I looked in my car’s rearview mirror one afternoon last week and barely recognized myself. Looking back at me was a woman that indeed looked closer to 50 than 30. I didn’t want to believe it, but the wrinkles around my eyes conceded the truth.
When I look at the totally of my face in the mirror, I’m not as alarmed. Perhaps it’s my ego selectively focusing on more shapely areas. Or maybe the lower half of my face compensates for the upper half. But in that instant in the rearview mirror, when it was just my eyes looking back at me, the truth was laid bare.
99.999% of the time, I wear my face as is. I wash it in the shower, dry it with a towel and call it good. It’s less a pursuit for authenticity than a habit of laziness. In my youth I was considered attractive. I was spoiled by having more attention than I wanted. Not wearing makeup was my protection from attention. While other girls invested time in their looks, I was glad I didn’t have to do anything. In fact I did the opposite. Not only did I perennially wear my hair in a pony tail with a scrunchy (which can look really stupid, by the way), I covered my body with layers- turtlenecks and large sweaters in the winter and over-sized t-shirts in the summer. Whatever the season, I looked like a walking potato sack. I didn’t care if my boobs hung lower from not wearing a bra. Nobody could see them anyway. As I got older, it didn’t matter to me if they hung lower on my torso. Comfort trumped style. After I met my boyfriend — > husband in 2001, who was I out to impress anyway?
My lifestyle worked for me. While I covered myself up and rejected advances, I missed signs of the passage of time, such as my peers getting married and having families. I didn’t keep in touch with people, choosing to live in my own bubble instead. I still don’t have a personal facebook page (nor do I have a desire to do so). Lives became too complicated to keep in touch by phone or (gasp!) email.
Today I wear even more layers, but it’s not because I want to repel attention. It’s because I’m cold. I’ve even added layers- an undershirt and a bra underneath my turtleneck and sweater. It’s May 3rd and I’m still wearing long johns. (I’m blaming it on the weather in this God-forsaken corner of the earth.) One day, I can see myself as a wrinkly old woman dressed in winter clothes in the summer.
“Why are there bumps?” my daughter asks when she examines my face. I tell her it’s because I’m older. “You need to be new again,” she said today.
So I’ll be a covered old woman with wrinkles and bumps.
Nobody really notices me for my looks anymore. If I catch someone’s attention, it’s usually because they’re just looking around, and it’s not for me. It’s that awkward moment where I better move my eyeballs if I don’t want to look like a weirdo.
I didn’t really notice the decline in advances until I was in my mid-thirties. My ego shielded me from reality. My self-image was still buoyed by the comments I received in my teens and twenties. Recently, out of the blue, a person called me attractive. Being a serious person- i.e. more prone to question than to laugh- I shared my disbelief. I hadn’t heard that in at least a decade.
A few months ago, after about an hour of contemplation, I purchased a facial moisturizer on the internet. When I remember to apply it (which seems more often these days), I use it after my shower in the morning. I’m not sure it does anything except make my skin feel smoother. I think using it just makes me feel better. Maybe it’s my new “shield” against the undeniable.
But that moment last week, when I caught a snippet of myself in the rearview mirror, I already saw myself as an older woman. It wasn’t like the panic I experienced in the months before I turned 30. It was more of a resignation that my time on earth is halfway over.
And that’s okay with me.