old age ain't no place for sissies" said Bette Davies, which reminds me of the movie Death Becomes Her, where Isabella Rosselini takes a break from selling Lancome to sell the serum of eternal life to Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep with hillarious consequences. Rosselini will later be kicked out of Lancome for being too old (she was 42 when the Lancome contract came to an end).
The only silver lining is that now that Rosselini is older, she is the face of the cosmetics brand once more - at the age of 65.
So perhaps there is a bit of hope, somewhere, after all.