I saw a photo of myself recently from when I was 20. It popped up as a memory on Facebook, and at first I only glanced at it. Cute, I thought. In the photo I’m hugging my then-boyfriend, now-husband wearing a big cheesy grin on my face. My bright blonde hair piled high in a side ponytail; we were in Halloween costumes. We look so young, I thought. But really, I’m still fairly young. This picture is 11 years old. In the grand scheme of things, I am quite young, but in that photo I just look so… refreshed.
I peered closer.
Then I saw it: my forehead is entirely smooth. I mean flawless. My smile is gigantic, but my forehead is unaffected by the exaggerated facial expression.
I got up and walked to the bathroom. I smiled widely at my reflection.
Oh dear. This is what aging looks like.
This observation was news to me because somewhere between baby number one and baby number three, I came to believe that the way I look now is the way I’ve always looked. Those lines on my forehead? Permanent fixtures. Kind of like how I have blue eyes and lots of freckles. I also have forehead lines. These are just regular facts about my face.
Except they aren’t.
I haven’t always been this way. I became this way, and what’s more shocking is that I don’t know when it happened.
Last month my son came home from school and said that in art class they had traced their whole bodies. We have a big roll of butcher paper in the kitchen, and he wanted us to trace our bodies, too. My younger two were napping which meant the house was quiet, and I’m always up for a fun one-on-one activity with my son that doesn’t involve Lego kits with 300 pages of instructions and 1,000 miniature pieces, so I agreed and ripped off two long sheets of paper and laid down on top of one. My son grabbed a marker and got to work.
For the most part, five-year-olds are not excellent at tracing. My left leg was significantly wider than the right, and I wound up with only four fingers on one hand, but my son was pleased with his work and set out to draw my face.
“I want to write in all the body parts,” he said. “That will be good practice, right?”
His handwriting leaves quite a bit to be desired, so, yes, practice is good.
“Sure,” I said, and we began by slowly spelling: nose, mouth, ear. He drew a little line with an arrow pointing to each feature and carefully wrote the letters.
“Now, how do you spell — ” he paused. “Oh wait —”
As he spoke he drew five thick lines between the eyes and the hairline. “Now this is a forehead! Does it start with an F?”
I looked at his masterpiece and bit my lip. We will now refer to this moment as that one time my kindergartener drew a picture of me and my face looked like a cage.
Cue the internal dialogue about Botox.
I’m an American woman in my thirties; clearly, I have been down this path before, but lately it seems like all roads lead to Botox. This particular conversation has come up at every girl’s night I’ve had for at least a year, if not more. Sometimes I worry that freezing my forehead is inevitable, and in fact, maybe I’m even a little late to this party.
My annual dermatology appointment was six weeks ago; apparently, I should have started paralyzing the muscles on my face long before they began creasing and grooving. But I didn’t. I know that I could freshen my face up in about 10 minutes tomorrow morning. Poke, poke, poke, and I’m back at 20-year-old facial perfection.
Would that be perfect now, though? In my heart of hearts do I actually want to look like I should be carded every time I buy wine at Trader Joe’s? Maybe. Or maybe not because that would require pulling my license out of my wallet while wrangling my three kids and their sticky Trader Joe’s lollipops as they dot my arms with the yards of scratch and sniff produce scented stickers. No. No. Ain’t nobody got time to bust out a driver’s license at the grocery store. I am surrounded by children. Clearly, I am old enough.
Still, I know I have a tendency to plant my flag on some unwavering principle that I’ve decided is holy, and later I secretly regret that I was so steadfast about an issue that mostly didn’t matter. My certainty on specific life decisions comes back to bite me, and I regret my original stance. I am fairly sure that my 50- or 60-year-old self is going to look back on the me of today and roll her eyes so far back into her head that she may remain permanently blind. 60-year-old me is going to have a come-to-Jesus moment with her face on a random Wednesday morning, cluck her tongue and say “oh girl … if only you knew what was coming…” She’ll be right, and by then the Botox ship will have really sailed.
But here’s the deal with where I’m at right now: wrinkles aside, I am happy. Not just like a little happy, but really happy. I laugh a lot. I sing all the time. I animate my stories with wild gestures, and my husband constantly reminds me to use my inside voice. My nonverbal expressions are top notch. I can ugly cry with the best of them, and since I’ve had children those tears come harder and faster than I ever expected. I am worried and prayerful and anxious, and my brow has been furrowed in thought since my birth. While Botox can’t take away memories or experiences or erase my emotions, the wear on my face has become part of the whole package.
This is not to say that I love my wrinkles. I don’t. And as they grow and multiply and cover my face, I might even sometimes hate them. But who cares? I mean really, who actually cares? The only reason I believe my face should be void of age is because everyone else is doing it, and that’s rarely a good reason to make a decision. The bottom line is that when I look in the mirror I see me, and I’m older. Thank goodness! Oh geez, I love not being 20. No offense to 20, but I don’t ever want to go back, and not just because I hate fumbling for a photo ID. I don’t want to go back to 25 either or even 29. Life is richer and better now than it was then, and each year I’m more comfortable with who I am and more excited about who I’m becoming.
I’ve looked back on that picture of my 20-year-old self a few times now since it was posted. I love that picture, actually. My husband said the weekend that picture was taken was when he knew for sure he never wanted to spend a second of his life without me. We were wide-eyed and well rested and unmarked by time, and that was good for then. But now, well, life happened. So much life happened, and life will continue to happen. It will happen on my legs and my arms. It will happen on my neck and my stomach. Lord knows it’s already happened on my boobs. And my face, well, life has really happened there.
Even now, I can study the fine lines around my eyes. I can trace the creases of my forehead and tell the story of laughter and joy and tears and the way my heart, and now my face, can hold so much emotion. Those sentiments are carried with me, and I don’t have to steal them away for myself; I get to share them. They’re a part of me so much so that I forgot they weren’t always there.
Now when I think of my son drawing thick marker lines across my face I don’t feel old; I feel known. He sees me. All of me. Some of the parts aren’t trendy or beautiful; they aren’t clean and perfect, and that’s okay. At no point in my life have I strived to put forth an image of perfection, so there’s really no sense in starting now.
Somehow these lines on my forehead feel like one of the great, small rebellions of life that I can point to and tell my children about: I earned these, and I’m good with that.