I was introduced to my first wrinkle the other week. Three inches across and about the width of a hair, it sits a few centimeters above my eyebrows. “There, see that?” said the dermatologist, a full-lipped brunette of indeterminate age. She held up a powerful mirror and pointed to my face with a nicely manicured fingernail. “There’s another starting right above it. Raise your eyebrows. See? And there’s another.” I was sort of surprised to see them. I was even more surprised by how much they scared me.
I’d often felt cursed by my baby face: Enormous forehead, big eyes, chubby cheeks. Bartenders and convenience store merchants regularly carded me for cigarettes and alcohol. While working as a background actress in L.A. in the mid-’90s, I was regularly cast as a teenager on productions such as “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “E.R.” On one show, a three-camera sitcom starring LL Cool J, the show’s makeup artist went so far as to paint a cluster of red and yellow pimples on my face to give me added adolescent authenticity. I was 22.
The people — particularly women — I most admired professionally and personally tended to be in their late 30s and older. They had a wisdom, sensuality and knowingness that I desperately wanted to emulate, and, by God, crow’s-feet only added to the effect. Texture on the face equals texture of the soul, or so the thinking went. But maybe not for me.
To add insult to injury, I’d always prided myself on being immune to the siren calls of get-slim-quick schemes and expensive serums. I spent the majority of my 20s writing and editing for women’s magazines adept at creating and stoking female insecurities and helping advertisers monetize them. I considered myself hip to these magazines’ tricks and, therefore, resistant to their charms. In my early-to-mid-30s, fed up by the superficiality of such offerings (and disgusted by the role I had played in promoting them), I started a women’s Web site that was devoted, in part, to dismantling the celebrity-beauty-industrial complex. We found, and published, unretouched magazine covers to underscore the impossibility of images marketed to women. We mocked and pooh-poohed plastic surgery and other painful, expensive aesthetic “enhancements.” “Ten Moves to a Flatter Belly” and “Secrets of the Stars: How to Get Glowing Celebrity Skin” were not part of our repertoire. (Those headlines are made up. Old habits die hard.) The media outlets, beauty companies and fashion designers we railed against went on the defensive. My readers, after a lifetime of being condescended and marketed to, cheered.
But something happened on the way to female enlightenment: I hit my late 30s. Hair began to appear in places it never had before. I acquired a belly, and the flesh on my arms and calves wasn’t as taut and toned. These were unsettling developments but also easily remedied: All it took to tame them were expensive tweezers and a little (well, a lot) more discipline with regards to diet and physical activity. The changes in my face, however, were another matter. A downturned mouth. Thinner lips. Now the wrinkles. “Wow. You’re really looking older,” says the voice in my head as I peer into the bathroom mirror. Then another, this one louder and more judgmental: “Who are you that you care?”