The crevices in my brow are intense. My wrinkles make me look stern, angry, constipated. I try to cover them with bangs but even when I am smiling, they betray me, like tracks left in powder by backcountry skiers.
Although it is a cliché to say so, I know I have earned them. Of course. There, in the lines on our faces, live our hopes, dreams, disappointments, bad habits, worse choices, fears, joys, struggles, amusements . . . all of it.
And if I accept and honor my life—pitfalls, stumblings, mistakes and all—I should probably try to accept and honor the face that reflects it, too. But these wrinkles I’m talking about are deep, yo.
I realized how serious the situation was last year, while watching Leonardo diCaprio onscreen in Gatsby, floating in the pool at the end of the film. I happened to enjoy the movie a great deal, but at that bleak, iconic moment in the American canon, all I could think about was the wrinkle in Leonardo’s forehead. Just like mine, it makes him look concerned, disgruntled, peeved. Even when he’s playing dead, relaxing all his muscles, clearing his face of emotion.
Leonardo-Gatsby looks downright pissed-off, floating in that water as the boats are borne off ceaselessly into the past and whatnot. And so would I.
So, Botox, of course. Surgery. I have thought about it. I have many friends who have done it, with varying results. In the best cases, it’s undeniable: it does rejuvenate and restore a certain youthful verve. In the worst cases, it is ghastly. But of course I have thought about it.
Then one day, I apologized to my face and just said NO. My face! Unique among all others, able to communicate without effort the infinite subtlety of my emotions! My face, which I have never adored, is everything I’ve got. It is the image that comes to mind when loved ones think of me.
My face! I am sorry, Face, I said, for thinking of cutting into you with a scalpel, or sticking poison into you, in the name of erasing exactly what you are: a topographical map of my singular life.
Right then I made a vow to myself. I’m not doing it. I’m not sticking needles in my face or surgically altering it. It just seems mean, somehow, to tell my poor little face there’s anything wrong with it. I don’t disparage anyone else’s decisions, but this is the choice I am making.
Brace yourselves; it’s not going to be pretty.
I have the luxury of a husband who loves old ladies. He loves to hear their stories, flatter them, tell them old-school jokes to see them laugh. He once said, about a woman we know, who looks all of her 80 years and has clearly never done a thing about her prominent wrinkles, “I just think Helen is so pretty.”
Helen is pretty. She laughs easily and often, with her mouth and with her smiling eyes. She seems to greet every moment with delight, almost surprise. Helen is pretty, but she is no beauty. No Sophia Loren, no wonder of nature, no well-preserved freak of genetics. She’s 80. She looks it. She is affable and genuine and happier than Pherrel Williams’ song. You meet Helen, you’ve met the Real Deal. And if that’s not beautiful, I don’t know what is. You can see why I married my husband.
We know there is very little perfection to be found, anywhere. We even know that in imperfection is all the good stuff. Everything fun, every genius invention, every impromptu caper, every relationship, every work of art we cherish—they are all based squarely in imperfection. And yet we seek perfection. I think we’re probably hard-wired to do so. But it’s always when I give myself a little break from the pursuit of it that I breathe the deepest breaths of happiness.
Audrey Hepburn said the happiest girls are the prettiest girls, and she should know. Can I be happy about the double canyons being carved deeper into my forehead with every passing day? I can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine looking at pictures of myself as I get even older and loving all that is dropping and sagging and wrinkling.
The only solution I can find, for now, is to concentrate on the happy. The inside happy. The scan-the-horizon-for-goodness, attitude-of-gratitude, live-your-life happy. I’ll try to trust the alchemy which translates happiness into beauty, and I’ll try to stop worrying so much about the beauty itself.
I believe it is standard practice for those of us contemplating this aging thing to realize how precious—and how brief—our time is here on the big blue marble. I’ve got a lot of things I want to see. I have a lot of stories I want to tell, things I want to try, and people I want to enjoy.
Wasting one more minute of it worrying about the natural, normal condition of my wrinkled face seems foolish indeed.