Skin Deep

cupcakecandleI’m not a shallow person. I care deeply about many important issues – the environment, animal rights, human rights and a myriad of other causes. Most importantly, I know that beauty is only skin deep. But, skidding towards my forty-fifth birthday has turned me into a shallow narcissist. I stare at myself in the mirror and wonder if I need a face lift or maybe just some Juvederm. I smooth my skin back and curse my fear of doing anything more invasive than applying night cream that promises to slough off dead skin while I sleep, leaving me radiant in the morning. I notice the little lines around my eyes and slather on “anti-aging eye treatment.” I inspect my temples and wonder why a bit of gray is sexy on men, but haggy on women.

My husband tells me I look better than most thirty year olds and my kids insist I’m really only twenty-five. And it makes me feel incredibly ungrateful that I just can’t believe them. I blame part of it on most women’s inability to see themselves as others see them – we’re our own worst critics – and part of it on the cashier at Michael’s. About a month ago I informed her that the cart full of frames I was buying was for my son’s artwork. “He’s in honors art,” I boasted.

“High school or college?” she asked reasonably.

I wanted to cry. Of course I’m old enough to have a son in college; I just don’t want to look like I am. Right before I turned forty, a woman stopped me on my way out of a diner and asked if I was my kids’ mother or their baby sitter. She said that I didn’t look old enough to be their mother, but that I seemed too attentive to be a baby sitter. This happened often. More than once I was mistaken for my kids’ baby sitter or even older sister. A couple of years ago the lady at the front desk at my kids’ middle school yelled at me to stop as I walked out the door. I turned and asked if there was a problem and she sheepishly said that she thought I was a student leaving. I thanked her profusely, before slipping out the door. A year ago an elderly woman asked my mother if I still lived with her. My mother replied that I have my own home and family. The woman looked shocked. She thought I was eighteen. (And I thought she needed glasses.) But now – now someone had not only accepted without even a fraction of disbelief that I have a child the age that I do (fourteen and a half years old), but that I could have one four years older. I’m very disappointed in myself that this bothered me as much as it did.

The inescapable truth though is that I can’t expect to look thirty for the rest of my life. I should just age gracefully and accept that everyone gets wrinkles and gray hair eventually, even if forty-five is the new thirty-five. This isn’t the first time I’ve faced a birthday worrying that I’m looking older – when I turned thirty-five I decided that I suddenly looked old and that I had lines around my mouth, the dreaded parentheses. I dealt with it by getting blonde highlights – the new look cheered me up. That and the fact that people still thought that I was a teenager. This time I’ve been looking for solace at the drug store. No, I’m not buying over the counter drugs to concoct my own mood altering substances – I bought “Age Rewind” foundation. The ad clearly said it would make me look like Christy Turlington, who is just a year younger than I am. Only, when I put it on, it didn’t make me look like Christy Turlington – it only made me look like I had slightly orange spackling on my face. In fact, even Christy Turlington probably doesn’t look like the Christy Turlington in the ad, as gorgeous as she is.

I stopped searching for the miracle and went back to my Origins VitaZing tinted moisturizer, definitely not heavy duty, but it has antioxidants in it to wake up your skin and it gives a nice glow. I also use GinZing brightening eye cream and Halo Effect – a pinkish, shimmery highlighting potion. I use it as a very lightweight blush. It smells yummy and is very subtle, adding just the slightest sheen. I’m a bit addicted to Origins and have been since I was in my mid-twenties and my roommate gave me a basket of Origins goodies for my birthday. I’m planning my next purchase – I received my $10 off coupon for my birthday and every year I treat myself to something. I think this year it will be Starting Over “age erasing moisturizer.” Will it really erase the little fine lines and tighten up everything? I have no idea, but I think it’s really more about feeling like you’re doing something, even if it’s not as radical as a face lift or even a shot of Botox between the eyes.

I think more importantly though, is being easier on ourselves – I say ourselves, because I know I’m not the only one facing this milestone birthday worried that my age is starting to catch up to me. As women we are constantly bombarded with images of celebrities who defy aging. Celebrities who are over fifty and look no older than when they were twenty-five, in fact they look younger than when they were twenty-five. It’s an impossible standard. They either have had “work done” or they’re air brushed to within an inch of being unrecognizable. Comparing ourselves to celebrities is just a recipe for disaster and a distorted self-image.

A few months ago – right after Hurricane Sandy – I was rushing through the mall. I had been sleeping on my sister’s floor for days and had just waited at the overcrowded Apple store for two hours to get my broken phone replaced. A young guy manning a kiosk called me over as I sped by him. “What do you use for your skin?” He asked eyeing me up and down. I told him Origins and he said that it was doing a great job.

I nearly fell to my knees in gratitude. I told him that I was feeling very old and that it’s great to hear that in your forties. He was incredulous and told me that I looked like I was in my twenties. He asked me why I felt like I looked old and why I didn’t see myself as looking young. “You should be grateful and not complain about feeling old,” he admonished. “I’m twenty-seven and you look younger. You obviously have a lot of energy too.” I didn’t tell him that I was running on pure post-storm adrenaline, I just smiled. Then, of course, he tried to sell me his line of skin care, but still – it got me thinking. Do I really see myself as others see me or do I see myself through the lens of impossible expectations and insecurity?

Fast forward to a few weeks ago – I was going to see my eye doctor who has known me since I was sixteen and has a front row seat to the crow’s feet around my eyes. He always tells me I look young and I was sure that this time he wouldn’t – it had been a year, an incredibly stressful year that aged me more than other years. But, sure enough he called me the “ageless wonder” and for just a brief moment, I felt like it. And, I think that’s the key to accepting ourselves for what we are, instead getting depressed every time we look in the mirror – just try to see yourself as others see you. That and maybe a few blonde highlights.

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