By Jane Juska was a high school English teacher for 33 years, taught in college and prison for another five, and then placed an ad in the New York Review of Books: “Before I turn 68, I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like.” It brought her success beyond her dreams. Her essays have appeared in Vogue and she is the author of A Round-Heeled Woman, Unaccompanied Women, and the new Shebook The Last Thing to Go. Her memoir about being old will be published by Berkley Books in August 2015.
I have decided not to have my vagina restored. Or to correct anything else on my person that calls out for the rejuvenation promised by cosmetic surgery. One could argue that at my age I would do well to avail myself of the wonders of modern medicine; surely, just about everything on me needs it, especially if I want to remain young, well notremain young, but look young. What, other than money, could keep me from it?
Vaginoplasty. While they’re down there, they offer a specific procedure: hymen restoration. After a lapse of only 62 years, I could be a virgin! However, I’m not sure I want to repeat my first time. Not that I can remember it very well. I do recall that there was no blood. Right then, I wondered what was wrong with me. Maybe that’s when I should have inspected my private parts to see if anything was amiss.
But no one, absolutely no one, was allowed to see Down There, with the exception of the doctor who would one day deliver my babies, which, when I thought about it, made me shudder. That is why I skipped the part of the women’s movement that encouraged group exploration: You met with friends (one hopes) in someone’s kitchen, hauled up your peasant skirt and climbed onto the table, denuded from the waist down. Then your friends brought out a mirror, put it between your legs and glowed while you Became Acquainted With Yourself. Eeeeeeew.
Fast-forward to the year 2000, during which I turned 67. I am on the 17th floor of a New York City skyscraper, being introduced to a young man who will do the publicity for my book A Round-Heeled Woman, in which I tell all about meeting men through a personal ad and sleeping with most of them at the advanced age of 66. He loves the book. “Totally courageous,” he calls it. “Do you know,” he says, raising his hands in surprise, “there are some women who have never, ever seen their vagina?” “No, really?!” I exclaim. I choose this response over the truth: “I’m one of them.” “Oh yeah,” he says. “Have you seen Vagina Monologues?” “Yes,” I lie.
I seek to seem worldly in the eyes of this kid who holds my publishing future in his hands. But I feel a stab of guilt. Why haven’t I seen myself down there? Why haven’t I looked after it just as I’ve looked after my blood pressure, my lungs, my eyes, teeth, feet?
What do I think awaits me? Floppy labia in need of repair? Maybe if I poked around, I’d be able to discern my floppiness, though if I flopped, then what? Do I really want to return to my prepregnancy labial state, thereby increasing sexual gratification for both my partner and me? (Or so the plastic surgeons promise.) If your answer is maybe, Google “vagina restoration.” There are pictures.
I will admit that if one makes a living based on how one looks — Hollywood comes to mind — then plastic surgery is the price for keeping one’s job. For a woman. The furrowed brow of George Clooney and the creases of Humphrey Bogart only serve to make them more desirable: Signs of age add character to slickness, depth to vacuousness. Not so, though, huh, for Renée Zellweger.
“You don’t look like you’re in your 80s,” I have been told. I answer, “Yes, I do. This is what it looks like.” What they mean is “You don’t look old.” Looking old is the sin. Being old is OK because then they can ignore you, but looking old?
That stares them right in the face and says, “Not long from now, you’re going to look like this and then you’ll die.” In a culture that worships youth and beauty, dying is forbidden. Get yourself made young and you won’t have to die. Even more important, no one has to watch you do it.
Yet sometimes I find myself wondering: Would I have cosmetic surgery if money were no object? Where would I start? Everything, beginning with my face and ending with my ankles, is heading south or has been there for some time. If I had just my eyes done, then what about my tummy? Well, OK, let’s just do a tummy tuck and an eyelift and — come on — what about my underarms and, while we’re at it, my inner thighs?
But I haven’t done these things; my face, my body, are finally worth reading. Without tampering, nearly all of us reach an age when we look interesting, when we are interesting. The marks of living a full life are right there for everyone to see, if they’d only look.
Just, OK, maybe not down there.