The 55-year-old actress turned author and director studies the topic of women and aging in her new book Face: One Square Foot of Skin
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justine bateman
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When Justine Bateman was in her early 40s and writing her first book Fame: The Hijacking of Reality, she remembers Googling herself and finding the auto complete: "looks old." Justine Bateman looks old.

She then looked at the photos presented as "evidence."

"I thought my face looked fine," the 55-year-old actress turned author and director says in this week's PEOPLE. "Because of some of the fears I had, unrelated to my face, I decided to make them right and me wrong....I became really ashamed of my face, ridiculously so."

The topic of women and aging is one she examines in her new book Face: One Square Foot of Skin, for which she interviewed some 25 men and women, weaving their stories into fictional vignettes. "I don't think it's natural to tell women they should get they faces fixed," says Bateman. "That's the bottom line."

face by justine bateman
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The online criticism about her looks initially threw her. "I looked the same the day before, as I did the day after, and yet I felt totally different about my face...The only difference was that I had read the criticism."

The experience led her to examine her own irrational fears. "I realized my face is only going to get older," she says, "so why not take care of whatever fear I have attached to that."

For example, she says: "What if people were looking at your face and thinking 'I don't want to listen to what she has to say because she looks older.'" None of it, she realized, had anything to do with her face.

Her self examination also led her to examine society's fears. "I find it wrong that women absorb the idea that faces need to be fixed," she says. "That it's being treated as a matter of fact. I feel that we've skipped over the phase where we talk about whether or not we should criticize women's faces as they get older."

"I think getting all this plastic surgery is just people pleasing," she continues. "You don't want people to criticize you anymore so you appease them. The more you do that, the further away you get away from your true self. It doesn't work for me. If somebody said to me now we could do some surgery, wouldn't I be signaling that I'm super insecure? To me, it would."

For more of the exclusive interview with Bateman, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

And so as she looks in the mirror and discovers new lines, she says, "Now, I think that's what a cool neck look like -- that's what a cool eyelid look like."

Moreover, there are so many more important and interesting things to focus on. "We only have a short amount of time here," she asks, "how do you want to go through it?"

For her, it's a focus on story telling through writing and directing. Her upcoming film Violet, which premiered at SXSW in April, stars Olivia Munn, as a film exec wrestling with overwhelming negative voices, and follows her journey as she learns to trust herself, her true self.

It's all part of her exploration into the "the multitude aspects of the human condition," she says. An exploration in which she aims to "break convention." As she explains, "I'd do anything it takes to make my books and films as emotionally engaging for the reader or viewer as I can. After all, that's the point of art."

She's excited about what's ahead. "I always knew I wanted to live a really free life," she says. "I want to live every day as free from insecurity as I can."

"I grew up looking at older woman who were badass with great style and confidence," she says. "They did what they wanted and that was so attractive. Georgia O'Keeffe, her face is awesome."

After all, she adds, "I want to find out what I'm going to look like."