After Hazel York's husband died, she moved into a retirement home, convinced the better part of her life was over.
Then she met Damon.
She's 81. He's 78. They were married about a year and a half ago at The Village Community Care Retirement Community in Hemet, Calif.
She feels she won a second chance at life, so she decided to give her face a second chance, too.
York underwent a five-hour face-lift in June in Beverly Hills, Calif., to erase some wrinkles and shave off a few years.
Her husband is supportive, but said, ''I love her as is.''
She says she did it for herself. ''Don't get me wrong. I don't want to look 16 again,'' she said, ''but I also don't want to look like Damon's mother.''
Experts say thousands of men and women 65 and older are getting plastic surgery. They want to feel young and attractive, and battle age discrimination.
Since 1997, the number of cosmetic procedures for those 65 and older jumped from about nearly 121,000 to more than 425,000 last year. Seniors accounted for about 5 percent of 8.5 million surgeries performed in 2001, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery in Los Alamitos, Calif.
Dr. Sheldon Sevinor, a plastic surgeon based in Boston, said he had at least 30 patients last year that are older than 70.
''We're living longer and feeling more vital,'' he said. ''Age 40 today is what age 30 used to be like.''
He recently performed breast enlargement surgery on an 82-year-old Boston woman, his oldest patient to have the procedure.
''She's healthy, she's spunky and she wanted to look how she felt,'' he said.
Leland Preble, 73, from Burlington, Mass., is planning to have his eyelids lifted by Sevinor.
''I'm proud of my age, but when I have an eye exam, they have to pull my eyelids up so they can take the test,'' he said. ''Gravity's too strong.''
Harry R. Moody, former head of the Brookdale Center on Aging at New York's Hunter College, said a little narcissism is healthy.
''Women want to be noticed and not seen as frail old ladies,'' he said. ''It's the same kind of thing for men.''
Moody said some elderly people feel they have to dye their hair or get plastic surgery to convince employers they're still able to do their job as well as someone younger.
''People need to keep their jobs and they'll do what they feel they need to do,'' he said. ''It's sometimes used as a workplace defense mechanism. It can be a costly one, too.''
A face-lift can cost as much as $25,000.
But no matter the price tag, interest in cosmetic surgery has increased recently, and liposuction is the most common surgery. Face-lift surgery was ranked fifth, according to the plastic surgery group.
Plastic surgeons say health risks for all procedures are relatively low as long as the patient is in good health, but those older than 65 will take longer to heal.
In Hazel York's case, her surgery went well, though she had mild pain and was swollen afterward. But she says she feels great now.
''My neck is especially great. I'm just tickled with the way it turned out,'' she said.
Dr. John Grossman, who performed York's surgery and runs cosmetic surgery clinics in Denver and Beverly Hills, Calif., said he has had many patients her age.
''Hazel's a perfect example that chronologic age doesn't have to relate to how you feel about yourself. Just because you're 80 doesn't mean you have to look and feel like it,'' he said.
But Grossman also says a new look doesn't mean a new life.
''Our society prizes youth as opposed to other cultures where the value and respect is on age and wisdom,'' he said.
''You're always competing with someone younger. But getting a face-lift doesn't make you more qualified for a job.''
Leni Marshall, chairwoman of the 2002-2002 Aging and Ageism Caucus for the National Women's Studies Association, said though she understands why plastic surgery is so popular, it devalues age.
''There is a lot of emphasis on people's bodies and needing to look young,'' Marshall said. ''But older bodies are an accumulation of moments, and plastic surgery takes those moments away.''
Plastic surgery, she said, also reinforces the culture's negative view of aging.
''People refuse to value who they've become when they get old,'' said the 32-year-old Marshall. ''They try to be as young as possible and plastic surgery only perpetuates it.''
One woman who is comfortable with aging is Ruth Garrett, 67, a retired gerontology professor. She said she's happy with her looks, and believes older women should teach younger ones to care about their minds and health.
''When I look at myself in the mirror, I see my mother. And that's OK,'' said Garrett, from Hendersenville, Tenn. ''If my daughter looks at herself in 20 years and sees me, is that so bad?''
On The Net:
American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery: http://www.surgery.org
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