If someone told you that there is a woman who can change the appearance of your face without surgery or expensive creams would you be intrigued? I thought so. I was too, so I set off to meet Eva Fraser in her studio just off Kensington Church Street for a chat about her life, work and age-defying face.
Eva’s involvement in facial exercise was serendipitous. She was a 50-year-old dealer and restorer of antique tapestries when she met dancer Eva Hoffman whose face, at 76, belied her age. With a little convincing, Hoffman opened up to Fraser about the exercises she had devised with the help of a doctor to keep her face as taut as her body. Over 30 years later, Fraser is still teaching a version of the exercises which Hoffman entrusted to her.
As discipline is the backbone to exercise, I was half expecting this octogenarian to be a draconian, so I brought along my most surefire confidence-booster – the company of a good friend. It turns out I was all wrong about Eva’s attitude and didn’t need a familiar – she isn’t a woman obsessed with an unrealistic idea of youth, nor someone who is preoccupied with appearance in general. Eva was instead excited by youthfulness (“I’m 83 years young”, she told me), emphatic about a holistic approach to beauty and very, very interesting. Having said that, her jawline is the tightest I’ve ever seen in a woman over 40 (there were no telltale signs of surgery), so there must be something in the exercises that Eva teaches at her Facial Fitness Centre.
Onto the ‘facial fitness’ itself. The principles are the same as those for exercising the body – that repetition of movements will exercise your muscles and lead to tone and better structure in general. As with the body, there is no shortcut and no money you can throw at it without doing the hard work. The ‘work’ in this case is a series of mostly small, but very specific, movements designed to target the major and minor muscles which comprise the facial structure. I was surprised, for example, that a hateful sagging jaw is not the direct result of the jaw muscles loosening but those around the temple and eyes.
Once you know the techniques (after approximately four hours of lessons lasting around 90 minutes each), it is a case of practicing several times a week. The series will eventually take a total of 15 minutes, which I felt was barely anything given the effect the exercises clearly have. “The benefits are enormous”, says Eva, “not just for the skin but for the spirit, too. As you age the flesh becomes thinner and has less support but looking and feeling good through exercise of the face and body is key to youthfulness.”
It all makes sense, really – we all know that the body responds to exercise so why not the face, too? The fact that so many of the great beauty experts I’ve met have spoken of exercising the face and the encouragement of tone and blood flow into the skin also suggests to me that Eva is really onto something. There are plenty of things that fiddle with the facial muscles in a far more toxic, expensive and (from what I’ve seen), less effective way, from creams designed to ‘paralyse’ muscles (and therefore keep wrinkles at bay) to the extreme response to ageing – botox.
What did Eva have to say about the extreme and invasive response to ageing which so many prominent figures glamorise? “I find it sad. I feel young at 83 and full of the possibilities of life so am saddened to hear 40 year olds say things such as ‘you know, I’m not terribly young anymore’. They are young, and I am young. I really believe youth is down to much more than a lack of wrinkles – gratitude, manners and joy all suggest youth to me.” Well said Eva.
Here is a sample exercise from Eva’s Facial Fitness Centre (and for those of you who cannot attend, there are also several DVDs of her teachings available):
Lower Face Lift:
1) Look straight ahead.
2) Hold firmly on collar bone with finger pads.
3) Place lower lip and teeth over top lip.
4) Now tilt your head upwards feeling a stretch from the collarbone to your jaw line.
5) Smile to top of ears and feel a gentle lift at the jawline (imagine your muscles tied in a bow behind your head).
6) Hold for 10 counts and release slowly.
7) Breathe, then repeat once more.