Being a woman can feel like walking a tightrope of society’s expectations. Be thin, but not too thin. Wear make up, but not too much. Work hard but have a life. This finely-drawn line tends to feel more like a plank than a yellow brick road: one wrong move, and you’re toast.
Perhaps no problem better epitomises this paradox than this one: “diet face”.
While not exactly a new phenomenon, the topic was re-ignited last week when British journalist Jenni Murray revealed that she didn’t want to lose any more weight because she didn’t want her face to collapse. She did not want to get “diet face”.
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She’s not the first woman to warn about the perilous impact extreme dieting and over-exercising can have on our features. Courtney Cox once said: “In Hollywood, to get your bottom half to be the right size, your face may have to be a little gaunt”. In other words, at some stage you have to choose between your face and your arse. But is it a real thing?
Science backs this idea up. A 2015 study at the University of Toronto suggested there is a tipping point. “Women and men of average height need to gain or lose about three and a half to four kilograms for anyone to see it in their face,” said Nicholas Rule, associate professor in the university’s Faculty of Arts and Science who led the study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Dermatologists also acknowledge its existence. As women age, from as early as our mid-thirties, our faces naturally get thinner whether or not we diet, due to the natural thinning of fat under the skin and the loss of facial bone. “It causes tissue laxity or sagging, hollow cheeks and a less defined jawline,” consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahta tells The Times.
Waging war on the middle-spread could make things worse, he adds: “if you diet or exercise to excess, the fat loss is greater, meaning the effects can be exacerbated.” Women are more likely to affected than men due to menopause causing facial muscles to slacken through oestrogen loss. Meaning women are more likely to experience facial ageing – and diet face – when they slash calories or cut out carbs. Over-exercising can also add to the wear and tear, Dr Mahta says.
What can be done? A study published in the journal JAMA Dermatology found that a 30-minute daily or alternate-day facial exercise program – similar to the one Meghan Markle swears by – improved the facial appearance of middle-aged women after 20 weeks.
Eating the right foods may also help. While there is no particular diet guaranteed to make you look younger, there is some evidence that eating foods containing health fats and omega-3 fatty acids, such as those in fish and nuts, as well as cutting down on refined and sugary foods might help the appearance of skin. For more extreme measures, facial fillers can also help.
Otherwise it may be as simple as not getting too thin, too quick. Your face will thank you for it.