The other day, I was looking at my face in a bathroom mirror while at a friend’s house. Just an ordinary bathroom mirror, maybe it had better lighting than mine, maybe not. Anyway, as I was washing my hands — not scrutinizing, not even looking really — I noticed a wrinkle on my face that I hadn’t seen before. It was (is) on the left side, next to my mouth, one of the kind that creases and frames it when you smile on either side, like parentheses, but slightly higher. But when I was looking in the mirror I wasn’t smiling. The wrinkle was just there.
This was unusual because I’d never noticed a new wrinkle just suddenly appearing on my face before. Aging has always felt to me like a gradual process. It’s not something you enjoy or anything, but at least nothing happens as a big surprise. You just start to notice that you look more tired, older, or you notice that you feel a little stiffer and therefore a bit more of those things than you did the last time you went biking/walking/drinking/lifting something heavy, or not so heavy. Sometimes new aches and pains do show up suddenly, but since I’ve been having aches and pains in my shins/ankles/knees/wrists/shoulders since I was 18, I can’t point to any of them and say, “Now that makes me old.” Even the feeling you have, as a woman, that you are less desirable, less checked out by strangers, that’s something that dawns on you slowly, there’s no clear and identifiable expiration date. Well, okay, if you’re doing internet dating, there is one and it’s 40 — or technically 39, because that’s when everyone thinks you’re 40 and lying about it. But other than that, people don’t see the number, so it’s not a hard and fast thing that goes off like a timer with a “BING!”
But this new, perma-crease on my face that wasn’t going away when I stopped smiling, where did that come from all of a sudden? And what right did it have to just show up like that, unannounced? I mean, this is my face. I get how other people maybe don’t see it for a while and they’re like, “WOW, she’s aged,” although of course they always say, “You look exactly the same!” because that’s required, it’s just what everyone says. But this is like that part of Anna Karenina where that one poor young girl, Kitty, who was in love with Count Vronsky and was passed over for Anna, “lost her looks” like basically overnight, which Tolstoy manages to point out about a million times. I thought that was a literary trope but now I’m wondering, Does that actually happen? I didn’t notice when I got my first grey hair, probably because I have highlights that keep those hairs from sticking out too much, even now that I have many of them — except for on the top of my head where they literally stick out, like straight up, because that’s what grey hairs do. I don’t remember when I got my single (still, thank goodness) chin hair, a little spiky fellow that comes out of a tiny mole on the underside that I pluck dutifully, when I notice it, but that always grows back. That started happening probably in my early 30s, you know, back when I thought I was starting to get old but in reality had no idea that I would actually get there one day. That was probably the age that I started using moisturizer, for instance, because I started to notice that I had some wrinkles — but again, when my face moved, not when it was just sitting there.
I loved it when I saw this interview with Frances McDormand where she talked about how she refuses to give in to Hollywood’s views on aging, and I said to myself, Yes, that’s how I feel too. But this sudden new wrinkle makes me wonder, is it just because I still haven’t truly experienced it yet? Is there a point where as women it just suddenly hits us, hard, like an avalanche, at which we then lose our minds and start doing those things to ourselves that we said we would never do? Maybe it begins with the dying our hair, then it’s Botox or other “dermal fillers,” and then a nip and a tuck and then finally that thing Joan Rivers and Madonna and Demi Moore and 75% of female Hollywood has done to various degrees, the full-on face lift, in terms of that they literally lift up all the skin off of your face and pull it and put stuff under it to prop it up until you look like the same 50-year-old baby as everyone else in the celebrity mags, and no longer like yourself.
Because you realize that if you can get one new wrinkle overnight, that means from now on, every day could mean a new wrinkle or a new chin hair or a new saggy spot that wasn’t there before. Will I really just wake up one day and not recognize myself — and not because I had some crappy plastic surgeon do something to me, but because of time and lack of sleep and gravity?
But then of course, this morning, I looked in the mirror and the wrinkle wasn’t there. I mean, it’s there when I smile, I can make it be there, but it’s not there for good, not yet. I guess I got more sleep last night, or the light in my bathroom really does suck (and I am fine with that). And I thought, okay, I can handle this. Sure, that wrinkle will be there eventually, just like I’m going to be old eventually, but whether it’s today or just some time in the future – just like whether I’m losing my looks or gaining new ones – that’s not up to Tolstoy or Us Magazine, or anyone but me. Because it seems like whether a new wrinkle is there or not there is more about how you look at it than anything else.