While researching my junior theme topic, I came across another reason why there exists such a fear of aging in America and why there is such a huge market for things like Botox treatments or "anti-aging" face creams. It all has to do with America's beloved narrative arc.
Earlier in the year, our class studied Kurt Vonnegut’s piece “A Lesson in Creative Writing” in which he maps out the narrative arc that America loves to see in television and films.
Man in a Hole Narrative Arc
This arc is also referred to as the “Redemptive Arc,” and it goes back to the roots of Christianity. This is likely a subconscious factor that is playing into peoples’ decisions to get plastic surgery in order to look younger. In the book “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby,” edited by Lilly J. Goren, there is extensive research on what is referred to as “sacrificial atonement.” The book states the “promise” of sacrificial atonement is that "through suffering, death has been overcome” and that these surgeries promise “the illusion that decay can be ‘treated’” (24). This "suffering" is referring to the actual physical pain of a cosmetic surgery, or perhaps the cost. And while the idea of cheating death, or "treating" it, is impossible, it is something that people, especially women, are continuously trying to achieve.
This psychological reasoning behind wanting to look younger perfectly follows the narrative drawn above. From "Beginning" to "End" on the graph: A woman starts out healthy and youthful; as the woman ages, she feels her looks are fading; she undergoes a painful procedure to "fix" this problem, and is back where she started, in "Good Fortune", looking and feeling youthful.
We see this archetype in television all the time too: the woman's goal is to look as young as possible. A character that comes to mind is Madame Lalaurie from American Horror Story: Coven, who was obsessed with looking youthful. There weren't face-lifts during the time that she lived, so she resorted to a horrifying method. She murdered her slaves and used their blood as a sort of anti-aging skin product: she would spread it on her face each night. Her extreme and sickening measures she went to in order to feel young "payed off" for her because she felt it made her skin look young again. This character would do anything to maintain her youthful complexion.
This is also why America is obsessed with "makeover" shows. There is a "man in a hole"(a person who is not conventionally attractive), and the show helps this person to get out of this "hole," and discover their true beauty. "The internal self is matched with the external" (Goren 25) is something we love seeing on television. Our psychological attachment to this narrative is playing an enormous role in our everyday lives.