The lengths we will go to

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?


Gina said...

I dye my hair (for me, 33 is way too young for all the gray I have), use an over-the-counter eye and "anti-aging" cream, and after my 2nd child was born even did some laser treatments to fade stretch marks more quickly (as an aside, can't say I recommend them - they were incredibly painful, expensive, and left me with bruising that lasted for a couple of months - all just to fade the marks more quickly - I wouldn't do it again). So although I admire those who go completely natural I am not one of them.

After we are completely done having kids I might actually consider some of the milder cosmetic surgeries if we have the money and there is something about my body that really bothers me. I've been pregnant and/or nursing for nearly 6 years straight now and I am not sure I am going to look when all is said and done. I do have acne scarring on my face and I will definitely do some laser/dermabrasion work on those scars if it ever becomes feasible for me (can't right now due to medication I am taking).

One "trick" I do like to use is every time I look in the mirror I find one thing about the way I look to compliment myself on. For example, I might say "Wow, my hair looks really good today." or "I like the way my skin flushes after I exercise." Even though it feels a little silly, I also have been known to say such things OUT LOUD in front of my boys and will be even more conscious of doing so with my daughter. They need to hear that mama is proud of herself.

Doing My Best said...

Your mother is right: we DO have to stop somewhere. I am erring on the side of being too lazy/busy/stingy to do any of those things...I mean, trying to love my body JUST the way it is, but that is a challenge when IT KEEPS CHANGING!

However, I would consider something that could very well become a serious problem to NOT be a cosmetic procedure, even if that's how the insurance would classify it.

You are such a beautiful person, ALL AROUND; it is sad that you feel badly about yourself =(. (Not that I'm judging YOU for feeling badly about yourself; I blame the world we live in which should be ASHAMED of itself for making SO MANY women question their worth!)

twisterfish said...

My mother, an active, beautiful 75, tells me she doesn't recognize the "old lady" in the mirror either. Aging is part of life... and in my opinion shouldn't be looked on as a horrible thing. If your mind is active, and you feel young (or think you're younger than you look) celebrate! Be happy and live life! You know, when I think about it, some of the most beautiful older women I know are the strong, confident ones. That's what I'm going to strive for.

Our bodies age fast, and trying to surgically change them to stop that process isn't for me. I dye my hair and use moisturizer and hate that I don't exercise enough (will start tomorrow, for sure!), but no surgery for me.

And just so you know, I see you as young and beautiful! Enjoy the reunion, and remember that everyone else there is also 39!

Alice said...

as an arrogant teenager and early-20-something, i recall scoffing at women who felt they needed plastic surgery and vowing that *i'd* never be one of *those* women.

at 31, i would like to smack that girl upside the head. (i haven't had anything done yet, but i can definitely see wanting to in the [nearer than i'd anticipated] future.)

The Workman Family said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
d e v a n said...

I like your mothers philosophy, but the idea of a tummy tuck is certainly intriguing! Although I doubt I will ever do it, it is something I think about.

Hillary said...

I'm too scared of surgery, etc to do anything about it. I don't even dye my hair.

And for what it's worth, you're the person I think about when I catch myself slouching at my desk.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Gina- I love your "trick" and I plan to borrow it! It's a little sad I need to trick myself into finding something positive but I believe wholeheartedly in "fake it till you make it"!

Doing My Best- YES. I can accept how it is today but then tomorrow IT'S DIFFERENT AGAIN. So it's about accepting and embracing change. Constant freaking change. And that? I suck at.

twisterfish- I agree with you. I want to be a strong vibrant older woman. I'm not sure we see enough of them in the media for me to have a good, well-rounded image of what that looks like!

Alice- I said the same thing. Ridiculously arrogant, those 20 somethings we used to be, huh?

Hillary- YAY! I'm happy to hear I'm your slouching nag!

belinda said...

(Blogger is forcing me to post this in two parts – apologies for my long-windedness)

I am commenting from a different place in life. I'm 38, have no kids (and therefore none of the physical changes that go along with this), and did not really "come into" my physical self until I was in my early 30s. As CBHM (I think) knows, I struggled with my physical body and its shape for years and went from being normal sized to too skinny and back and forth for a very long time. I also struggled with just plain acceptance of things that I thought were wrong, but were just different (for example, all through college I envied and pined for CBHM's small frame size and gorgeous dancer's form and grace but couldn't accept that I was built like those field hockey players from her high school- even though I in fact played field hockey, softball, and ran long distance rather successfully). As a mutual friend of ours from college who played lacrosse said, there are 'big ships' and 'small ships' on any team. I am a 'big ship.' I spent YEARS trying to make myself into a 'small ship,' even though my bone structure alone would not allow it.

Many years of hard work on my own thoughts later, I now like my body. That is not to say I don't sometimes get intimidated by women with physical forms like those of CBHM, but I've stopped comparing myself. Mostly.

As I just turned 38, of course I, too, am beginning to see signs of aging. I've used sunscreen on my face religiously, even under my makeup in the winter, since I was a teenager, so the wrinkles aren't so bad-even at my age, I am still mistaken for early 30s, occasionally late 20s - but they are starting. The crows feet are deeper when I smile. The "parentheses" around my mouth show up if I'm not well hydrated. The cellulite on my ass has creeped down the backs of my thighs. My butt is sagging a little lower. I look in the mirror, and I critique.

I shrug my shoulders and let it go. I don't beat myself up anymore (unless I'm in the foulest of low moods, the kind the pushes people to drink or otherwise escape). why not? For one, I can't DO anything about it. This is all part of getting older. I don't want to be someone "desperately trying to cling to my youth"- because I am happy being the age I am. I wouldn't want to go back to my 20s, or even my early 30s. I am pleased with what I've learned and the person I've become. Women who age with quiet grace are stunning. CBHM's mother has long been my role model for this.

belinda said...

Secondly, it is so very, very tiring, worrying endlessly about one's looks and one's body. I lost so much of my life focusing on THIS little bulge and THAT little lump (which probably didn't even exist). I compared myself to other women and all but hated myself because I didn't "measure up-" to what? Even if I could've had surgery to shrink my frame size I would have found something else that was wrong. When in reality, I was fine- just different from what I thought was ideal.

It is difficult to look in the mirror in the morning those "parentheses" show up and think, "damn, those are gonna be permanent soon." But would I botox them away? No, never. Because botox only puts off the inevitable. And, it hides (sometimes poorly) the fact that I am who I am: a 38-year-old who may be lucky in the age-appearance department for now... but when the luck runs out I refuse to spend so much of my time worrying about it – my body, my appearance - again.

I don't know how to say it more clearly: worrying about, dismantling, chipping away at, detesting, hating, crying over, and loathing my body consumed me for over a decade. I missed out on so much living because I was too wrapped up into myself and trying to change what I couldn't. Trying to change things that didn't need to be changed.

I refuse to do it, ever again. This is my face. This is my body. This is how I look as I age. I may not be comfortable with parts of it, but there is nothing that I can do about it. I use sunscreen, I use topical moisturizers, etc. – I try to take care of myself. But no surgeries, no injections, and no worries about not doing so. That does not mean that I am free from appearance insecurities, but it does mean that I am confident that there is a line I simply will not cross. For me, it is not worth it.

Michelle said...

I don't have the perfect body but my husband finds me sexy and that is what makes me happy. I have no plans for botox, lifts, tucks or anything like that. Just not for me.

B said...

First of all, you look fabulous (and I have seen you in person several times)! Second, to echo what's already been said, I used to scoff at cosmetic surgery and say things like "a woman should wear her age confidently and not give into society's ideas of perfection." Now, after having three kids, I know there are things I will definitely "tweak" one day. I don't even think of botox as a big deal. I sort of think it falls into the same category as salon services (mani pedi wax botox, anyone?). And I would not be opposed to a breast lift either...

Bird said...

I often wonder what lengths I would go to in order to look younger and slimmer. I'm 32 and now understand what "fine lines" are because I see them in the mirror every day. I have often abstractly debated the merits of botox for that spot between my eyebrows that I furrow too much. I haven't done anything yet other than moisturize till the cows come home but I wonder if one day I will miss my younger face.

Both my mom and MIL often declare that they want a face lift but I always get very angry saying that they look beautiful now and will look worse after. Its so much easier to say it about other people than yourself, eh?

Bronwen said...

Dear Beautiful,

Your dermo suggested Botox?!?! I started throwing things when I read that. That's all I have to say.


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