Here’s something a lot of young people don’t know: When middle-aged women get plastic surgery, they’re not trying to look younger; they’re trying to look familiar. For the years between college and age 40, let’s say, most women look about the same as they always did. Maybe you gain a few pounds here or there, but if you put two photos side by side—”me in college” and “me at 35″—it’ll be pretty easy to see it’s the same person. Not so with “me in college” and “me at 50.” Seeing the self-slippage, and anticipating the discrepancy between “me in college” and “me at 60, 70, 80” causes a lot of anxiety.
Women who start to use Botox in their 40s aren’t doing it because they want to return to a younger life. No one who’s in her 40s wants to be in her 20s again, I assure you. They just want to look like the person they’ve seen in the mirror every morning for decades. The person who, bizarrely, is disappearing.
I started to understand this relationship only recently. This year, something odd started to happen: When I see myself in photographs now, I look strange, unfamiliar. Something is shifting in my appearance that’s making me look less like me. I keep trying to take a new head shot for professional purposes, but none of them look right.
There are, of course, obvious signs of change—for instance, the streaks of gray along my temples. I actually think they’re sort of pretty. But they’re weird. Imagine you’ve lived your whole life as a blond and one day you wake up with streaks of brown in your hair. Kind of cool, maybe, but certainly an odd switch for your body to just go ahead and make without consulting you.
It’s the same with wrinkles. I know they will ultimately convey age information, but at the moment, the few I have are annoying simply because they are making my face look foreign. Just a few months ago, three horizontal lines appeared, seemingly overnight, on my forehead. Looking in the mirror, I didn’t understand what they were. I tried to wipe them off. It didn’t work. I guess I now have to incorporate these three wrinkles into my understanding of my face.
That might sound funny, but a lot of women in this culture know their faces and hands and hip bones and knee caps and every other body part intimately, particularly if they believe those parts are flawed. When a magazine has special sections devoted to individual body types (apple, pear, hourglass, etc.), face shapes (heart, square, oval, etc.) or hair type (curly, straight, wavy, etc.), we women know exactly which pages to look at. “Oh, that’s me—combination skin!” But as you get older, these things you know about yourself are encroached upon and even undermined completely. Did you ever know them to begin with?
I suppose if I were rich, I’d head to the dermatologist and see if a little Botox might get rid of the three wrinkles on my forehead and cure my migraines. And I’d have the bottom of my teeth smoothed out, for sure. But I’m not trying to look younger. I just don’t want to lose myself.