Remember that comic strip by Emiko Sawanobori about how Asian women age? It’s an exaggeration, of course, but I would argue that it’s pretty much on the mark. What I take issue with is when that sudden change happens. I wish it was menopause. Oh, no, to my great dismay, I’m finding that it’s more like 40.
At first it was the odd crinkle, however faint it may be. Then I started to notice that bag under one eye. (Yes, I have uneven dollops under each eye. The one bothers me the most.) And then one morning, I realized, I actually have nasolabial lines, those “parentheses” that run from nostril to mouth. More a shadow than a line, but it was never there before.
It hit me. Somewhere between 41 and 43. I’m aging. And it ain’t gracefully.
I remember looking at photos of my mother at age 40. “If I could look like that at 40” — then a seemingly inconceivable, far-off event — “then I’ll be happy.” When 40 crept around, my superego — that ever-present guardian of my oh-so fragile ego — tried to push back the memory. Because deep down inside, I knew I did not look like my mother at 40. But I refused to let it into my cerebral cortex as I stuffed another samosa into my mouth on my 40th birthday trip-of-a-lifetime to India.
Forty-one, then 42 … now 45. There’s no denying it. I look nowhere as good as my mother did at my age. Not even close.
Evidence in support: Running into one of the “popular” cute guys from high school — himself now a mere shadow, if that, of his former cuteness — telling me point-blank, “Wow, you used to be cute.” (Props to me: My instinctive retort was, “So were you.”)
Further evidence: I haven’t heard, “Wow, you look nothing like [whatever my real age is]” in at least five years. I used to hear it all the time.
Conclusive evidence: The mirror and the camera (those traitors).
I’ve fought it. I’m fighting it. My gawd, I don’t slather on essence and serum and cream and sheet mask and sunscreen and more serum like my life depended on it (and I feel like it does) for nothing. But I am losing. BIG TIME. Jowls. Sagging. Bags — all new vocabulary in my dictionary of skin care woes. (And, yes, I’m still getting hormonal pimples.)
There was a time, in my 30s, where I felt I had finally found some peace, a tenuous balance that allowed for a face like mine to be considered attractive in that sort of “interesting” way. It’d been a long-fought battle, I felt. My cheeks had finally slimmed down a bit, my eyes were bright, my hair had developed a nice little wave that didn’t require too much handling. I was eating better, I was leaner than ever before, my confidence was through the roof (for me, anyway). No longer did my chin seem overly prominent, but actually in sync with my newly sharpened cheekbones (OK, less rounded). I grew into my too-long nose and its quirky bump — it balanced my chin. With all that baby fat gone, my eyes opened up, and I had the body of my 16-year-old self, the one I couldn’t appreciate (the gangly arms, the skinny bowed legs) as a self-loathing teenager.
Oh, so fleeting art thou, beauty! I knew this intellectually as my chronological clock flipped to 4-0 on a plane to New Delhi (strategically planned, of course), but I did not yet feel it. But now, just like the mother of an old friend, one who had known me for decades, said when my mom and I ran into her — “I recognized your mother, but I didn’t recognize you” — I no longer recognize myself.
But you know what? This is me. And I may be aging ungracefully, but that’s just MY fact of life. I have no choice but to own it. And you better believe I’m going to fight it. With every essence and serum and cream in my arsenal.