Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Face I Used To Know

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It's a funny thing, this aging. So incremental, so subtle. It's not like when we were 10 years old, then 15 - wow, what a sea change! And from age 15 to 20 was morphing from a kid to a young woman.

But after about age 40, the changes are more delicate, and we get used to whatever face looks back at us in the mirror every morning. We know we look "younger" in certain lights and from certain angles. Sometimes we gently pull back the skin on our necks and cheeks, to see how we'd look with a little "work". But mostly we just take a look, and go about our business.

I've had a fairly thin, angular face for most of my adult life. I'm blessed with high cheekbones and a strong jaw. Years of heavy-duty sunscreen and retin-A have kept the texture of my skin pretty smooth.

But a glimpse in an outdoor mirror today took me by surprise. That woman looked, well, older than me. But she was me. There's a hint of a jowl, some deeper lines around her mouth and eyes, and some indefinable not-youthfulness about her.

There's nothing very remarkable about this; I am sure it happens to many of us regularly: we get a glimpse of the aging process in the stark daylight. And there's nothing inherently bad about it. It is reality. If we're lucky, we get older. No one is immune. The Kardashian sisters will have these moments 30 years from now (although I suspect there may be more interventions!).

But I do sometimes miss my face. The firmer, smoother one. Is that bad? Is it shallow? Probably. What I think I am missing is all the possibilities that are attached to the young face, all the options that are ahead. And yes, the power of youthful beauty too. There's no denying that youth = beauty in our culture, and beauty bestows power.

We women of a certain age have "our own faces." As Coco Chanel famously wrote, "Nature gives you the face you have at twenty; it is up to you to merit the face you have at fifty." Our faces show that we've lived a bit. We are not naive, not easily fooled. We have wisdom, grace under pressure, experience in love and loss, and deep friendships.

I wouldn't mind having all those things, and my younger face. That's not a real option though. Even painful surgeries don't "turn back the clock." I will have a moment of grief for my formerly young face, then move forward into all the thrilling possibilities still ahead.

26 comments:

  1. Wow Patti, this is beautifully written, and a wonderful thing to share, since I think we each go through the same thing at some point. I had that moment two years ago, when somehow some combination of the light and the mirror and maybe how I was feeling or what I was wearing all added up to a look I hadn't ever seen before.  Suddenly I was old. I was shocked, and like you, I grieved. I actually cried for some time, mourning the loss of my "young" face.
    Now I'm quite accepting of my appearance, and I looked back at that grief as the product of a weak or emotioal moment. Now that you've shared your experience, I realize it was just a normal and probably necessary part of aging.
    Thank you!

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  2. I can so relate to this article and I agree with everything both you and Katrina have said.

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  3. Oh boy do I ever notice some changes! But it's ok, could be worse! I think sunscreen is a must, even for a darker skin tone.

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  4. Oh we must be on the same wave length!
    I just posted about this very topic on Sunday.

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  5. revasrags2roses fordApril 3, 2012 at 7:47 PM

    Oh Patti!
    GREAT article, and i can totally relate!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I am usually so aware when i get my images and instead of thinking hey, not too bad, i pick myself to pieces. i still need a bit of validation from the hubby ;)
    We have been so programmed to try and defy aging. Many cultures revere their elders, but not int the good old US :)
    Hugs from a fellow beautifully well maintained woman!
    xXx
    Reva

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  6. Patti, wow, I couldn't have expressed these sentiments any better. Terri over at Rags has written about the aging process recently, and now you - both of you very practically and poignantly. It's odd how we see ourselves. So many times I see 20 and 30-something me in the mirror at home, and am unpleasantly startled by almost 50-something me in a department store dressing room, or ye gads, in my rear view mirror in broad daylight. Then I get mad, because rampant consumerism and advertising has led us to a place where we're not supposed to be beautiful, and we're supposed to fight our changing looks to our last dime - at a time when many of us are enjoying much of our personal and professional success. As my teens would say, "It's whack." I love my fellow bloggers in the full bloom of life, because all of you demonstrate true beauty every day, in your writing, your photos, and your style.

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  7. I've been thinking of a Willa Cather quote lately that goes something to the effect that we don't earn our faces until age 40 or so.  But, I know this "shock" that you describe.  I experience it daily.  One aspect of it that is odd to me is that as I age, I look more and more like my deceased father.  On the one hand, my face looks masculine...and on the other, I like "seeing" my father.

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  8. I think I must be the only woman here to like my 56 year old face. But I was never a pretty youngster. I am happier now so that makes me feel a lot more attractive. I was such a grouch! Youth is wasted on the young.

    I still 'make the effort' but I know I don't have to and nobody really cares. I find that is a wonderful freedom. And even if someone did make a disparaging comment I really wouldn't take any notice. That's another thing - I used to feign confidence but now I have the real thing.

    My face is me. I am my face. It can be no other.

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  9. Patti this was so interesting and so intriguing to read.  I will be 45 in May and what resounded for me in this post was what you wrote about all the possibilities attached to the young face....brilliant.  I wonder why sometimes, blogging wasn't around when I was 18,  when my face and body were both tight.  Excellent reading.  You are beautiful, can't even imagine you in your younger years...dawn suitcase vignettes xo

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  10. JL - It's funny that you said that. I was, at best, a homely child, teenager, and young woman. Having been so awkward in my youth, I can appreciate that I am really enjoying middle age (except for the occasional broad daylight shocker :P)

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  11. Terri, I look more and more like my father and grandfather every day. I remind myself my dad is still a real good-looking fellow at age 75 :)

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  12. Wonderful post Patti and it really hits home!
    There are days I wish I had the body and cute youthful face I had at 20,  but I have come to the conclusion I wouldn't trade one bag, sag, wrinkle, lump or blotch for the beautiful inside I developed in the passing years.   I was a pretty reflection in a pool then--today I am cool dark deep waters full of life.

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  13. So true, Patti. I'm in the process of sorting through my family's old slides for scanning, and have come across several of me in my teens and early twenties. I didn't "own my looks" then; it's a shame I only appreciated them in hindsight. That's often the way it is, though. I sigh, and move on.

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  14. As the title in the top of your blog reads......"How to look authentic and beautiful in our middle years"....I think these are our authentic faces!  I do miss my young face, though.....but not enough to succumb to a fake plastic face!
    Thanks, Patti; so well written and honest.

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  15. Oh Patti, I am so happy to read this. This hits so close to home. While I've been told my whole life how young I look, and now, how I don't look 46, I've been seeing for myself those "incremental changes." And it's hard- I don't want to complain but it's there: my middle aged middle, my jowls at the jaw line and almost over night wrinkly hands. My hands! With almost no warning my hands look older, they are crepey and and older looking? When did this happen? As I try to adjust, I too mourn the "glory days" of my youth, of being approached by strangers and told how beautiful I was, of watching the effects of my looks visibly change behaviors of gentlmen, and of being well, on the radar. I want to embrace the dignity of aging, but thank you for vocalizing a melancholy note to it. It must be accepted but the loss is good to be acknowledged. 

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  16. I loved this article of yours,so true and nostalgic.This moment of grief of our youth face comes to all of us and it's in our hand to turn it to wisdom.

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  17. Beautifully written!  You are so open and honest, with a topic that affects everyone at some point.  Now that I'm approaching 70 I have experienced over time the losses that you describe and then the relief of acceptance.  

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  18. All I can say is "ditto" and "amen" to this wonderful post. I couldn't have said it any better...it's like you've read my mind!

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  19. This is a great post, I think all women feel this way at one time or another. This was very well written .

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  20. Great piece. You expressed so well what is hard to put into words: "I'm so glad I'm here— healthy and active— but gee what happened to the way I used to look?" My first hint of this came one day as I was looking in a store window and saw my mother looking back. Would I trade all the years of love, laughter and— well— life to look like my younger self? Never.  

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  21. Oh yes, I think we've all been there. (Love Bella's comment, as I've been wondering why I suddenly have my mother's hands!) I definitely didn't appreciate my young face when I had it. I often remind myself that I'll feel the same way about my current face, later. So I'm learning to appreciate the now!

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  22. Patti,

    I was not careful about sunburns when I was younger, so my face is quite a mess - by our accepted current standards. I am certainly affected by the emphasis on eternally looking 'young'. If I had the money I would get my face 'fixed'. Why? Mostly because it's such a big deal in the working world and I intend to work indefinitely. There is so much age bias in all fields. Age discrimination in hiring, promotions, benefits, etc. is against the law but good luck proving it!

    I'm positive that I've been turned down for several jobs I'm well qualified for because of how I look. So, you bet I'd get plastic surgery if I could.

    On the other hand, I often think about our perception of 'old', looks and otherwise.  We equate old looking with unattractive looking. We equate young and smooth with beautiful, but is that intrinsically true? I don't think so.

    Think of very weathered geology, such as the Grand Canyon and ancient redwood trees. We generally think of those things as beautiful although they have  lots of texture, lines, bumps, folds.

    I am reminded of the main character in a science fiction book. I think it was Stranger in a Strange Land, but I'm not positive. The character thought that all young humans looked alike and didn't have very interesting faces. He preferred how older humans looked, saying, "They have their own faces." I was probably 19 when I read this, but the thinking profoundly affected me. It made me think long and hard about common perception and beliefs. But then those of us who were around during the turbulent 60s and early 70s questioned everything, with good reason.

    Chris

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  23. I have always, always had problem skin. I have a lot of scarring from my cystic acne that bothers me at times. My face has gotten very jowly and every now and then I take my hands and pull the skin back and think of how it used to look before it got so saggy. I smile in all my photos because if I didn't I would scare people! The reality is that I am 60 and this is what I am now. The 60 year olds we see as movie stars are mostly cosmetically enhanced whether it be surgically or with a heap of makeup. I occasionally wish I had appreciated my appearance more when I was young, but that time has passed. I am just thankful to be alive and enjoy my life such as it is.

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  24. Patti I enjoyed reading this post.
    i guess we prepare or aim to prepare for many things in life and aging is not one of them.
    The way I see it, we begin to age the moment we are born - and you said it best: if we get lucky, we get older.

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  25. "I wouldn't mind having all those things, and my younger face. That's not a real option though. " -- how true! I was just thinking about these things today. It's funny how you can ignore it and ignore it and then suddenly you get a glimpse of reality. Sigh. Yes, it IS better than the alternative but not always easy!

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  26. What a wonderful, though provoking post! I'm struggling with accepting aging. It seemed to happen overnight and I am not happy about it! I'm I my early 40s now and I've always taken care of my skin but there's only so much we can do. My face is changing and I know I have to come to some sort of acceptance but it's difficult.

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