I have a vivid memory of a commercial I saw as a kid.
There was a close-up animated graphic of wrinkles on a woman’s face – deep grooves running along her skin like canyons. And then cartoon bubbles floated in from the side of the screen and landed on top of the grooves, smoothing them out.
It was a make-up commercial, meant to illustrate how other make-ups settled into the grooves of women’s faces, making wrinkles look even deeper, while this make-up covered them, making skin look smooth and youthful.
Even as a kid, I got the message: lines on your face are bad. Better get the kind of make-up that covers those flaws on your skin when you’re older.
The commercial was effective. Because I remember it now, at 41, when I look in the mirror and see those lines on my own face.
I’m a smart person; grounded, reasonable, well-informed. I’ve worked to undo social programming around my own body, and I’ve made it my life’s work to help other people befriend theirs.
And yet, upon seeing those first fine lines around my lips and wrinkles at the corners of my eyes, that ridiculous old commercial popped into my head. I Googled ONE thing about collagen and now all my news and social media feeds are chock full of anti-aging ads and skin products.
I bought a silk pillowcase, a gua sha, and moisturizer with retinoids. I learned “face yoga” techniques and started dipping my morning face in icy water.
And guess what?
The wrinkles are still there.
But even more than the wrinkles, I’m bothered that I’m bothered by the wrinkles.
After being at war with my body in my 20s, then working my ass off making peace with my body in my 30s, I thought I’d get to revel in body-love enlightenment the rest of my days.
But now these wrinkles are creeping in and they’re making me cranky.
I have looked closely in the mirror, trying on different expressions to see which are the biggest culprits. I know the wrinkles around my eyes come from laughing and smiling, and the ones around my lips come from kissing my babies.
The lines across my forehead are the ones that happen when I’m delighted or surprised, and the two stubborn ones between my eyebrows are from days squinting in the sunshine.
The lines across my face tell the story of a life I’ve lived well, in my opinion.
And still…the commercial I saw when I was 8 reigns in my mind.
So, what’s a 41-year-old to do? The fine lines and wrinkles aren’t going anywhere, and I’m only about half-way through my life (love willing).
I can say with a reasonable amount of confidence that I have found an answer, and it isn’t reframing, dismantling oppressive systems, focusing on the positive, or buying make-up, though all those can be useful, and may come about as byproducts of the practices I’m about to explore.
It’s my first time in midlife, but I have garnered the experiences of puberty, infertility, and childbearing. I’ve waded through acne, weight fluctuations, hormonal changes, vitamin deficiencies, unpredictable periods, mood disorders, and a whole bunch of relatively low-grade injuries that come from simply doing life in a body.
And for more of this life than not (and mostly thanks to yoga), I’ve been paying close attention. And I think I’ve found something that works to reorient my mind any time it gives me bullshit about my body, and that’s this:
When it comes to messages about our bodies, there is an authority worth listening to, perhaps above most others, and that is the body itself.
When we get under the clothing, the layers, and the programming, and let the body speak to us instead of our minds, the messages we receive will quickly put make-up commercials to shame.
When I put my phone on silent, face down in a kitchen cupboard, and drape my curled spine over a block, opening my chest into a backbend, my body says,
“That feels good. Do it more.”
When I choose a yoga practice that leaves my glutes and hamstrings tired, sore, and strong, my body says
“YES. I am made for this. Look what I am capable of.”
And when I sit in stillness and silence, noticing the relentless and often absurd chatter in my mind, my body says,
“Come back. That’s just the old mind going off again. Be right here instead.”
My body never sends me running for make-up.
That commercial I saw as a kid knew how to influence my mind. But the body I was in at age eight knew how to climb tall trees, create from garbage and mud, make imaginary friends come to life, squint in the sun, and laugh with abandon.
That body at age 20 knew I was burnt out and told me in a plethora of ways.
That body at age 30 sniffed out how to build placentas, grow babies, birth them, and feed them from itself.
And now I’m in that body in my forties, and I want to remember the patterns of body-wisdom I’ve been alive long enough to notice.
I want to bear my own experience in mind instead of make-up commercials. I want to spend my forties and fifties and beyond listening to what my body loves, whether or not I’m wearing make-up.
I’m going to sweat and move and taste and bend and have hard conversations and have orgasms. I’m going to see beauty and breathe salt air and cry and take naps and laugh loudly when I feel like it.
And, if I’m honest, I’m going to keep remembering that commercial for fine lines and wrinkles. I’ll probably remember it many more times when I look in the mirror and see my smile lines and kissing grooves reflected back to me.
And when that happens, I’ll step a little closer to the mirror and stare into the infinity of my own pupils, marvel at the flecks of color in my irises, and release that commercial and all the seeds it planted back from whence it came.
Because this body knows what it’s doing. It’s given me no reason to believe otherwise. And even though carnal whispers are easily drowned out or misinterpreted completely by the mind, I want to be able to recognize the truth when it is handed to me.
And the truth is, my body was meant to live; not be smeared over. I was born with wrinkles on my skin and I’ll die with wrinkles on my skin. And for better or worse those lines are just that: lines.
And they’re fine.
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