I’m turning 32 in a couple of weeks, and I’m looking my age.
Actually, I’ve always looked younger for my age (that’s genetics and non-smoking for you), so maybe I don’t look so much “32” (whatever that looks like) as much as I look . . . older. Less like myself. And I don’t like it.
I made this disturbing discovery when I renewed my driver’s license earlier this month. I had to have my picture retaken, so out of curiosity, when I received my new one, I did a quick comparison between my older license (with the younger me) and my newer license (with the older me).
I was horrified at what I saw.
My newer (older) face was thinner with noticeably less elasticity. My eyes were a bit lower, more sunken in. My lips looked thinner and tighter.
“You were tired that day. That’s all,” my mom said to me when I showed her the evidence of my aging face. “And you’re not smiling. People who don’t smile always look like shit.”
I bought my very first jar of anti-aging cream that same day.
But, really, the chin hairs were the first hint of my impending senior discounts and early-bird dinners. They were my 30th birthday present, sprouting up on my face reminiscent of a Chia Pet. I tweeze them daily. I really should wax them, but then I think, if I go that route, there is no turning back. And so, the fuckers win. I’m also sorry to report that I have a mustache now, too. My mom likes to point out that I do especially when the sun, or a bright light, is reflecting off my face like one of those giant magnifying spa lamps.
“I can see your mustache,” she says. “You really should have that thing waxed.”
Then there are the lotions. I have sunscreen and a serum and a BB cream and coconut oil and vitamin E oil and now I have this ridiculous anti-wrinkle cream, which cost me an arm and, dare I say it, a varicose-veined leg. My bathroom sink now looks like a very depressing shelf from a drugstore. I remember when I used to just splash my face with a little bit of water and daily scrub.
Life, and my face—sigh—were so simplistically beautiful back then.
Growing up, I didn’t think much about looks—certainly not the notion of them fading—even though at age seven, I was a child model. I appeared in the Sears catalogue a few times and walked runways, once modeling for the ill-fated, and hideous, McDonald’s fashion line (yes, really). My mom put me in modeling because I was "shy with an adorable face.”
At first, modeling was just a fun thing for me to do. I got to meet new people and wear cute clothes (except for that McDonald’s shit) and it was the first experience that exposed me to the glory that is men in underwear. (Thanks, Sears catalogue.) But once I realized the emphasis that modeling had on appearance, particularly my appearance, I started to hate it. I didn’t like to draw attention to myself, especially because of how I looked; it made me feel uncomfortable and in truth, I didn’t understand the big deal about being attractive. I really didn't even get what that meant—trite as it may seem, I was raised to think that what’s on the inside counts for the most.
My modeling career didn’t last past puberty.
There were a number of occasions when I was ostracized and bullied because of my "attractive" appearance. Girls on soccer teams would gang up on me, seething, “This is no place for a pretty girl!” In my first year of college, my roommate confessed to me, “When I first met you, I thought you must get all the guys because you’re so pretty.” Upon discovering I was single and still a virgin, she almost sounded victorious when she added, “And now I know I’m wrong.”
In my efforts to downplay my outer appearance and prove that I was actually a well-rounded person with more to offer than just a pretty face—like tangible skills, smarts and a sense of humor—I threw myself into anything and everything that could validate me as a third-dimensional person: ya know, things like school, work and friendships. I worked hard to be taken seriously. I never wanted someone to say to me, “You got to where you are because of what you look like.”
When I was 22, I was enrolled in an on-camera acting class. During one session, the instructor gave my class a scenario: If we were a top Hollywood producer, and we could choose only one of us to headline our movie, who would we choose and why?
One student, Bill, chose me because, as he put it, “She’s hot.”
I was pissed. I was working my ass off in that class, crying, screaming, painfully exploring outside of my comfort zone, so the idea of “getting something for nothing,” or because of how I looked, both confounded and offended the shit out of me. I pretty much said as much in my class, to which my instructor responded: “We should all be so lucky.”
What. The. Fuck. To assume someone’s born lucky—whether it’s her familial background or her appearance, which, by the way, is mostly genetic—is to ignore her misery, her hopes and her fears. I’ve been fired from jobs, I’ve been dumped by guys, and I’ve lost loved ones. My “hotness” sure as shit didn’t help me out then. Why should it be presumed differently when I did, in fact, get the job, or when I did fall in love, that it was because of it? Was I really at the mercy of my looks all this time?
Admitting this is to admit that I was, or am, attractive, and I’ve always had a problem with that. Even as I am writing this piece, I’m feeling awkward and self-conscious. I feel that to admit I’m an archetypal "pretty girl" is to admit those girls from my soccer team, my former roommate, Bill, my acting instructor—they were all right on some level. You can be brilliant and talented, but it’s your physical beauty that will be acknowledged before any other trait—in women, especially.
And I hate that. I really hate that.
But there I was last Friday night: applying my new wrinkle cream to my face, slathering my face with it until I looked like a wet seal. Then, I checked out my sprouting chin hairs and tweezed all those fuckers—again. (And don’t even get me started on that hormonal acne that comes around as you tip over 30.)
The face I took for granted is slowly transforming into some other kind of version of myself, and to be straight-up honest, It makes me uncomfortable. I’m scared of not looking like who I used to be. But I know this shit’s not just "normal," it's inevitable.
Sometimes I think—maybe I won’t look into a mirror anymore. Or maybe I’ll simply remove all my mirrors like I’m a vampire, or maybe I’ll just cover them in scarves and call my apartment "bohemian" to divert any unwanted questioning. Or maybe one day, I’ll simply stop caring about my changing looks, and accept myself, as is.
What a wonderful thought that is! What if we could learn to love the dry skin and the crow lines, the sagging and the cellulite? We would collectively tank the beauty industry.
Not to mention we would have all this free time on our hands. My pre-bedtime routine is over 30 minutes. That’s 14 hours a month I give over to primping and preening. What I could do with an extra 14 hours! Catch up on Orange is the New Black! Volunteer! Pet kittens!
Happily the truth remains that with or without this face of mine, I do like myself. As I approach my 32nd birthday, I recognize the experiences and life lessons that have made me more calm, confident and, yes, accepting. I actually like myself more now than I ever did before. Truly.
I mean, that’s the whole thing about ageing, right? You get more wise and good-humored. I should remember what my seven-year-old self said about how what’s on the inside counts the most. I should laugh about my ageing, changing face.
And I should make sure to smile in pictures. Because I don’t want to look like shit.