I wrote this piece several years ago when I was living in Los Angeles, and it’s still relevant today. If you struggle with the invisibility of aging, how do you deal with it? Have you found solutions that make a difference? We’d love to hear from you.
The invisibility of aging can take a toll. Can you see me? I’m right here, next to the cute twenty-something, the sexy thirty-something, and the sophisticated forty-something. I’ll wave my arms around for you. There…better?
My name is Elle, and I’m forty-five years old. Okay, I’m fifty-nine. I really don’t like to lie, but I hate that glazed-over look younger people often get when they hear the truth—as if anyone whose age starts with a five or a six is beneath acknowledgment. When that happens, one of my greatest fears is realized: I am becoming invisible to everyone except my family and friends.
I’m not very good at this aging thing. Oh, I have the deepening lines and the gray roots down pat, but I haven’t caught up on the inside. A big part of me still feels twenty-two, as if I have years and years ahead of me to do everything I’ve ever wanted to do. But then I discover another body part that has taken a nosedive, and I’m reminded that none of those beliefs is true. I am growing older, and I don’t have a road map to show me the way.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not exactly a shriveled-up crone. I drew from an Italians-only gene pool whose surface was marked by a slick of olive oil. For years I wore that shiny badge of heritage on my face, only to emerge in my forties with the not-so-bad-for-my-age skin my mother always promised. My Mediterranean ancestry helped me out in the sun-abuse department, as well. My days of using baby oil spiked with iodine as my only barrier against UV rays left me with fewer age spots than might be expected, and I gleefully referred to the ones I had as freckles. I might have gone on with that delusion for the rest of my life, were it not for an episode that occurred when I paid a recent visit to the dermatologist.
I had decided that perhaps I could do “a little something” to add a splash of vitality to my face. My husband had recently said, “You’re beautiful just the way you are,” but I heard only the last five words. So what way am I? Wrinkled? Droopy? When I looked in the mirror, all I saw were the lines that extended from my nose to the corners of my mouth. So what if those creases were the result of years of smiling? Maybe a strategically placed injection or two might make me look younger—albeit not quite so happy. I picked up the phone and made the call that I hoped would bring back a smidgeon of my youth.
Three weeks later—just try to get in to see a Beverly Hills dermatologist right away—I was sitting on the exam table waiting for Dr. Anti-Crevices to show up. His assistant, who appeared to be about twelve, entertained me with small talk. I barely listened, focused instead on what treatments the doctor might recommend and whether or not I would agree to them. She suddenly interrupted her own banter, pointed to the little brown garden blossoming above the V of my T-shirt, and asked, “Do those spots bother you? ‘Cause we can fix ‘em, ya know.”
Bye, bye, freckles. Hello, Fraxel. I walked out even before the doctor walked in.
And so it goes. I figure I basically have two choices: resist the aging process by utilizing every youth-restoring methodology know to man and medicine or accept my age gracefully. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to decide which route to take, as evidenced by my hasty departure from the derm’s office.
I recently saw a TV commercial featuring an actress who is about my age. She dazzled moviegoers when she was in her twenties, but descriptors like “perky” and “adorable” don’t cut it thirty years later. She has clearly made the decision to fight time, and the result is a little scary. When she opened her mouth, her face barely moved. She sounded as if her top and bottom teeth were fused together with peanut butter and she was trying to speak around the goop. Compounding the problem was the fact that her lips were unnaturally large, creating a further barrier to speech. Aging may be cruel, but what she’s done is crueler still. In my quest to regain my youth, I do not want to risk terrifying small children because there’s a not-quite-human quality about me.
And then I experience the flip side when I l allow myself to be dazzled by the before-and-after photos on the websites of cosmetic surgeons who clearly know their way around a scalpel. That could be me, I think, with unlined porcelain skin. I should do this! After a minute or two of getting caught up in the fantasy, I remind myself that my Italian genes never granted me a single day of milky-white, rosy-cheeked skin in my entire life, and therefore would likely not offer it up now. So here I am, firmly back at square one. And the invisibility of aging goes on…