When 81-year-old actress Kim Novak walked out on to the Oscars stage Sunday night to present the award for best animated feature, titled, unfortunately for her, Frozen, she looked very different from the screen siren of old. Her face looked distorted by plastic surgery.
Novak had not managed the trick of altering herself just enough to be considered “natural.” The response was as rapid as it was vicious. Twitter exploded in snark over the frozen look of Novak’s face. Commenters fumed that she had not aged “gracefully” like fellow presenter and octogenarian Angela Lansbury, whose own admitted nips and tucks had rendered a more acceptable look. (Though Lansbury was never really considered a sex symbol.)
Headlines about Novak’s “shocking” appearance popped up on virtually every entertainment site. On Monday, the ladies at ABC’s The View offered that perhaps Novak ought to closet herself. Even Donald Trump, no stranger to ridicule, piled on the mockery.
A screen siren is supposed to be immutable — the eternal feminine. She is frozen in time, and fixed in place by our gaze. When such a woman acts off-script, when she ages, for example, it offends us. Her alteration gives us unpleasant inklings about our own mortality. Better to leave her sealed inside a movie reel, preserved for generations to fixate on.
Analyzing beauty destroys it. We aren’t supposed to be aware of the tricks — the lighting, the make-up, the hair. When plastic surgery announces itself as plastic surgery, it disturbs the illusion of beauty and makes us uneasy. In our narcissism, we want to identify with an ideal. Anything else and we instinctively recoil.