I am about to turn 39. I'm also about to attend my 20th high school reunion.
I can't get too worked up about the birthday but the reunion fills me with a certain level of dread. I was invisible in high school, or felt that way anyway, until my senior year when I finally had a serious boyfriend and a coterie of friends. I was ignored and sometimes ridiculed because I was a straight-arrow, feminist geek, a liberal instead of the mandatory Republican, a quiet, pale, acne-prone dancer with a bad perm instead of the preferred tanned field hockey player with a sheet of straight blond hair.
I am not excited to relieve all those feelings again. But I'm going to be in town anyway, for Thanksgiving at my parents' house, and several friends are attending the reunion, people I really and truly liked then and now. So I will get dressed up and drag my husband for moral, and possibly literal physical, support while I nervously blab about my kids over cocktails. I imagine myself slyly assessing whether everyone looks about as wrinkled as me.
I'm almost 39 and I feel pretty good about how I look. Until I look at a recent photograph or in a mirror.
As a twenty something, I was totally mystified when an older client of mine told me, "When I look in the mirror, I have no idea who the old lady is who's looking back at me."
Now I totally understand what she means.
I can't decide if it's a good or bad sign that I feel so much better about myself before I look in the mirror. When I glance at my reflection, I always, immediately, grimace and pick and criticize.
Is this what we're taught to do as women? To pick our appearances apart into acceptable and unacceptable pieces? How can I teach my daughters NOT to do this?
I want to look in the mirror and feel simple acceptance. I want to feel the same way about myself after I look at a photograph as before. I want to see my lines and bumps as part of the whole, rather than pieces to be assessed and remedied.
Is this even possible?
I went to the dermatologist a month ago, to finally do something about the acne that's plagued me since E weaned herself over a year ago. It was the first time I'd seen one since before I got pregnant with Z and I was unprepared for the onslaught of suggestions. Botox for the wrinkles in my forehead, if I want to. Topicals for the acne AND the wrinkles, of course. Microdermabrasion, to kick it all off.
I guffawed self-consciously at the suggestion of Botox. But I accepted the prescription for a retinol to address the acne (and, ahem, the wrinkles). And I set up an appointment for microdermabrasion to "kick it all off".
My mom has long held a respectable limit on the lengths she will go to to look youthful. No injections, no surgeries. Topicals are fine. She looks fabulous, much younger than her years, and I've always thought I would emulate her in this way.
"Once you get started with all these procedures, where do you stop?" she rhetorically asks. "At some point, you just have to accept how old you are."
I have a hernia, and an abdominal split, that could be surgically repaired. When I asked a doctor about it, he said it would be considered cosmetic surgery at this point, since it's not painful to me and doesn't yet involve my intestines. But it's possible that it could get bigger, become painful, and he suggested doing it before then, just in case.
"As part of a tummy tuck," he said lightly.
Did he just suggest this former Pilates instructor should get a tummy tuck? Oh my battered, aching pride.
Whatever you want to call the surgery, I'm not sure I would pay all that money, or undergo general anesthesia, for what is really, truly, essentially cosmetic at this point.
Some days, though, the thought of losing the loose skin around my mid section fills me with a undeniable longing. What would it mean to no longer feel that discomfort of skin folding over itself whenever I buckle my pants? Could I actually wear a two piece bathing suit again in this lifetime?
Would I ever consider undergoing cosmetic surgery, of any kind?
Would you? Where do you draw the line?