They asked to see my eyes and, naively, I lowered my sunglasses.
"Wow, I've got something to help with that,” they said. “Let me just put some collagen on your face."
Ummm… no thanks. What about me walking down the sidewalk said I was looking to buy something to look younger? And what in the world makes anyone think that they have carte blanche to comment on our looks? Welcome to your 40s, I thought—when the world strives to make you feel old and uncomfortable in your own skin.
All that energy I’ve put into feeling bad about myself for not looking younger has been exhausting and demoralizing.
I wish I could say that was an isolated incident, but it's not. Women's looks—especially those of us who are over the age of 40—seem to be under society's constant judgment. Why are women's looks constantly open for comment? Why do people think our physical appearance is open for unsolicited feedback on "improvements?" Why can’t we just be?
Women aging naturally shouldn’t be newsworthy, yet here we are. Cameron Diaz makes headlines for admitting that she doesn’t wash her face? (Same here, Cameron.) Jamie Lee Curtis says she’s going to stop sucking in her stomach and it’s part of the news cycle for days. Justine Bateman writes a book about forgoing beauty treatments and she’s called “brave.”
Don’t get me wrong, I enthusiastically applaud all of these women for loving and accepting their bodies as they are—wrinkles and rolls and all. Standing ovation from me. What I don’t love is that doing so is somehow deemed revolutionary and remarkable.
We're good enough as we are, the age we are. We should be able to walk down the street without being subjected to unsolicited advice on how to change ourselves. We should be able to see other women our age who look like women our age. We should be able to get off the hamster wheel that feeds us lies that say we need to be smoother and smaller and tighter, that we need to smile more, that we need to "dress our age," that we need to "dress less our age," that we need to look younger and fitter and anything other than what we are.
I mean, when does it end?
I’ll be honest, I participate in my fair share of beauty treatments. I color my hair and I wear makeup. I occasionally put on some earrings (though admittedly not that often anymore). I’m not suggesting that we need to forego everything and go completely au natural. What I am suggesting is that women aging shouldn’t be called “brave” just because we skip the Botox and show our face as it is. We shouldn’t be accosted while walking down the street by a salesperson who thinks that the best way to make a sale is to make us feel bad about ourselves. And we shouldn’t be put under a microscope that judges the depth of our wrinkles and the sag in our eyelids.
I don’t want to debate the validity of getting Botox, fillers or other treatments. Truthfully, those debates about women aging miss the point entirely and become just one more way to cause strife among women. What I do want to consider, however, is the reason why so many of us feel the need to do these things in the first place. It isn’t just celebrities anymore either; it’s the mom-down-the-street, our sisters, the mom in our neighborhood bookclub. And it all makes me more than a little sad.
We fret about the ways that social media is hurting our children, especially teen girls, with its unrealistic expectations. We bemoan Instagram filters and Photoshopped images for harming our daughters’ self-esteem. But what about what we’re doing to ourselves?
To be completely honest, I spend far too much time fussing over the wrinkles on my forehead and the deep 11s between my eyes. My eyelids droop in a way they never used to. I wear lipstick almost every day, even when I’m not leaving the house. And I spend a shocking amount of time on Zoom calls trying to contort my face into something that looks less old (I’m often the oldest one my work meetings) and more friendly (my RBF has really settled in over the years).
Related: These dark circles and wrinkles? Yep—that’s my motherhood showing
Why? Why do I do this? Why do any of us?
For me, it comes from those incessant feelings of not being deemed “good enough”, of being judged, and confronting the fact that time is passing far quickier than I would like. It comes from a fear of being deemed inconsequential. Women over a certain age—is it 40? 50?—are expected to shrink away. And if we don’t, well, we’re either condemned for not “looking our age” or backhand-complemented for “aging backward” (a la Anne Hathaway).
I’ll ask it again: when can we women just be?
I realized that I might not be able to stop this train of societal pressure to look younger, better, smoother. But I could get off it. And it’s been downright liberating.
All that energy I’ve put into feeling bad about myself for not looking younger has been exhausting and demoralizing. Which I suppose is the goal. Because how can women achieve their full potential if they are exhausted and demoralized?
And here’s what I’ve come to realize. I don’t want to spend the rest of whatever time I have on this beautiful earth feeling exhausted and demoralized. I don’t want to feel bad about myself anymore. I don’t want to look younger. I want to look like me. I want to let go of all this time and energy spent on looking like an unrealistic version of myself. I want to use my time and money to achieve my full potential. I want this for our daughters. And for our sons too, because let’s be honest, this pressure affects them too, albeit in smaller and different ways. I want this for you too. I want this for all of us.
I realized that I might not be able to stop this train of societal pressure to look younger, better, smoother. But I could get off it. So I did. And it’s been downright liberating. Some might even say "brave." I am a 40-something-year-old mom and I look like one. This is who I am and this is what I look like.
And you know what? When I stopped all the comparing and fretting, I realized that I actually really like her.