This is an encore piece that I first wrote in April 2012, when I was a child of only 56. When I re-read it today it felt powerfully true again, as I have not learned to love my older face. I like it, I need it, I am proud of it, but I can’t say I love it. Do I have to?
It’s a funny thing, this aging. So incremental, so subtle. It’s not like when we were 10 years old, then 15 – wow, what a sea change! And from age 15 to 20 was morphing from a kid to a young woman.
But after about age 40, the changes are more delicate, and we get used to whatever face looks back at us in the mirror every morning. We know we look “younger” in certain lights and from certain angles. Sometimes we gently pull back the skin on our necks and cheeks, to see how we’d look with a little “work”. But mostly we just take a look, and go about our business.
I’ve had a fairly thin, angular face for most of my adult life. I’m blessed with high cheekbones and a strong jaw. Years of heavy-duty sunscreen and Retin-A have kept the texture of my skin pretty smooth.
But a glimpse in an outdoor mirror today took me by surprise. That woman looked, well, older than me. But she was me. There’s a hint of a jowl, some deeper lines around her mouth and eyes, and some indefinable not-youthfulness about her.
There’s nothing very remarkable about this; I am sure it happens to many of us regularly: we get a glimpse of the aging process in the stark daylight. And there’s nothing inherently bad about it. It is reality. If we’re lucky, we get older. No one is immune. The Kardashian sisters will have these moments 30 years from now (although I suspect there may be more interventions!).
But I do sometimes miss my face. The firmer, smoother one. Is that bad? Is it shallow? Probably. What I think I am missing is all the possibilities that are attached to the young face, all the options that are ahead. And yes, the power of youthful beauty too. There’s no denying that youth = beauty in our culture, and beauty bestows power.
We women of a certain age have “our own faces.” Our faces show that we’ve lived a bit. We are not naive, not easily fooled. We have wisdom, grace under pressure, experience in love and loss, and deep friendships.
I wouldn’t mind having all those things, and my younger face. That’s not a real option though. Even painful surgeries don’t “turn back the clock.” I will have a moment of grief for my formerly young face, then move forward into all the possibilities still ahead.
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