The Mirror

needle3People tell me I look young – it’s my thing. I’ve looked younger than I am since I was a teenager. A thirteen year old boy asked me out on a date when I was seventeen years old. I told him that he was far too young for me (and that I had a boyfriend), but he would not give up until I produced my driver’s license. When I was thirty four years old I was at the library with my boys, two and four years old. They were, as usual, making a bit of a ruckus. When the custodian approached me, I was sure he was going to kick us out. Instead, he asked, “Are these you’re kids?” When I answered, “Yes,” rather than replying, “Well, get them out of here,” he simply said, “You look way too young to have kids that age.” I thanked him profusely, though I wasn’t quite sure if he meant it as a compliment or an accusation.

People often told me I looked too young to have kids as I tried to wrangle two toddlers and it was generally said with an air of hostility. During those moments, I realized how it must feel to be a teen mom – this was way before MTV glorified getting knocked up before the age of twenty – and it wasn’t pretty. I probably looked as if I popped out a few kids before I was even legal to drink. I even got carded going to see my husband’s band play at a huge club in Boston. I had just turned thirty years old and was pregnant enough to show, but the bouncer carded me. I may have hugged him – I can’t remember.

You might be thinking right about now, “Geez, why did I click on this? She’s just bragging for two whole paragraphs. I don’t need to hear this. I’m done.” But, wait – don’t stop reading. That was just the set-up. I promise there’s more to say that won’t make you hate me – I hope. Like this – when I turned thirty-five I decided that I looked old. I hated the parentheses lines around my mouth and a few grays had sprung up at my temples. For my thirty-fifth birthday my parents got me a gift card to a fancy salon. I used it to get blonde highlights woven through my hair. I loved the blonde, but couldn’t keep up with it – not with two little kids. Pretty soon I started looking like a reverse skunk, so I went back to brunette (from a box) and that pretty much sums up my beauty maintenance. I basically do very little and hope for the best.

I color my hair from a box still (actually, my husband does it and I have to say, he does a great job). I’ve been a bit adventurous with even the box color – like doing an ombre.  But, I recently went back to my original color (or at least a close approximation) – Feria Espresso from L’Oreal. It’s way cheaper than a salon, quicker and, most importantly, I kept having allergic reactions to salon hair color. I’m violently allergic to sulfites and I didn’t realize that hair color is chock full of sodium metabisulfite. I just chalked it up to an anxiety attack when my heart would start racing and my head would suddenly feel like everything emptied out of it, I was so dizzy. Sometimes even the box color makes me dizzy and feel like my head is on fire, but I can cut the time short and wash it out at least. I’m sharing all of this, because it leads me to my next point – I often wonder if I’m doing enough…

Now that I’m forty-six years old I wonder if it really is time to start using something more potent than Origins skin cream. I get like this every year around my birthday. In fact, writing this paragraph, I had a flashback to another post I wrote as I “skidded toward my forty-fifth birthday” last year. I revisited it and realized that it covers a lot of the same territory. This bit of writer deja-vu made me realize something – I clearly don’t follow my own advice. That essay ended with “…I think that’s the key to accepting ourselves for what we are, instead of 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.”

So, why do I still get depressed when I look in the mirror and realize those fine lines around my eyes aren’t going anywhere, no matter how much eye cream I glob on? Why when people say to me that I look way too young to have a sixteen year old, do I put my hands to my face and mutter self-deprecatingly, “I feel like I look old,” instead of just smiling appreciatively and expressing my gratitude without a disclaimer? Why when a security guard at the airport in February pointed to me and told my kids that their sister was waiting for them did I wonder if he needed glasses? Rereading my essay from last year, Skin Deep, I realize that this is something I’ve pondered for quite a while. Why indeed can’t I take my own advice and see others as they see me?

I explore this theme in my novel, Goddess of Suburbia. What if a regular mom with all of the body insecurities that go with the job finds that her naked form is suddenly zipping around the Internet for everyone to see? Would she die of shame or would she emerge stronger, finally able to believe it when someone tells her she’s hot? Of course, I can’t share the answer – that would ruin the book. But, it was really interesting for me to explore her psyche – because perhaps it’s a bit of a mirror to my own. (Not that I want a naked video of myself zipping around – EVER.)

Not that long ago an older woman said to me, “If I looked like you, I’d kiss the mirror every day.” I walked away from her thinking, so what’s real – what she sees or what I see? More importantly, when I’m this woman’s age, will I be beating myself up for any insecurities now? I’m pretty sure the answer to that question is, “Yes.” When I look at pictures of myself from when I first started to worry that I was looking older, I want to kick that thirty-five year old’s ass. My skin was dewy and fresh – I don’t know why I was so hard on myself. Even when I look at photos from last year, I think – well, I looked better then. This past winter was so stressful and it shows.

That’s when I start thinking about doing a little more than slathering on a rich cream every morning and every night and rubbing coconut oil into my face a couple of times a day. (I swear, it makes your skin feel amazing and smells so good!). I start thinking about how my friend told me that way more women than I thought are all using Botox and using it in their early forties. I think about all of the lip plumpers and the resurfacing lasers that women my age take advantage of. I think about eye jobs and facelifts…

But, that’s all that I do – I think about it. As much as I would love to consider these fountain of youth promises, I know that I’ll never do any of these things – not that I judge those who do. I won’t do these things, because I never put anything in my body, unless it’s absolutely necessary. Having an anaphylactic reaction to a medication can make you a bit paranoid about meds in the future and as much as anyone would like to think that Botox is not a drug, it is. According to Wikipedia, it was first used therapeutically to correct strabismus (crossed eyes), blepharospasm (uncontrollable blinking) and achalasia (a spasm of the lower esophageal sphincter). And, even though the amount used to erase wrinkles is widely considered safe, it’s still comprised of “the most lethal toxin known,” also according to Wikipedia. I just can’t see shooting that into my face, no matter how young it would make me look.

Then there are all the other injectables and procedures – maybe I’m a baby, but I just can’t bring myself to even consider anything invasive. So, I can either age gracefully and hopefully to start seeing myself as others see me or I can be miserable and notice every little line every time I look in the mirror. I of course know the right choice – I’m pretty sure that in ten or fifteen years, I’ll look at pictures of myself from now and wish I could kick some forty-six year old ass for not appreciating what I have when I have it…

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13 thoughts on “The Mirror

  1. debbie says:

    excellent and relatable!
    i’ve recently started doing the silver-fox thing — no more hair color for me — it’s very liberating yet makes me wonder if am i just that lazy. i only realize it when i pass a mirror (obviously) or when people stare at me cockeyed (like why would i voluntarily look this way).
    i’m afraid to inject anything into my face bc i peek at the tabloids on the checkout line and don’t think its worth the risk — yet — and hope i can stick to it because i’d rather look like an older version of myself than a science experiment gone wrong. honestly, i would like to get this #1 indented between my eyes before it becomes an “eleven” and hope the magic creams help lessen the look of it — but so far it’s still there — reminding me i’m #1 – lol
    i also slather the coconut oil everywhere — love that stuff!!
    i think only we stand so close to the mirror dissecting our appearances–no one else really gets that close as to tweeze the unseen eyebrow hair like our own self.
    loved this article stephanie!! and i think you look great!!

    • stephaniekepke says:

      Thanks so much!! Both for the kind words about my essay and saying I look great 🙂 I think you look fantastic – as I said, I love your hair and your skin is perfect. I did not see one wrinkle! No #1 or anything 🙂 I absolutely agree that no one inspects us as closely as we inspect ourselves – that was one of the reasons I titled it, “The Mirror.” What you see in the mirror isn’t always a true reflection of who you are, because it’s through the lens of our own self-criticism. Thank you!

  2. Anonymous says:

    All of the Facebook shares on this essay have disappeared and no new Facebook shares are showing up (I know that people have been sharing it, because they’ve told me). If anyone reading this has any idea how to fix this issue, please comment here. Thanks so much!!

  3. Teena says:

    Stephanie, you said it! We do have to learn to deal with the whole age process. It may take a while to finally come to terms with….we are all going to age and get older, but it’s up to us to make the best of our lives. I really like what you have written here. Nice job! 😊
    Teena P

  4. nannetteree says:

    I’ve also been told that I look young for my age. I’ll be 48 in August. Personally I think it is a two- edged sword. On one hand I took like the compliments, “you look to young to be a grandma.” On the other hand it’s a setup for feeling bad about aging. When I look in the mirror and see another wrinkle or more gray hair, I panic. Oh no what happens when I no longer look young or at least young for my age?

    • stephaniekepke says:

      I feel the same way! And, I had an allergic reaction to hair color a couple of weeks ago – so, I’ll be seeing more gray hair soon. I can’t color my hair until I figure out exactly which chemical I’m allergic to. And, you are a young grandma at almost 48 – that’s great!! I still have a while yet and I’m 46. Enjoy your grandchild/ren!! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment – I appreciate it 🙂

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