“I want to grow old without facelifts… I want to have the courage to be loyal to the face I’ve made. Sometimes I think it would be easier to avoid old age, to die young, but then you’d never complete your life, would you? You’d never wholly know you.”–Marilyn Monroe
Like Meryl Streep in “It’s Complicated,” I’ve got a little ‘extra skin’ sagging above one eye.
OK, both eyes.
And they’re not the only part of my body that has begun to droop, rebel, or shut down.
There are the beginnings of a jowl, and some mini-muffin tops, a “barnacle” that my dermatologist was kind enough to freeze off “so you don’t have to look at it anymore.” There are creaky, cranky knees that ache when I stand up, and a persistent toe fungus that requires daily attention and a coat of opaque polish. I wake up every night to throw off the covers, desperate to cool down from a hot flash, and I wake up every morning searching for glasses and hearing aids to compensate for my blurred vision and damaged hearing. I can’t find a hair color that doesn’t leave me with unnatural strawberry undertones, or a foundation that doesn’t make me look like I’m late for curtain call.
Aging, it has been said, is not for sissies. And gravity (see “Law of,” and consider the weighty Latin “gravitas” in its root) is the destroyer of youthfulness.
I have always thought I would face the process of aging with grace and good humor, which is easy to think when you’re 40 and your lipstick hasn’t started to feather into the vertical canyons around your lips, and you haven’t yet noticed the nascent jowl or drooping eyelid. But at 54, I’m terrified that someday I’ll look more like Dave’s mother than his wife—Barbara Bush to George H.W. or Holly Petraeus to the philandering General David.
For 15 years, people have assumed that Dave robbed the cradle. I like that.
I can self-coach through this issue like a champ—I know that aging beats the alternative—but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that my ego has trouble detaching from my youthfulness. I don’t want to let go of it, so I continue to go snowboarding every winter, sign up for aerial classes, get plenty of sleep, practice positive thinking, consider the benefits of drinking green smoothies (without actually drinking them, of course), and wonder what I’d look like with an eye lift.
Looking in the mirror has become an exercise in letting the flaws exist—knowing there’s perfection in the imperfection—and I’m not very good at it yet. I’m just starting the practice of focusing on the sparkle in my eyes, the light of my smile and the glow that comes from being surrounded by the love of my husband, my friends, my family.
As a child I was so scrawny (despite an ability to consume approximately three times my weight in food every day) that my uncle, a physician, was convinced I had tapeworms. In my teens and twenties, I compared myself to the beautiful girls, and found myself lacking in a million ways. In my thirties and forties, I thought I looked my best—good skin, good hair, and a great body. And I’m reluctant to let that thought go, despite overwhelming evidence that things are…changing.
My birthday this week was an opportunity to reflect, and I realize that the effects of gravity on one’s body are far less destructive than the effects of too much gravity in one’s life.
Somehow, despite my flaws, a combination of stunning good luck and openness to the possibilities have granted me a life in which I feel whole, and loved, and connected, and happy.
This was not always the case, making it even more amazing and precious to me. There were years spent mired in serious doubt, serious unhappiness, and serious self-judgment. Now, I prefer to spend that time pondering how I consciously and unconsciously managed to wander merrily into the vortex of love and wonder that is my life.
Perhaps I was pulled in by gravity.