There is literal snow on my rooftop this morning. The flakes are coming down thick and fast outside the window of my Maryland home. It’s beautiful. I never tire of the look of it and the silence that accompanies it. Growing up in Texas, I saw exactly one snowfall in my time there–1974. We made a tiny snowman in the bed of my father’s pickup truck. And by the next day it was gone.
There is snow on the rooftop figuratively, too. My hair is growing back in (a little slowly for my taste) silver and gold. Most of the darker areas I had seem to be gone. The curls are soft and welcome. I have missed my hair. And I don’t mind the silver so much. If I dye my hair after this, it will be in a fun color, like the violet I chose once before. Or hot pink. I don’t want to dye it darker and pretend I’m younger. As I told my sister yesterday, I see aging as a privilege that my daughter, my oldest brother, and so many others never get to experience. She said, “Yes. I know.”
But does she? She talked about “needing” to get eyelid surgery. Not because her lids are obstructing her vision or because they are folded and chafing, but because someone once told her that she looked “tired” and should have her eyes done. I found this out, because she started explaining by saying, “I’ve been told…”
And I said, “By whom? Who told you that you needed your eyes done?”
“People,” she replied.
“What people?” I persisted.
“Well, this woman I worked with at [a job she had over 20 years ago].”
For the record, my sister is beautiful and always has been. She has an impishness about her eyes.
We had a discussion about that. About letting people get away with those kinds of comments. About letting someone’s voice echo in your head all these years later, making you hate your own face. I mean, we have to love ourselves, right? We’re the only ones who can, some days. Maybe we’re alone. Maybe we are dealing with stuff. If we look in the mirror every day and start in on all of our faults, what kind of day can we possibly have?
She mentioned celebrities who look good for their age, people on television. I pointed out that these people have plastic surgeons on retainer. They have a job because of their looks, so naturally they need to not age at all. Eventually life catches up with them, though. As much as I admired Gloria Vanderbilt, her face looked shocking in the sunlight in the documentary her son Anderson Cooper produced about her, not long before her death. Her face looked unnatural, stretched here, wrinkled there. It is not the face of an unretouched 90-something.
I remember the wrinkles on my grandmothers’ faces. Their laugh lines. Their squint lines. Both of them were farm women, and they’d seen their fair share of the midday sun. I’m beginning to see the tracks of my own story across my face. The crease between my eyebrows that grew from years of worry over my daughter. The crinkles that form when I laugh or smile. I’m happy to report that the smile and laugh lines are more prominent than the worry lines.
There’s something kind of sad about faces that do not age. If you have no clues on your face as to where you’ve been, do you know where you’re going? Sure, I have moments when I think, my God I was beautiful when I was in my 20s! But would I look normal with that face and hair at this age? I want people to look at me and see who I am, not who I was. I want to see who I am.
Too many women now look in the mirror only to see what’s wrong. They watch shows that tell them how to fix any flaw, be it heavy thighs, small breasts, laugh lines, crow’s feet, brittle hair, or teeth that are just not brilliant white. It has gotten out of hand. People actually die in or after plastic surgery. From liposuction, you might have a fat embolism. From injected fillers in your face, you could have nerve damage that stops your face from moving at all on one or both sides. Why would you do that? Why would you put yourself in jeopardy just to look like you have not aged?
Notice that men do not necessarily suffer from the same self-loathing. Men are accepted for how they look (although some of my gay male friends might not agree with me…youthfulness is prized in many corners). If you watched The Undoing, you would see that Nicole Kidman’s face doesn’t move much. Just her jaw, really, whereas Hugh Grant is graying and wrinkled. His face shows a seriousness (and maybe credibility?) required for his doctor character. As usual, Kidman gave the better performance, but her face was distracting.
If you look at The Hunger Games, part of the narrative was that the people in the districts were real, while the people in the Capitol were plastic. They wore strange hair/makeup/clothing and drank a concoction to make them vomit the food they had eaten so that they could gorge themselves more without fear of gaining weight. Are we that far off from the scenario that Collins gave us in that story? It really is a story of self-loathing and the destruction it can bring about.
Personally, I will accept the laugh lines, the sagging, and the silver hair. I’m fortunate that I’m not a celebrity who has to look a certain way. After all my body has been through, I think I look alright. I don’t need for anyone to validate that for me. Yes, I have days when I wish my body were different, but these days that is mostly, “I wish I didn’t have cancer.”