"What don't you like about your face? the nurse asked me."

Earlier this year I had a disconcerting experience. Walking past a shop, I saw a woman in the window wearing an identical dress to mine ‘Jeez who is that old lady in my dress?’ I thought uncharitably.

It was a reflective mirror. That old lady was me.

Sarah MacDonald. Without "work" (so far).

This story sits in direct contrast to a middle-aged gay friend of mine who leant forward to kiss a gorgeous guy in a steamy sauna and bumped heads with himself in the mirror.

But this is not a story about his self-love or my self-hatred. It’s more about how we face up to the fact that as we age, our face gradually stops matching how we feel. Or even how we see ourselves. My brain seems to have a frozen image of myself at twenty-six; an unlined face with full cheeks, Poppy matte lipstick and a totally different haircut. In my head this is the face that presents to the world. So I am constantly shocked when I see myself with the eyes of an outsider and reality is reflected in the mirror or the shop window.

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Perhaps it’s a bit like how my brain erased the extreme pain of childbirth. It then airbrushed the obvious fact that as my babies grew up my face fell down.

I work in the media so I know many women who get fillers and Botox. It’s part of their job; both insurance and security. Indeed every time I appear on television, I recoil at how different I look compared to others and how different I look to how I see myself. How old I look compared to how I feel.


So, for the episode of our new Debrief Daily podcast ‘Just Between Us’ on aging and vanity, I went along to ‘The Clinic’, an establishment frequented by many TV stars. I took a deep breath and asked them what I should do with my late forties face.

Clinical Nurse Specialist Lisa Sullivan Smith placed me in front of a mirror and asked what bothered me.

I steeled myself for this before I went. But there’s no doubt that sitting in front of a mirror and being invited to reveal what bothers you is an invitation to doubt and insecurity.

Here’s what happened next. .

The Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery recent census found there is up to a 30 percent increase a year in cosmetic procedures in Australia. But this doesn’t count injectables or trips to countries such as Thailand where women can get the works and disguise it as a holiday. Face work is clearly a rising trend and The Clinic is extremely busy.

As I sat there in front of the mirror, peering at my face with Lisa sitting beside me, she recommended a five course of an injectable (otherwise known as Botox) to freeze the line between my brows and also three sessions of Intense Pulse Light Therapy to help reduce the redness of my skin (which I blame on the wine).

It’s both entrancing and repulsive to me to consider having cosmetic procedures like these. I’m simultaneously curious about how I would look and fearful about conceding to my fear of growing old. The thing is, I’ve never been beautiful enough to be vain and am not a big user of mirrors. I actually hadn’t even noticed the frown line between my eyes. Yet ever since I went to the clinic every time I wash my hands and glance up, that damn wrinkle is now the only thing I can see. It’s a bit of a shock to even consider getting rid of something I wasn’t aware of, but I have been thinking about it for a few days, seeking advice from friends, my partner and discussing it on our podcast ‘Just Between Us’. On our second episode ‘Face, Ageing and Vanity’, Rebecca Huntley and I talk to two women with really different experiences and expectations about their face.


Stephanie Darling, the Beauty Editor of Sunday Life, has a job many would envy.

Here she is doing a beauty tutorial (POST CONTINUES AFTER VIDEO):


She is the readers’ guinea pig for weekly treatments from gold facials, to fillers to plump up the skin to Botox to freeze movement to equine therapy (which involves hugging a horse and telling it all your problems). Stephanie probably only draws the line at a full face lift due to the risks of surgery. She admits getting work done is both seductive and addictive.

Video Producer Lesley Freedman-Sebold dyes her grey hair and gets it cut in a salon every six weeks but simply can’t be bothered with much make up let alone endless maintenance. Lesley uses only four beauty products, plus perfume.


Rebecca Huntley says if she were told she had a disease that caused her to become less intelligent and a yearly injection could stop the brain rot, she would have it. So if your currency is looking attractive, anti ageing treatments are arguably an understandable type of career maintenance. Aren’t they?

Too often women are mocked if they do too much work on their face and dismissed or ignored if they don’t do any.

As 45 year old author Elizabeth Gilbert recently wrote on her Facebook page “The scale of beauty in our world is vast and complicated and often politically, socially, and culturally confounding. At one extreme, you have the "all-natural" obsessives, who judge anybody who artificially alters her appearance in any manner whatsoever as vain and shallow. At the other of the scale are the extreme beauty junkies, who will do anything for an enhanced sense of beauty, and who judge everyone else as slovenly and drab.” She went on to add, “My experience is this: once we have decided where we land on that scale of beauty, we tend to judge all the other women who have made different decisions in either direction around us: This woman is too vain; that one is too never ends.”

Lesley Freedman with her daughter Sylvia

And for many of us, as we age, the decision about where we sit on the beauty scale becomes ever more fraught.

What we need is more acceptance and more diversity in the representations of women over ‘a certain age’ beyond Judi Dench and Helen Mirren. We also need some honesty so we are free from unattainable expectations. A Botox banner on the television, an ‘airbrush ahead’ warning on Facebook, a filler alert on a magazine.



Lesley's products and Stephanie with her products


For me, at this stage, I feel holding back the tide of ageing is too scary, too painful and too confronting. Not to mention too expensive (the cost of the treatments suggested to me by Lisa at The Clinic was $3350 and I’d need top ups every few months). That’s a trip to New York.

I’d also see too much work as a bit of an insult to those women who don’t get to age; those who die young due to poverty, illness and violence. I feel I need to take a personal stand against the toxic approach to ageing I see all around me and have, despite my valiant efforts, no doubt absorbed.

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The thing is my face may not be the face I want. It may not ever have been the face I would chose. But it’s done me a good job over the years, going out, presenting me to the world, expressing my pain and joy, reflecting my life of complexity and change. I wish it no violence, only care. So, yesterday I got a facial and as I lay on the table having my face massaged and caressed I sent it love and thanks and acceptance.

I will keep trying to do so while walking past those lying windows.

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