Trying to Reverse Time, At Any Cost

Sarah Seltzer

"Youth Knows No Pain" is a somber, but fairly agenda-free HBO documentary that follows several Americans into the spa, the botox seat, and mostly to the plastic surgeon's office in an effort to turn back time on their faces and bodies.

Last week I wrote about the way women’s magazines hawk a dangerous beauty
culture in between valuable articles
. This week I watched a documentary about
the extreme edges of that beauty culture, which, in our country, is not that
edgy at all.

" Youth
Knows No Pain
" is a somber, but fairly agenda-free
documentary–now airing on HBO and on demand–that follows several Americans
into the spa, the botox seat, and mostly to the plastic surgeon’s office, in
pursuit of the ability to turn back time on their faces and bodies.


The American anti-aging industry is a 60 billion a year business that tells women they can keep them looking younger with ointments, injections, lasers and surgery. A new HBO documentary, “Youth Knows No Pain”, takes a critical look at this industry.

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Mitch
McCabe, the director and narrator, and to a certain extent the star of the film
is obsessed with the legacy of her late father. Her dad came back from Vietnam
and became a plastic surgeon; as a kid, she used to play with his spare
silicone implants. McCabe believes, after looking at her dad’s grisly wartime
photographs, that after such an experience her father did not want to spent his
life among the dying, but preferred to make people happy in their lifetimes.
Still, his sudden death in a car accident stunned her: "It’s always struck
me; here is someone who could take years off a person’s face but died in
seconds," she says. Her fixation on mortality, and its telltale signs on
human bodies, began early, grew stronger after she lost her father, and led her
to make this film.

Trying to understand her dad’s profession–and her own early obsession with
faces and wrinkles– on film takes McCabe on a journey where she encounters
some true plastic surgery enthusiasts, both on the giving and receiving end.
She visits a doctor early on who looks at her and immediately guesses her age,
judging by various fat deposits and wrinkles which he immediately suggests
"solutions" for. And it’s that interaction, and McCabe’s own
deeply mixed, but ultimately fascinated feelings towards anti-aging culture,
that inadvertently shows said culture’s more noxious effects. Because most
everyone McCabe speaks to isn’t merely interested in his or her own quest for the fountain of youth:
they all turn their gaze to her and start critiquing every sag, every line on
her face. And soon enough McCabe’s resistance begins to waver. It’s not
just about personal fulfillment, but about enforcing a dangerous norm.

The documentary starts and ends with Sherry, a Texas woman whose personality is
so large that she almost overwhelms the rest of the film. Sherry describes her
popularity with men as a young woman and then says, "One day you look
up… and you’re not getting the catcalls when you’re walking down the street.
Hello? That’s no fun. You always want your man to be looking at you." For
this reason, she’s gotten a number of facial surgeries, a breast augmentation,
a tummy tuck and more. She describes the process as a rebirth, saying that her
new navel means new life–while her husband declares the surgeon who made over
his wife to be an "artist." Sherry is fixated on giving her old
clothes to McCabe and goes through her closet repeatedly, handing things to the
filmmaker and insisting that they’d look "cute" on her.

From Sherry’s house McCabe goes on her wild journey (Latoya Peterson analyzes
video clips from throughout the film here ) to a "medspa" where patients can
be wrapped in hemorrhoid cream and cellulite to slim down or have their faces
injected with semen. She consults with a plastic surgeon whose daughter, a
centerfold model, recounts the way her dad used to critique her appearance as a
teen. She visits parties where attendees can test electronic facials or go
together to get botox. She meets with internet celebrity Julia Allison and her
coterie, who state un-ironically that women have an "expiration date"
and are getting botox in their 20s. McCabe spends time a man getting a hair
implant–which is the most gruesome and painful-looking procedure in the film.
At each interval, the film’s subjects ask McCabe if she wants to try their
methods, surgeries, or products, often hinting that she should. McCabe later
talks to all the skin gurus one regularly sees on TV, all hawking their
injections, peptides and serums. She juxtaposes those interviews with the
editor in chief of Allure who admits that many of the magic creams may not work
as well as advertised, but says "If it makes you feel good and you feel
like you’ve got some tiny bit of control over this process, what’s the
negative?" ( Jezebel’s Margaret has a more thorough post about
this particular interview in the film). One of McCabe’s final, and most amusing
subjects is Norman, a man who modeled his plastic surgery to give him a
Jack Nicholson-esque look. Adding a signature pair of glasses, button-down
shirts and cigar gets him attention from autograph seekers and scantily-clad
babes. He tells McCabe, with a shake of his head that she’s really "let
herself go." Again and again, it becomes clear to the viewer that the
plastic surgery obsession isn’t just about getting rid of personal demons, but
spreading a new aesthetic creed.

Towards the end of the hour and a half film, McCabe returns to Sherry who has
gained weight over the last year and is down on herself as a result. She’s
still thrusting her discarded clothes at the filmmaker, though. To perk herself
up, Sherry returns to the doctor and gets nipped, tucked and collagen-ed up and
McCabe remarks that Sherry seems happier now. But she says this without
noticing that her last round of surgeries led to a short-lived,
externally-motivated happiness that collapsed when she gained weight. Finally,
McCabe decides to see what its all about and gets botox herself, joining the
ranks of the "injected." Although at first she’s horrified with the
procedure, she admits that she likes her results, and ends up going back for
more." "Once you start, it’s hard to stop," she says.

The film’s major flaw is that it takes some of its subject’s assumptions–such
as the idea that women need to look younger, for instance, or that the
momentary happiness granted by a new look is "real" happiness, and as
Jessica Grose points out at Double X refuses to critique them deeply . Yes, McCabe
offers counter-arguments to a life of creams, nips and tucks: she includes the
idea that it’s an expensive habit, (she herself would prefer to stay in debt
than miss a salon appointment) and that "aging gracefully" by
accepting wrinkles is a nice ideal. Some of her interview subjects also point
out that our shoddy health care system, the market’s cruelty to older job
seekers, and the fear of being abandoned by that system when we age may
contribute to the American obsession with youth.

But none of these interesting takes address the pervasive problems of a
shallow, sexist appearance-driven culture that feeds this obsession–a culture
that creates an inability for people to connect authentically, a culture that
stigmatizes and leaves behind hose who don’t want to or can’t keep up with the
trend, and an ongoing mis-perception of what natural aging looks like. She
mentions time and money, but doesn’t’ focus on how much time and money spent
getting liposuction could have gone to what keeps people emotionally and
psychologically and young–vacations, more family time, healthy food, time to
exercise, and perhaps most importantly time to relax and do nothing.
Furthermore, she skims over the health risks associated with the cosmetics
industry, something we’ve documented here at Rewire.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, the anecdotal evidence it provides is
powerful. And for the critical-minded viewer, perhaps that lack of an
incisively analytical lens is even more effective–it simply shows how far the
anti-aging myth has permeated, particularly among women. By showing so many
different women who take plastic surgery seriously, it’s made clear that the
problem is universal. Women are not to blame, but a culture that rewards them
for spending money on implants instead of IRAs requires serious feminist
combat.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

Commentary Politics

On Immigration, Major Political Parties Can’t Seem to Agree on What’s ‘Un-American’

Tina Vasquez

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.

It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.  

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“No Business Being in This Country”

For context, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence are the decidedly anti-immigrant ticket. From the beginning, Trump’s campaign has been overrun by anti-immigrant rhetoric, from calling Mexicans “rapists” and “killers” to calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. And as of July 24, Trump’s proposed ban now includes people from countries “compromised by terrorism” who will not be allowed to enter the United States, including anyone from France.

So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymorenow they’re murderers, too.”

Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”

Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”

It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of originconditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”

There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.

Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.

“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”

Broadly, the takeaway from the RNC and the GOP nominee himself is that undocumented immigrants are terrorists who are taking American jobs and lives. “Trump leaned on a tragic story of a young woman’s murder to prop up a generalized depiction of immigrants as menacing, homicidal animals ‘roaming freely to threaten peaceful citizens,’” Hing wrote for the Nation.

When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.

“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

“The Border Crossed Us”

From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.

“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”

Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positiveillustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoricat the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.

Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”

Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?

At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.

“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.

The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativist Donald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.

Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:

There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.

But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.

If Democrats were being honest at their convention, we would have heard about their failure to end family detention, and they would have addressed that they too have a history of criminalizing undocumented immigrants.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expanding mandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.

In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

In addition, President Obama is called by immigrant rights advocates “deporter in chief,” having put into place a “deportation machine” that has sent more than two million migrants back to their country of origin, more than any president in history. New arrivals to the United States, such as the Central American asylum seekers coming to our border escaping gender-based violence, are treated with the same level of prioritization for removal as threats to our national security. The country’s approach to this humanitarian crisis has been raiding homes in the middle of the night and placing migrants in detention centers, which despite being rife with allegations of human rights abuses, are making private prison corporations millions in revenue.

How Are We Defining “Un-American”?

When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”

This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.

During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.