This June an essay I wrote about my love for the beach was published in Delaware Beach Life magazine. Accompanying the article was a photo of me and my husband enjoying ourselves in the sun at Bethany Beach in 1977 where we shared a summer-house with a group of DC friends in our pre-marriage days.
A friend who saw the article, said she liked it, and then noticing the photo commented: “Wow, you look really young.”
I was 24 years old when the photo was taken. So yes, I was young.
And then she said, “You were so pretty.”
Uh, thanks, I guess, noting her use of the word were.
Yesterday when my DC writers group met – our prompt this month was “jealousy” – the six of us, women ranging in age from 51 to 65, got to talking about what it means not just to get older, but to look older. One of us had recently read – and was intrigued by – an article in Time magazine called “Nip. Tuck. Or Else. Why You Will Be Getting Cosmetic Procedures Even If You Don’t Really Want Them.”
Cheery title to read while in the dermatologist’s office for an annual check up, no?
If you are like me and my friend, and you visit the dermatologist once a year to have a complete (and I mean complete) body check-up for skin cancer, there likely comes that part after you put your clothes back on, when the dermatologist says (hopefully) that your skin is cancer-free – and then pointedly asks:
“Is there anything else I can do for you?”
Which in dermatology-speak is code for, are there any non-insurance-reimbursable, highly-overpriced, likely painful, attempted youth restoration procedures I can coax you into?
To which I always want to reply, “Do you have a inexpensive magic wand you could wave over my triple-chin to return it to single-size only?” (thick necks are a genetic blessing passed down to me by my forebears.)
But instead I answer, “no thanks” and gladly leave the office with my aging skin intact.
Yesterday one of my writers’ group pals challenged the rest of us with the question – if you could, without significant expense or pain, would you want to go back to your face and body looking the way it did at age 35?
I voted “no”, I am content, minus the triple-chin thing, with the way I look, being one of those women who feel I have rightfully earned every single dent, sag and wrinkle.
But that said, I remember – with fondness – those days when I was pretty. And I remember when those days ended, too.
I left a big law firm at age 41 to join a smaller, more collegial one. A new colleague stopped by my office one day to tell me that a friend of his thought I was “hot”. I was thrilled. Being considered “hot” by a respectable male adult I didn’t know at age 41 was great. While I had been married for 16 years and was sure my husband found me appealing, the word “hot” was not in his typical romantic vocabulary. I was still at the age where I enjoyed getting glances of admiration from strangers when I walked out onto the streets of downtown DC to get lunch each day.
Seven years later, as I was closer to age 50, while walking down the same streets with my then 16-year-old daughter – who was and still is very pretty – I had to admit that the admiring glances were now directed to her, not to me. I had become just another one of those middle-age, female DC professional women who is considered “well-kept” or “attractive” but never again will she be called “hot”.
And I was – and still am – completely o.k. with that.
When my appearance stopped being the first thing that people noticed about me, it was a relief to no longer feel judged by superficial criteria. So when I bump into women who I haven’t seen in years at the movies or at the supermarket, and their faces resemble shiny, taut, waxen pale apples, I don’t get it. Whatever cosmetic procedure they had, they don’t look younger to me, they just look oddly frozen in time.
Perhaps, as one of my writers’ group friends wrote recently – they had, through a series of cosmetic procedures, “hopped on the look-young treadmill and couldn’t get off”?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m vain, I like to look nice, I care about my appearance. The counter on my bathroom sink has its’ full share of moisturizers and facial oils and I wear sunscreen every day. Why not try to preserve what I have, or at least enhance the aging gracefully process. Looking good feels good – but I want to look good for my age.
Years ago I had my own turn looking hot, and it was fun while it lasted. But I have moved on. Let my millennial daughter and her lovely pals enjoy the limelight. Time for me to work only on my inner hotness. Much less costly – and definitely more meaningful for me to maintain.