From the Middle: Is It OK to look your age?

The wonder years.

June 19, 2015

This article was originally published in the March 2015 issue of Vancouver Magazine.

Are you mad at me?” my husband asks. “What? No! Geez.” But no amount of ambient light can alter what the mirror reveals: I’ve developed resting bitch face. Small wonder he’s confused. I’d say it crept up along with the insidious blossoming of tiny lines and creases. Have they always been there or are they from a spate of recent work deadlines? Or the military-level planning of kiddie carpooling and operatic a.m. sandwich-making? “It’s called being 43,” my husband says reassuringly. “Plus, you can barely notice… Wait, you’re sure you’re not mad?”

If these little grooves and tiny sags have turned up thanks to a combination of life experience and the inevitable forward motion of biology, why don’t we see them as a beautiful Braille map of past and present, hard-earned badges of merit that read Devoted Mother! Two Decades of Marriage! Satisfying Career! Well, they’re that too, but those marionette lines (distractingly called nasal labial folds) can undermine it all with a blunt “You look old and tired.”

We’re all aging together, but that’s small consolation when our culture colludes to pretend otherwise. Glossy magazine spreads (ahem), commercials, TV shows, and big-budget movies assault our self-worth daily: flawless, taut skin from both young and old, with apple-planted cheeks, bee-stung lips, perky boobs and bums, and concave stomachs surround us. From the socially sanctioned porn of the Victoria’s Secret runway shows to Esquire’s Sexiest Woman Helen Mirren in a bikini, a relentless parade assures us that agelessness is normal, even natural.

As much as I’d like to focus on embracing this next stage, valuing the inevitable cellulite, the soft child-bearing midriff, and the wrinkles, I catch myself switching to autopilot while watching the Golden Globes. “Wow, she looks great for her age!” I marvel at Jane Fonda (she’s 77?), Julianne Moore (such flawless skin at 54!), and J Lo (are those real?). By noticing their static looks, I’m tacitly entrenching the ideal that women are better, more dazzling, when they simply don’t look their age. But hypocrite that I am (and I’m not alone in my moral squirminess), I deride anyone who openly stops the hands of time: the Real Housewives’ joker lips, Renée Zellweger’s newly wide eyes.

It’s so much more comfortable if women have their cosmetic work done discreetly and we can shelve the philosophical gaze. I’m doubtful the Sandra Bullocks, Jennifer Anistons, and Meryl Streeps of the world can remain as unchanged as they do without some artful work from the cosmetic industry and its arsenal of incantations — Banish! Tighten! Smooth! — but it’s easier to delude ourselves into thinking it’s natural. Or better yet, not think of it at all.

So I keep coming back to this: where will I draw the line? If I wear lipstick, shave my legs, and colour my hair, am I not already altering my appearance? Where does it end? Bleaching your hair but not the skin down there? If we’re going to judge others, don’t we need to toss our own makeup bags first? But then, if we accept others’ freedom of choice, does that mean suspending our own hard-won feminist principles? For now, if I squint in the mirror (the encroaching blindness helps), I can stave off the issue. But if and when I decide otherwise, how will that differ from renovating a historic home to restore it to former glory? If I want to put these boobs back where they used to be, am I a shallow, vacuous person? I’m not saying bigger, just where they were. For now I’ll rely on a combination of uplifting bras, Spanx, and the occasional workout to contain the inevitable. Is it fair? No, but trust me when I tell you, I’m not mad.

 

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