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Filmmaker Mitch McCabe Shares Her Thoughts on the Anti-Aging Obsession

Tonight, do yourself a favor and watch Mitch McCabe's excellent documentary, Youth Knows No Pain. (It airs tonight at 9 p.m. on HBO, and it is great.) The film explores our societal obsession with looking forever young, but what makes it all the more interesting is McCabe's own backstory as the daughter of a plastic surgeon. Through interviews with cosmetic surgeons, Botox babes, and her own introspection, she's created a smart, fascinating, poignant, and funny film. Set your TiVo already, and read on as McCabe discusses her take on our age-phobic society in this interview.

It seems like 10 or 20 years ago women in their 20s weren’t so concerned about aging. Now a lot are — we even see 26-year-old Julia Allison go for fillers in the film. Why do you think there’s been that shift?
One thing Julia was talking about is that women’s fertility decreases after 25, and just from a biological standpoint, there’s an expiration date — biologically and therefore in terms of attractiveness. My Buddhist friend, we’d argue about the subject matter of the film and say attractiveness is only meant to attract a mate, your importance is supposed to come from the inside. So once your breeding days are over, of course your attractiveness is supposed to fade out. It wasn’t supposed to be important in the first place. Not that Julia Allison is a Buddhist, but she's speaking the truth of what happens out there. I mean, do we see women in their 30s and 40s being cast in many different roles out there? No. If women try to date on the Internet and post their real age, can they get as many dates as a woman who’s 28? No. If you really listen to a man who’s maybe had a couple drinks, he might be more honest about his views on older women.

For the full interview, read more.

Should we be getting angry at a sexist society that pretends women don’t matter after a certain age?
Totally, that’s the message of the film. The film would have no effect on people if I just put up a bunch of talking heads and overly articulate feminists talking about how we’re victimized. My editors and I were very conscientious about me not complaining or having any of the women come off as whiny. I wanted to men to really understand what it’s like to have this awful fear of being an aging woman. . . . The message of the film is, "Wouldn’t it be great to have a society where age didn’t matter?"


There's a moment in the film when your father's colleague said that he always said you were so pretty. I think part of accepting aging is being able to feel loved and feeling secure in love. What do you think?
Well that’s a loaded question. . . . Sherry [a woman featured in the film] makes a comment at the end of the film that always really gets me because she’s so vulnerable there. She talks about how we are all wired to want to be loved and have a companion and friend. So, it’s hard to say. Now these things of course don’t change who you are inside. On the other hand, at the premiere everyone was like "You look great!" And I thought, "OK, do I have more friends tonight because I look great?" So, there’s a lot of hypocrisy in society, a lot of lip service to pay attention to who you are inside — but then at the same time, please be beautiful.

Not everyone can afford Botox and $550 peptide creams. Are we approaching a time when age is a class marker?
Maybe. We’ve always been in a contract with each other that we are all going to age naturally and gracefully. Then all of a sudden, there’s all this technology that throws that out the window. It's available mostly to the middle class and above, so that makes a lot of people mad. It makes them mad that the whole order has been violated. and I think that that’s where we are right now. . . . I do think in the future it will be a statement if you don’t do [cosmetic procedures]. It will almost be like punk rock.

Join The Conversation
Baby-Girl Baby-Girl 7 years
I recorded this last night. I can't wait to watch it.
LexzCW LexzCW 7 years
I've often wondered if I would want to have things like Botox done in the future, and I'm beginning to think that while I might want to have them done, I probably won't. I think there's something very disheartening about walking into a surgeon's or esthetician's office looking for one procedure, but having them point out all your flaws, "You have a little bit of roughness here....Does this ever bother you?" It might have never bothered you before, but now you have a whole new perspective about what is "wrong" with you. And, I think those kind of things would eat away at me a little bit.
Kneenah Kneenah 7 years
Great documentary... Liked that Mitch had an insider/outsider point of view....she carefully took us inside, weighing the pros of making one look better to hopefully feel better.Yet when it comes right down to it, this onslaught of ageism and all the baggage that appears in bodily form and perceived 'repulsiveness' from society and ourselves makes for the frenzied lifestyle changes one must adhere to. I liked that she looked to her father, who was without all the 'sell' aspects of getting a boob job, but seemed like a pretty normal, nice guy....and she learned more about what his loving inclinations towards others, as opposed to Dr. Fixit-Must buy Benz plastic surgeons. Comes down to self-esteem and self-love, and oh, and "Don't be alone."....that's what I learned. Thanks for interesting work...
Mikaela81 Mikaela81 7 years
Yea! I've been waiting for your follow up on this & the DVR is set to record it. Your question about accepting aging was very insightful - there are so many avenues to explore in this subject. I don't thing cosmetic procedures are all bad, but I do think many people who are stuck in that 'addicted to beauty' lifestyle are very lonely, and I think the time spent on making themselves look younger could be spent developing meaningful relationships with loved ones. There is a quote from Kevyn Aucoin that I always really loved that is somewhat fitting here - "Life is too short to spend hoping that the perfectly arched eyebrow or hottest new lip shade will mask an ugly heart."
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