Do You Feel Bad About the Changes in Your Neck As You Age?

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

This column first ran in Valerie Monroe’s newsletter, How Not to F*ck Up Your Face, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

There were moments when I worked at O, The Oprah Magazine that made me wonder if all us beauty-oriented women share a collective unconscious. Not the kind that comes from having been brainwashed by marketers telling us this or that cream/lotion/solution would render us 100 times more attractive/youthful/successful. I mean the kind where we seem to have a mind-meld — all of us troubled, suddenly, by the same predicament. One month in particular I remember receiving a plethora of emails about chicken legs and turkey neck. Was it around Thanksgiving? I don’t recall. But today, I eat no fowl. I can’t be sure it’s not because the intense negativity around chicken legs and turkey neck put me off it for good; but anything with body parts I can identify with is no longer on the menu.

Do neckish nightmares strangle your peaceful sleep? Before going further, I want to remind you that no matter how bad those bad dreams are, they can’t be as stifling as this. The female neck, like the feet, can be seen and used as an indicator of class, a focal point of eroticism and feminine beauty. Neck-lengthening gold rings in some cultures can weigh up to 11 pounds — and though they don’t actually elongate the neck (thus making it more attractive), they do lower the clavicle, which can give a lengthened impression. I watched a video in which a woman wearing many rings claimed it’s not uncomfortable. But all due respect? I’d rather not.

What is it about our necks? Several women I know who’ve opted for a lower face lift (tightening the neck and jowls) said the deciding factor was when they looked at their necks and saw their mother’s; that was enough to whipsaw them to a plastic surgeon. Has that been your experience, too? As my own neck has started to look kind of stringy, my solution has been to not look at it. I don’t look at other people’s necks when I’m talking to them, so neither do I look at my own when communing with myself. Maybe one day that will change, as everything does.

One reason we might be especially sensitive about our neck is that it’s one of those features considered most attractive in women, as we’ve seen, when it’s elongated and smooth (the better to seductively show our vulnerability with).

And there are so many ways it can transform, as the late, great Nora Ephron emphasizes in her perfect essay collection: “There are scrawny necks and fat necks, loose necks, crepey necks, banded necks, wrinkled necks, stringy necks, saggy necks, flabby necks, mottled necks,” she writes. “There are necks that are an amazing combination of all of the above.” Right. For that reason, I’m not going to offer specific advice about what you might choose to do to address each and/or all of the above; you’ll have to see a doctor about that. But I can give you a general idea of your options.

My favorite person to talk with about necks is the metaphorically gifted plastic surgeon Alan Matarasso, who compares aspects of his work to tailoring and laundering in a way that crystallizes our understanding of our alteration options. He says there are three elements especially detrimental to neck quality. The first: sun exposure. If you’re wearing a broad-spectrum SPF30 sunscreen every day, congratulations, and I hope you’re also applying it to your neck. The skin on the neck has a different cellular composition than facial skin: It’s thinner and more delicate, and, therefore, more prone to the deleterious effects of UV rays. And by that, I mean the breakdown of collagen and elastin, both of which are why you had a lovely neck when you were 20.

The next element? Weight fluctuation. Continually stretching and relaxing the skin (as happens when you gain and lose weight) makes it flaccid. “Skin” and “flaccid”: two words no one likes to see in the same sentence.

And finally, age. The cellular structure of skin weakens as we get older, so a certain amount of change in skin quality and muscle is inevitable.

If, like me, you’re already two for three, you’ll probably want to keep reading.

When the skin on your neck is a wee bit saggy, or a tiny bit mottled, or an eensy suggestion of crepey, applying a topical retinoid (vitamin A derivative) can help prevent those conditions from becoming more acute over time. What Matarasso calls “energy devices,” like certain lasers and ultrasound machines, can also have a slight tightening effect. Multiple treatments may be required, meaning multiple cash outlays. Injections of neuromodulators like Botox can be used to help reduce the look of the chords of the neck, and liposuction can help remove some fat from a double chin. Matarasso doesn’t much like the fat “melting” Kybella once touted as a good solution for reducing heavy underchins, as it requires several treatments, is potentially painful, involves downtime, and is expensive. Here’s a different perspective.

But the good doctor points out you can’t get dramatic results without dramatic action. Think of your neck as a pair of cotton trousers four inches too long, he says. You can put those trousers in a hot wash and a hot dryer so they’ll be tighter (and hotter) when you pull them on afterward — but they’re still going to be four inches too long. Energy devices do for your neck what a washer and dryer on a hot setting do for your pants. In other words, unless you do some hemming, you won’t lose the excess material. If your turkey neck is in full swing, neither creams nor energy devices will make a difference.

Before you decide to consult a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon, I’ll ask that you please do your facial exercise. Then, read Ephron’s book. It will lift that most crucial element to happiness: your mood. “You have to cut open a redwood tree to see how old it is,” she writes. “But you wouldn’t have to if it had a neck.”

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