When injectables took over the world in the early aughts, having facial wrinkles became more of a choice than an inevitability. But at the same time, armies of women of a certain age started to look like the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and I began to believe that there was something honest and rock ’n’ roll about being able to move my face. I actually like my crow’s-feet, and I can live with the lines between my eyebrows. But—and there is always a but—no one warned me about my neck. As noble as a few frown lines may look in post-Botox America, there is no air of refusenik coolness to a wattle.
Every woman I know who has reached her early 40s and woken up with a falling chin or a wavering jawline agrees. (No wonder the late Nora Ephron’s 2006 book I Feel Bad About My Neck was a best-seller.) “This neck thing just makes me feel old,” my friend Gillian, a 43-year-old interior designer in Los Angeles, told me while wrapping her ever present cotton scarf tightly around her throat. I know exactly what she means. I’m 42 and have become conscious of an area that I’ve named “the drop zone”: the increasingly declining curve between my neck and jaw, which used to be a taut right angle. Tick down a list of women generally considered to have aged gracefully: Audrey Hepburn in her UNICEF years, Lauren Hutton, Kristin Scott Thomas. What are three things they have in common? A believably lined face, a sharp jawline, and a swanlike neck. But contenders like Diane Keaton and Candice Bergen, on the other hand, wear an awful lot of markedly high collars; Ephron was an avowed fan of the turtleneck, perhaps attempting to dispense with the unwanted area altogether. Alas, this is a strategy with seasonal limitations and highly impractical sartorial consequences.
To make things worse, the aging neck is a particularly difficult area to treat. “The problem is threefold,” said Michael Kane, a Manhattan plastic surgeon with a booming practice in necklifts. “You’ve got sagging muscles and bulging fat. And the skin in that area gets crepe-ier faster than anywhere else on your body because it’s the thinnest, except for your eyelids.” In addition to this daunting trifecta, something starts happening to the neck as we age: A thin ropey muscle called the platysma splits into a V-like formation of two cords that protrude more and more when they contract. If you’re in your 40s or older, and this has somehow escaped your notice, look in the mirror, say “eee,” and watch in horror what happens. Trying to fix all of that with potions and lotions is like waging a two-front war on a sheet of thin ice.
So what are our options? Once upon a time, before repeated viewings of Extreme Makeover and our collective obsession with digital self-portraiture turned us into amateur aging detectives, women my age didn’t go under the knife to de-sag. Those days are over. Kane sees the necklift as ideal for women in their early to mid-40s who aren’t quite ready to go for a full facelift. “It’s a way to kick the can down the road for about seven to ten years,” he said, describing a procedure that sews together and wraps sagging muscles crosswise to the jaw in order to restore that all-important right angle. Sutures are smaller, there is less pulling, and recovery time is much shorter than with a full facelift. There is also the famous trampoline lift, performed under local anesthesia, which raises drooping skin and muscles by tying them up with filaments inserted under the skin.