To the lay observer, however, it’s the lips that don’t lie. But if that overly pillowy profile, which Mother Nature doles out parsimoniously, is so obvious, then why are young women buying it at $850 per syringe? (It can take four needles’ worth of Restylane to achieve Angelina Jolie–like fullness.) Three explanations present themselves. First, there’s our increasingly youth-obsessed celebrity culture, which has lately offered the lushly adolescent contours of Miley Cyrus; they may be enough to make even Lohan feel over the hill. Then there’s what psychiatrist Robert B. Millman has called acquired situational narcissism: that disorder of identity afflicting billionaires, movie stars, and politicians, whose obliging entourages do little to keep their weaker impulses in check.
Finally, there’s the matter of status, the impatient spirit that inhabits no Louis Vuitton bag for very long. Given the mainstreaming of designer clothing and accessories, and the ubiquity of compelling counterfeits, it’s not clear what a girl ought to do these days to show the world how rich she is. “It used to be about borrowing your mother’s old Birkin,” says John Barrett, the hairdresser whose salon atop Bergdorf Goodman is the scene of a daily parade of women for whom the word “overworked” has nothing to do with being employed. “Now it seems to be about borrowing Mom’s plastic surgeon. It’s kind of like a very perversely sophisticated game of dress-up.”
At SoulCycle, a spinning studio on East 83rd Street, the game of dermatologic dress-up is in full swing. The women alighting from chauffeured black Escalades look like an army of ocher jack-o’-lanterns; the 15-year-olds (there for the popular teen class) not always easy to tell apart from their 51-year-old mothers. Jill Kargman, author of the forthcoming essay collection Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut, believes that some of the cosmetic extremism on display is an extension of the fitness obsession—and perhaps a consequence of it, since skinny thighs equal sunken cheeks.
“Surgery’s the new working out,” Kargman says. “People see it as maintenance, like getting a bikini wax. You hear about boobs courtesy of Dr. Hidalgo as graduation presents from private school, where it used to be just nose jobs for your bat mitzvah.”
And yet for all these little Faye Dunaways in training, there has never been a better time to fight the crepey creep of years. Those who succeed achieve a look that, if not ageless, is at least the right age: about 36. “Some people wake up at 42 and realize they need to return to 36,” says Gerstner. “But the people who end up looking best have been planning for it all along.” She believes that the fountain of eternal thirtysomething can be found in measured doses of Botox, filler, and Fraxel—a very expensive sandblaster for the skin—and with maintenance in the form of glycolic peels and Retin-A.