I was standing with my back against a brick wall and talking to a colleague. The dressing room mirror shone in the afternoon light and I could see my reflection as she asked, “You ok? This whole thing is aging you. It really is, I mean you can see it,” and she motioned at my face as she shook her head. The whole thing was so over the top it felt like a bad sit-com.
I winced. I wouldn’t say something like that, even on my worst foot-in-the-mouth kind of day. It hung there in the air between us and I thought of the wrinkle between my eyes, the way my cheeks have hollowed and the way that at certain times my shoulders have gathered—not in the strong way that you are taught in Pilates to isolate muscles, but in the self-protective way that you do when you try to make yourself smaller, when you try to make an awful moment pass more quickly. I effortlessly catalogued in my mind the spots on my face and the new cowlick that gyrates with frizzy, maddening abandon front and center above my face.
I raised my head and looked myself dead in the eye in the mirror, measuring my words before letting them out, because one path would go irrevocably to a place without return and the other would lead to tears. Luckily as I worked through my hurt and defeat, she filled the silence with more words. It was over, but the moment trudged alongside me for the rest of the day. I manage and control so many things in a day that some twisted part of me seems to think that I should be able to control me. I should be able to overcome tendencies toward, if not complete self-loathing, dissatisfaction with my appearance.
Lately though, I can’t.
I cannot leap out of bed like I used to.
I cannot shake a hurt like I I have before.
It is hard to not feel less-than because I am not effortlessly vivacious.
I do not fill things out like I used to—not a top, not a bottom, and not a room. I find myself, despite my best efforts, looking furtively around restaurants and other public venues. I flinch when I sense one of the young sparklers walking by. I don’t want to feel envy, I don’t want to catch wandering eyes that make me think of what seems like the inevitability of temptation. My husband adores me, my daughters worship me, and yet…I compare myself to days that have passed rather than looking forward to days that are to come, or simply the days that are here. It deflates me and adds to the relentless cycle of feeling disappointed in myself.
“The world is as we are.”
“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen
I realize that this is a bit of a recurring theme, but as I look toward the days ahead, I am not going to beat myself up—not for being older than 25, not for wishing my skin was more taut, and not for spending time trying to work through these feelings. Just as my youngest faces the exhilarating milestone of kindergarten, I will reach milestones. There is no handbook for turning forty or for tucking your diaper bags away, stopping breastfeeding after 6 years, and realizing that you and the world have changed.