I have had things injected into my face that I’m not sure are legal in all 50 states. I never eat fast food because that stuff is poison!
I have spent a considerable amount of money and time on magic elixirs and rejuvenating skin treatments, even though I don’t want to be judged by my looks but by the quality of my character.
I’d like to be known for my casual elegance and innate sense of style, which I believe cannot be learned or purchased. As I write this sentence, I am wearing a pair of $200 jeans and handmade, locally sourced socks.
I am not attempting to appear younger. I am trying to look like the best version of myself. I believe the best version of myself is me at 57, but I prefer my jawline at 37. I don’t consider this a lack of acceptance of myself because I don’t consider my jowliness to be intrinsically me; it’s gravity, that’s outside of me.
As I cared for my mother during her last years, a deep well of love and empathy was unleashed, and I found her to be beautiful. But I’d also prefer not to have her gobbler.
Which of these statements is true? All of them.
Looking at Facebook
I’ve been enjoying the photos that have been appearing on Facebook as friends take the 10 Year Challenge. Particularly satisfying are the accompanying narratives. One friend posted a 2009 photo in which she appeared toned, tanned, and waxed within an inch of her life. She wrote that she never left the house until she felt totally put together. Her 2019 picture shows a woman 20 pounds heavier, two kids in tow, and instead of a handbag stuffed with makeup, there was a smidge of baby puke on her sweatshirt. She wrote that she’d fallen in love with motherhood and has zero regrets about giving up her formerly sylph-like self. Such narratives point to a positive development as we expand our standard of beauty, which includes a greater acceptance of ourselves as we age. The comments she received showered her with encouragement and affirmation. “You look great!” “Better than ever!” It’s wonderful. Yay us!
Many Facebook comments I’ve seen point to a positive development as we expand our standard of beauty.
But what response would I garner if I post my authentic reaction to my own photos?
At 57, I have greater self-esteem, but I wish I still had skin that glowed with health even when I wasn’t healthy. In fact, it looked better when I subsisted on a diet of pizza and red wine. I miss my youthful face. I’ve made my peace and plan to carry on with grace, still, I mourn the loss. I don’t spend a great deal of time contemplating this because that’s a waste of time. Also, I’m too busy looking for errant chin hairs. Many of our peers have gamely and gorgeously embraced gray hair, but which of us are going to be the first to rock a granny beard?
Still the Dichotomy
Can I both be a feminist and a woman aging boldly, while still getting by with a little help from a my friends: a Beverly Hills dermatologist, my friendly neighborhood facialist, and a moisturizer that purports to contain amber? Amber, that’s what fossils are preserved in! Is there a line we’ve drawn in the sand that is acceptable? If you use moisturizers and get your hair dyed you are still a feminist. A little botox? Ok, but not too much or you’ve betrayed us? Surgery? That’s not acceptable. Unless, like Gloria Steinem, you have surgery but then claim to regret it. For the record, Gloria will always be my leader.
I believe we are, in part, responding to how people feel about themselves in the 10 Year Challenge.
Amal Clooney, whose work as a barrister includes litigating human rights cases, does important work for humanity, and, when she was pregnant she rocked $1,200 Dolce & Gabbana boots and a floral dress advertised at Neiman’s as costing $2,895. According to her makeup artist, she uses a $45 brow pencil and $125 night cream. She’s a woman who clearly spends a good deal of time on grooming. Do we respect her any less?
Glenn Close brought the crowd to their feet with in her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes. Does the probability—I’d put it at 100 percent—that she’s had work done, dim our view of her?
One of my heroes is Jane Goodall. I couldn’t care less what she looks like, and yet I find her beauty at ages 24 and at 84 astonishing. Also, I am dying to know what kind of sunscreen she uses.
The Biological Imperative
Apparently, I can’t help myself. Evolutionary biology teaches us that we are hardwired to respond positively to beautiful people, although norms vary in different cultures. It’s impossible to speculate what our ancestors of say, 2,000 years ago, would have made of our aging faces because the average lifespan of a woman at that time was 30 to 35 years. We are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to push the boundaries of body and age positivity, and I believe we are, in part, responding to how people feel about themselves in the 10 Year Challenge. This is why I’d like to see the phrase “You look great,” retired and replaced with “It’s great to see you,” but I doubt it will catch on because it’s irresistible to fail to notice just how great our friends look, each in their own unique ways.
Still, we don’t know if we’re looking at images of aspirational visages enhanced through filters, fabulous lighting, or a little nip/tuck or if the whole 10 Year Challenge is a boondoggle created “to train a facial recognition algorithm on age progression,” as was suggested by Kate O’Neill at WIRED.com
I don’t have answers to all of these questions. But I am certain of one thing, when you see photos of someone that inspires the response, “You haven’t changed at all!” it’s likely that some money has been spent. That’s why I’ve taken the 30 year challenge and offered some context to the images above.
Annabelle Gurwitch is the author of the New York Times bestseller I See You Made an Effort and most recently, Wherever You Go, There They Are: Stories About my Family You Might Relate To. She’s currently at work on a new memoir Vodka & Gelato: My Year of Empty Nesting. You can find her at annabellegurwitch.com