I’m not old, but I feel old.
I wake in the morning and I am stiff. My skin is sallow. I have red-purple shadows under my eyes that make it look like I didn’t get any sleep.
I wish I could go back to when I was 17 or 25 when I would wake, often after fewer hours of sleep than I get now, looking radiant and plump-faced. I wish I could remember what it felt like to be that young. It is nature’s little trick, to make one oblivious to their youth—to only appreciate it once it is gone.
I look in the mirror and study my face. I can see the fine lines that remain long after my smile has relaxed, and I notice a sort of heaviness between my brows that make it seem like I disapprove of life in general. I remember watching my mother do this, too—a close examination of her perceived flaws.
I remember at the time thinking how beautiful she was, that her lines didn’t matter. I couldn’t understand that, to me, she was an adult, and adults were just…old. But to her, she was a woman who, before kids and stress and mundane routines, used to look younger. And she missed that.
Well, I understand now.
I am quite young, but I don’t look young. Because I am quite young, I feel pressure to look young. I find myself wearing dark sunglasses whenever I go out, not because I like them, or even because it’s sunny, but because they hide the crinkled skin on the outer corners of my eyes. I buy this cream and that serum to try to remedy the issue—convince myself that I notice a difference so I can justify the hundreds of dollars spent.
I carefully choose the lighting when I FaceTime with family or friends so that my dark undereye isn’t as noticeable. I have booked an appointment for Botox several months from now when I will be done breastfeeding my daughter. I am ashamed to admit that I even considered going to a clinic that would administer Botox on a breastfeeding mother, despite the unknown adverse side effects. Thankfully, my vanity did not trump my common sense.
I wonder if my early years spent watching my mother worry over her face set the tone for how I now approach aging. I sometimes resent her for not setting a better example; for showing too much concern about her looks. Deep down, I know that it isn’t her fault—it’s a much more systemic issue. Still, I can’t help but feel that if I hadn’t watched female role models give in to the unrealistic standard of maintaining smooth skin well into their 30s and 40s, then I wouldn’t be so inclined to follow suit.
I wonder if, when my baby is no longer a baby and I am getting more restful sleep, that I might see some improvement. Or is the issue really that I feel it would be an improvement at all as if there is something wrong with me now.
I want the cycle to stop here. I don’t want my daughter to watch as I lean closer into the mirror and pull the skin taught on either side of my face—a small glimpse of a youthful lift. I don’t want her to hear me being hard on myself for the simple, inevitable fact that I got older. I don’t want her to feel self-conscious about her own features as she ages, and they change.
I want to wake up in the morning and feel young. I must shift my focus from how I look to how I feel and why. I want to look in the mirror and know that the smile lines I see are actually a good thing—the evidence of a happy life. I want to appreciate my still-youthful cheeks and lips and hair because I now realize how fleeting it is. I want to focus my attention on how I am able to stand and move and run without pain; that I have my health and my body is strong.
I want my daughter to see me love myself so that when she is older, that is her default setting. I want to love myself so I can rewire how I feel about aging.
I am still young. I am only 32. I realize that it may seem premature and vain to have these thoughts already, but maybe I’m not alone. I think that by admitting it now, when I am still teetering on the edge of youth—one foot still firmly planted in it—it might actually be healthy and helpful.
I can only hope that I have a long road ahead with this face and this body and this hair, and I want to love myself each step of the way. I want to teach my daughter that she is perfect the way she is, and always will be, and the best way is to lead by example.
I don’t want to fear aging. I want to embrace it because it is inevitable, and it is natural. I don’t want my mind to be consumed by how my crow’s feet look when I break into a smile—I only want to be consumed by the moment. Time spent any other way is time wasted.
I know it won’t be easy to just switch my mind away from noticing all my “flaws.” Like any other addiction, there will be relapses into vanity. But even if, at the start of the day, I am able to look at myself in the mirror and be grateful that I have my health and a whole new day laid out before me with my family, and not think how tired I look—it will be worth it.
I am going to cancel that Botox appointment.