I can go days without looking in the mirror. And then, something drastic happens to direct attention to your image and terrible things start to happen. You start to notice things. Bad things. This is what happened to me...but first, some background.
Many years ago, I watched Barbara Walters on one of her television show incarnations and she suggested that if women raise their arms above their heads, it lifts the breasts and any other sagging skin in the area so that it doesn’t look so saggy anymore. I wondered how I could walk around with my hands in the air all the time without looking silly. And then, after a time, I forgot about it.
Until the last wedding I attended. (Yes, it’s another daughter’s-wedding/terrible-photos lament) My step-daughter sent me the link to her wedding photos, all 542 of which I could look at online at my convenience. There was plenty of ooohing and ahhing at the really beautiful bride and groom shots, but naturally, within minutes, I had zeroed in on the pictures in which my arms looked like hams hanging in the butcher’s window. In several shots, there we all were, the mothers and aunts of the happy couple on the dance floor thinking we were so hip dancing to funky music when clearly a song came on that required us all to fling our arms into the air with apparent abandon. Repeatedly. There seemed to be more shots of this dance than were really necessary.
These kinds of photos give evidence to many things, most importantly: we don’t really look as cool as we think we do when we dance. The second thing, almost as important: Barbara Walters was wrong. Lifting one’s arms in the air, particularly for the less-toned of us, does only this: the elasticity-less arm skin drapes down the humerus onto the radius and ulna as if it were melting wax. It was both a disturbing and fascinating observation.
Being confronted with the droopy skin on my arms forced me to look in a mirror that reflected more of me than my face. And now I finally get what Nora Ephron was talking about when she wrote about feeling bad about her neck. I feel horrible about my neck! When did this happen, this weird shift of fat and skin, this wrinkling, this discoloration? My head looks like one of those children’s books where you can spin the paper wheel and exchange heads, like having a dragon head on an elephant body. (That’s just the first image that came to me.) There seems to be a very clear demarcation between the top of my neck under my chin and the bottom of it near my throat. I am only lacking metal bolts in my neck to complete the loveliness.
Two things surprised me about discovering that my body was starting to look very different than the image I have in my head (which is circa 1986): the first is that it obviously happened without my noticing it at all. The second thing was how disturbed I was when I did finally notice. It wasn’t a fling-myself-across-the-bed-wracked-with-sobs disturbed, but the specter of mortality did hang over my head for the rest of the day. I was really surprised at how much it bothered me. I’ve always felt that one of my better characteristics (in my opinion...don’t ask anyone else...) is that I have little to no vanity about my looks. (No shock, says everyone, we’ve seen the clothes you choose to wear.) I am vain about a few of my features; my long blond(ish) hair, my blue(ish) eyes and, believe it or not, my feet. Everything else is so difficult to manage and maintain that I have found it easier and more comfortable to just let it do as it pleases. Proper nutrition, exercise and rest, while not optional, are all different for each person and I do the best that I can. I completed two 5Ks this year, didn’t I?
It’s aging, you know. It happens. People age differently. My husband is the oldest of three brothers and he has a head full of black hair, with only the slightest graying at his sideburns. His middle brother has gone all gray and the youngest has the least amount of hair of all. (Don’t let them fool you; men have just as much trouble with their aging image as many of us women. My husband was complaining to me about the wedding pictures, too, and said he just doesn’t look the same in the pictures as when he looks in the mirror. To test it out, he took a picture of himself while looking in the mirror. It took me about 20 minutes to stop laughing.)
I recently saw a picture of Michelle Pfieffer in a magazine and she looked, in a word, fabulous. She is only a few months younger than I am. Did I have a few sour grapes to lob at her? Of course I did: She probably has a trainer, a cook, a stylist, a beach house, money to spend on treatments, hair, makeup and lighting. She probably doesn’t walk around with her arms up in the air, either. But, you know what? It doesn’t take Hollywood to make a woman my age beautiful. I have friends who look just as stunning as Ms. Pfieffer and without all the trappings. I’m not going to say who, I’ll just let you all believe it’s you...because it could be.