I lift my bangs and study the creases in my forehead. I don’t care much about them because I still have bangs and so long as the bangs are there, hiding the deepening lines, I don’t need to worry about them. But the drooping eyelids. Those are troublesome. I lift one, then the other, to see how I might look with artificially lifted lids. Sigh. I never wanted this.
I don’t mean aging. Aging is inevitable whether we want it or not, and I don’t feel old. What I mean is this sudden, gripping fear that despite all of my deep-seated values about aging gracefully, giving my daughters the proper role model – women who care more about what’s on the inside than the outside, defying the superficial, materialistic, upper middle-class suburb of Los Angeles I live in – despite all of this, I’m beginning to think that I have to do something.
Surgery is out. Right? I’ve seen the face lifts around me and I have no doubt that these women looked better before they had their faces pulled tight like Batman’s Joker. Collagen lips – I’m thankful I don’t need those and I hate that I see 20-somethings and 30-somethings filling and refilling lips that were just fine to begin with. Don’t they know that what is filled today is bound to droop and sag tomorrow? Filler. It would make sense for those laugh lines I inherited from my mother but everyone I’ve seen who took this step looks weirdly puffy-cheeked. And botox? I refuse to inject poison into my face and I had one friend whose face drooped to one side for weeks on end. She said it was a “rare” side effect.
So I’m living with it, aren’t I? I ask myself this in the mirror and then think of all the things I can still do that won’t betray my values. Color and blowout for my hair. Gotta cover that grey. Nails (I never cared about them when I was younger). Sophisticated yet still youngish, modern outfits. That temporary skin-tightening moisturizer I saw in a TikTok video.
The thing is, I’m approaching a big number age-wise and I’m still working in the corporate world. In the tech industry. And I am surrounded by youth. I study myself on Zoom calls. Can they see the lines in my neck that I can’t quit staring at? Do I need better lighting? How far to the right can I tweak the “improve my appearance” option without it looking purposely altered?
These are first-world problems to be sure. To have the luxury of even thinking about them is something most of the world wouldn’t understand. There is a war raging in Ukraine and people fighting just to stay in their homes with a roof over their heads and enough to eat. People hiding in bomb shelters just to stay alive. It seems ridiculous to be thinking these silly thoughts, to be wasting time and energy on them.
This aging complex is not uniquely American or Californian or relegated to Hollywood but it surely is more of a focus here and I swore in my younger years I would never fall for it. But now I wonder. Will my words become less valuable because my colleagues are focused on the crow’s feet around my eyes? Will they think my ideas are outdated because, after all, I’ve been around a long time in this industry and “fresh ideas” are what Silicon Valley is built on? After watching “The Dropout”, it’s clear that women were already set back at least a decade by the lies and incompetence of Elizabeth Holmes, so when you’re already fighting for equality do you really want to fight ageism at the same time?
I decide to leave this for another day. I’ll stock up on the skin-tightening lotion. I’ll book an appointment to cover the grey. I’ll try not to look too long in the mirror too often and ponder how long I’ll be comfortable staring at this image on the myriad Zoom calls I participate in every day. I’ll try not to think about what it means to be a woman, trying to age gracefully in a world that wants only to take you at face value.