I have been scrutinizing lots of women and begun noticing a strange phenomenon: their bodies and faces are moving upward when, according to the laws of time and gravity, they should be going in a more southerly direction. Could it be they have discovered the Fountain of Youth, or have they been paying large sums of money to their aesthetic gurus otherwise known as plastic surgeons?

I find it oddly reassuring to awaken each morning, look in the mirror and find my face exactly the way I left it the night before. I used to mock those who tinkered with themselves as though they were pieces of putty, ready to be reshaped, nipped and tucked, all in the name of reclaiming the one-word nirvana: "youth."

Each year, thousands of women put their miscellaneous parts into the hands of specialists who, with a wave of their magic scalpels, transform them into looking like the sisters of their 30-year plus daughters. My friend, Karen reports back to me with regular frequency on comments made when she and her 20-year-old granddaughter are together.

"Wendy and I were sipping our mineral water when the woman at the next table said, `Don't tell me that's your daughter. Surely, you must be sisters.'"

"Actually, I'm her grandmother."

The woman leaned over. "If you give me the name of your plastic surgeon, I'll buy you lunch," she said.

Such remarks keep Karen on a perpetual high.

Other friends have been whipping out their mirrors and bemoaning the sad reality of life: they are not as young as they used to be. Says one: "My laugh lines just don't seem so laughable any more."

My cousin Elaine called, announcing that she no longer needs to use a vacuum cleaner.

"My bottom has finally hit bottom," she cried. "All I have to do is walk across the room and my buttocks picks up the lint. That's how low its hanging. I'm a human vacuum cleaner."

Each day I notice changes that seemed to have appeared when I wasn't paying attention. A forehead wrinkle I chalked up as a temporary frown line seems to be hanging around even when I don't frown.

"Get used to it," my neighbor said. "My love handles and I are soon to part company. They have taken up permanent residence on my thighs." The rational side of me knows that "eternal youth" is a myth, hardly worth the effort, and yet, every time I catch a glimpse of myself, I cringe.

One beauty report claims that a 65-year-old woman asked to have her features remodeled after her husband's favorite movie idol. Others have clipped their toes to accommodate their Manolo Blahnik heels, while one fashion victim demanded larger earlobes so she could wear a designer's newest, oversized earrings.

"Can't you just plump them up a bit with collagen?" she asked her doctor. "Later, after the fashion trend changes, you can suction them back to the way they were."

The most shocking is the young mother who wanted to liposuction her 4-year-old daughter's cheeks because they were too chubby."

"Her baby fat is no longer adorable," she told her doctor.

He threw her out of his office.

We live in a time when too many women are putting themselves through rigorous and often dangerous procedures. I have seen rhinoplasties that turned a classic elongated nose into a tiny pug that made the woman look silly, all because she was getting bored with her looks and wanted a change. I am saturated with conversations on augmentation, implants, dermabrasion and exotic lotions that promise to deliver the goods. One friend swears by a cream that she rubs on her breasts nightly, promising to increase their size, but so far, nothing has happened, proving that bust creams can be a real bust.

Recently, an entire dinner was spent discussing the value of esthetic dentistry, porcelain veneers and cosmetic contouring of the teeth. I have sat in waiting rooms with friends awaiting consultations with their plastic surgeons, who assure them they can change their looks as often as they change their hair styles. As a result, my neighbor, Joan has a 35-year-old face resting on a 60-year-old body. But, she isn't concerned.

"I'm going in next month for a complete overhaul," Joan said. "Soon, I'll have 35-year-old thighs, too, and a tummy tucks that guarantees I'll be donning bikinis in the Bahamas by February."

And so it goes. As we maneuver through the 21st century, anything is possible if you have the right doc and the necessary cash flow. Has the ease of cosmetic surgery turned us into a nation of pampered narcissists? Do our distorted values send off messages that aging is a thing of the past, and looking good at all costs defines us? Is old age a disease rather than a natural progression of life? Is the art of artificiality getting out of hand?

"Get a grip," I wanted to tell my own daughter who was thinking ("Just thinking, mom") that a few dollops of Botox might be the answer to erasing away her worry lines.

"I look stressed," she said.

And what's wrong with a little stress? Why is a wrinkle considered an imperfection? Does looking tighter and uplifted mean we are nicer, happier, more fulfilled adults? Does swallowing a pill, going under the knife, or being pummeled into perfection mean we are more desirable, and if so, who are the judges?

One of the nicest men I know is a plastic surgeon who shares my philosophy.

"The best advice I give my patients is not to alter reality, but merely to improve upon what's already there."

He has turned away prospective clients whose dreams are too tall an order to fill.

I am all for physical enhancements when it makes a difference psychologically and physically. Patients can select from a menu of procedures and go "a la carte" (specific areas) or "prix fixe" (the whole enchilada). I have reached the age when I hear a constant barrage of complaints from friends, dissatisfied with their looks and it gives me pause. These same friends' imperfections are often their most interesting features. Their minute flaws make them real, adds character. But many of them won't agree. They want to be "corrected" -- "altered" or ever-so-slightly tweaked.

Pretty soon, cookie-cutter, plastic-molded facsimiles of the so-called perfect face and body will be roaming the land. I applaud the physicians whose career is built on a credo that "less is more." When the bandages come off, what is new must also be familiar. Plastic surgery should never be a jolting experience, but allow patients to go gently back to their lives, bearing some semblance of their prior selves.

With that in mind, my Cousin Elaine went to a renowned plastic surgeon, inquiring about the popular Brazilian Butt Lift.

"What should I do?" she asked, regaling the doctor with her tragic story of her lint-picker-upper derriere.

He checked her buttocks, which, though not according to Elaine, were still holding their own. The doctor sat her down, looked her in the eyes and smiled reassuringly.

"Keep vacuuming," he said.

Westporter Judith Marks-White shares her humorous views every Wednesday in the Westport News. She can be reached via e-mail at joodth@snet.net or at www.judithmarks-white.com.