To Hell in High Heels

An excerpt from the book by Helen Frith Powell, To Hell in High Heels: How to age gracefully, disgracefully – or not at all!

Carolyn says,

“Like most women, I am most curious to know the true story of all the cosmetic “wonder claims” from the best anti-wrinkle cream to how Botox® “really works” to even plastic surgery without having to actually go through the expensive journey, myself.  And really how effective are those natural methods offered that claim I can look younger and firmer without the high tech experience?

Helena has courageously and provocatively taken this tour for me and shared her experience in her new book , “To Hell in High Heels”.  She has been able to make me laugh while also scaring me a bit on her journey through the fascinating world of anti-ageing.  I actually found myself unable to put the book down from time to time in anticipation of whether or not Helena was going to actually go through an invasive procedure or not?!  Such a great read!  Her ability to share her process as she visits the most expensive and glamorous salons in the world to sharing the more natural processes for looking and staying younger kept me intrigued throughout the whole entire book.

Even though I offer a more natural, viable alternative to fighting ageing, this has not deterred me in any way from wanting to know more. I highly recommend this book to any of us wanting a glimpse of what it’s like to explore the full spectrum of possibilities offered, from an insider’s journey through the ‘land of anti-ageing’ alternatives.”From CHAPTER FOUR – “A Cheaper Option” on pages 87 – 95.

Helen says,

One alternative to the Tua Viso comes from Carolyn, a lady who lives in Seattle.  She owns a company called Carolyn’s Facial Fitness ( and teaches people to retain a youthful look by exercising their facial muscles.  ‘It’s so much fun looking younger as I grow older and knowing it’s all natural,’ says Carolyn.  She first came across the idea of facial fitness when she turned fifty.  Her mother had her first face-lift when she was forty-eight years old.  Within five years she needed ‘more work’, as Carolyn puts it.’By the time she was fifty she looked permanently surprised,’ says Carolyn. ‘By the time she was sixty she started looking distorted. She was not ageing gracefully at all and I thought, there just has to be an alternative to this disaster.’Carolyn does not believe in Botox® . She works with a cosmetic surgeon who has been horrified at the number of women who come to his clinic suffering from the adverse effects of it. ‘Many of them have been using Botox® for so long their muscles have atrophied beyond recovery,’ she says.  ‘So, I turned to other methods of preventing the sagging, bagging and wrinkles that were coming to live with me, especially on my face and neck.  At age fifty-two I was really looking older than my years.  I had lost a lot of weight, which was part of the problem.  That was when I started my quest to at least look my age and not older.’

Carolyn came across a book published in 1907 by Sanford Bennett, known as ‘The man who grew young at seventy’.  In Old Age, Its Cause and Prevention Bennett mentions a woman, Ninon de L’Enclos ‘The woman who never grew old’, born in Paris on 15 May 1616.  She was supposed to have been doing facial exercises to ‘keep’ her youth.  In the book he describes a technique he calls rubbing out wrinkles, which Carolyn has incorporated into her programme.  It consists of holding wrinkles between your forefinger and index finger in a V-sign and literally rubbing the wrinkle away.

Carolyn’s programme works on the principle of regaining the fresh, firm, natural look of youth.  It contours and lifts the face and the neck.  ‘It is based on muscle resistance training that not only builds muscle fibre to create a lift but isometrics as well to enhance and tone the skin,’ says Carolyn. ‘I consulted a medical doctor and a professor of anatomy and physiology when designing my programme so I would not only address all fifty-seven muscles of the face and neck, but ensure it was safe, dynamic and thorough.  I was able to design a complete workout that was no more than fifteen minutes long and would still give me the results I wanted.  I just knew I wouldn’t devote more than fifteen minutes a session to my face and neck.’

I see a picture of Carolyn on her website and think she looks great but of course, I can’t take that as evidence that her programme works; she could have been using that same picture for the past forty years.  This is a well-known anti-ageing trick used by newspaper columnists the world over (and one I am not adverse to).  Next to their by-line you invariably see a picture taken in the 1970’s.

Luckily I have a friend in Seattle who has founded a group called GOG or Growing Old Gracefully. Peggy, who is in her fifties, immediately orders Carolyn’s facial fitness kit and tells me she is going to go for a consultation with the lady herself as she doesn’t ‘want to end up looking like Jim Carrey’.

Peggy’s first impression of Carolyn is extremely positive. “Carolyn’s face looks marvelous, and not in that stretched-tight-as-a-drum way that you get from a face-lift,’ she says.  ‘She doesn’t try and dress young, and has a kind of timeless quality about her.’  The workshop is interesting. She sends me a funny email about the session.

Carolyn looks good and is also very lively and energetic.  It’s wonderful to see someone her age whose face and body move so freely.  And she doesn’t try to act or dress young, which is also refreshing. She looks a little bit like a druid and I mean that as a compliment.

I am learning the routine and it is HARD.  Once I have it down, pat, I apparently need to spend ‘only’ fifteen minutes a day.  I know I will stick with it, but I suspect the limitation to this kind of programme is that most women would prefer two hours under the knife and two weeks in hiding on the day-to-day discipline that facial fitness requires. However, I think it can produce visible results.  And judging from Carolyn’s face, it gives you a face that is natural and that leaves you free to express emotions through facial expressions – what a concept!  Some of the exercises are so funny ~ like doing push-ups with your cheeks and pulling your eyelids down while holding your brow up.  Neck exercises are also included (ever notice how face-lifts can accentuate the age of the neck?  Ewwww!).

Facial fitness has its detractors.  Some say that using facial muscles actually increase wrinkles and that we’re better off with Botox. Those of the holistic school like Carolyn would argue that paralyzing the facial muscles via injections leads to muscle atrophy and possibly bone damage, because the facial muscles are directly connected to the underlying bones.

Peggy, my GOG friend, agrees with this. ‘I have seen the findings of recent scientific work on the long-term effects of Botox® , done by disinterested scientists who are not working for dermatologists, plastic surgeons or pharmaceutical companies, and it appears that paralyzing the facial muscles can do serious long-term damage,’ she says.

I haven’t tried it out, but Carolyn’s method sounds fairly good to me.  I think it stands to reason that if you exercise your muscles they will be in better shape. And no one has ever suggested exercising from the neck down is a bad thing; that it creates wrinkles, fine lines and sagging skin.  The consensus is that exercise is by far the best way to achieve and maintain a firm body as we age.  Why should it be any different for the face and neck?  In addition, Botox® cannot help with sagging skin. So maybe there’s room for a bit of both?

‘The crux of the matter is – what is more appealing to you?  Facial exercise or the surgeon’s knife?’ says Peggy.  ‘Facial exercising is a much less invasive way to reducing the sagging that comes with age.’

But what of the woman herself?  Surely proof of the efficacy of her programme must start with her? ‘Carolyn looks fabulous,’ Peggy tells me.  ‘She has some fine lines but no deep wrinkles and her face is nicely built up in a natural way, rather than being pulled tight.  What’s more, she has the freedom of movement in her face and neck that surgery survivors and Botox® devotees lack. She is lovely in a full and rounded way (by which I don’t mean fat) a living demonstration that facial fitness does not cause wrinkles.’

Peggy is also delighted with the results she has seen on herself.  ‘I have found that by bringing blood and oxygen flow to the face, facial exercises improve the skin as well as the sagginess and the wrinkles,’ says Peggy.  ‘When I first started, I got some pimples and this worried me.  I think it was trapped toxins being liberated.  They cleared up quickly and my skin looks better, the colour is more even and my skin is smoother and less dry than it has been for ages.’

After two months of doing the programme Peggy travelled back to Paris where she has lived for many years. ‘Every one of my friends noted that I looked refreshed, younger, less tired,’ she says.  ‘They all attributed this to the fact I am happy and well cared for by a wonderful man now. (Peggy recently got married.)  Little do they suspect that my “refreshed” look comes from pulling on various parts of my face for fifteen minutes everyday.  The most spectacular change is around the eyes.  In recent years, my eyes have been puffy when I wake up, sometimes taking hours to return to a semi-normal state.  Now they are puffy when I wake up, but less so, and the puffiness is vastly reduced by the eye exercises.  I can see it happening before my eyes, so to speak.  Freaky!’

Six months later she is still going strong.

I continue to manage four of five facial workouts a week and I am here to tell you the results are there, she writes.  I had dinner with a friend last week and she said marriage must be working for me because I look ten years younger, and she really couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but I looked radiant, what kind of miracle cream was I using, etc.  I told her I was using my fingers and facial muscles plus sunscreen.  The best thing about these exercises is they exfoliate your skin.  Fabulous to see the little flakes floating off as you rub instead of becoming patches of dry skin.

From the women I have spoken to I am convinced that programmes like Carolyn’s Facial Fitness and the Tua Viso do some good. But they do require a commitment. Of course it is quicker and easier to nip into you dermatologist’s for some Botox® and fillers.  Rather like having liposuction instead of exercising to get rid of unwanted fat.  The question is, which would you rather do?  And what can you afford?  And do you believe the long-term benefits of a system like Carolyn’s outweigh the convenience of a quick-fix Botox® injection?

Carolyn sent me her kit and I sat and looked at it for weeks.  Then I opened it and was slightly over-whelmed by all the information I had to take in.  I took it away with me on holiday to give it my full attention.  But the children needed more attention than my wrinkles and so it stayed in the packet.  And it has stayed there ever since.  I have no doubt it has its benefits and it seems to work for Peggy. But much as I love the idea of rubbing out the most hated wrinkle, I think to win this particular battle I may need something a little stronger, and a little more immediate.

You can order Helena’s book on Amazon here.

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