Back when I was drinking, I defined myself by my excesses. I didn't just drink, I was a drinker, a party girl who was always chasing what I described in my MySpace About Me box as "bars, boys, booze and blow." So when I got sober, I had something of an identity crisis. Who was I if not a partier, not the person who announced it was "beer o'clock" around 5 p.m. and loudly berated anyone leaving the bar before closing time? (Yeah, I was an asshole.)
I had to figure out who I was, and in the meantime I had to live with the dissonance of being no longer something old but not yet something new.
I am currently experiencing a similar kind of dissonance in respect to some new life transitions. I've been a mother for over two years, but in a lot of ways I still feel like I'm just trying on that identity, like I'm playing dress-up in mom jeans. I still feel like the same old irresponsible womanchild, despite the fact that society tells me I have passed over into some different and sacred category -- that of THE MOM.
And despite the fact that I turned 31 in May, I'm still wrapping my mind around the fact that I have embarked upon a new phase of life as a woman in her 30s. I'm not saying something fundamental about how a woman is supposed to change as she ages and grows, just that I'm still adjusting to my new roles, expectations and perceptions. I still feel like the intern, but I'm actually the boss. I'm in a period of transition, and transitions are hard and confusing.
Perhaps this partly explains why I was so rattled when I accidentally stumbled upon an online discussion of how badly I'm aging.
I really try to avoid reading mean things about myself on the Internet. Remember, I'm SENSITIVE. I only skimmed a few messages before I beat a hasty retreat, but that was enough to see people discussing my specific wrinkle patterns in great detail and speculating that I'm 5 to 10 years older than my actual age. At the very least, stated one of them, I was a "hard 30."
I think I was most offended by the assumption that I would lie about my age. I don't and wouldn't. I've never really gotten the point -- at best, aren't you just making everyone believe you're a terrible-looking 30? If I were going to lie about my age, I'd lie up. That way everyone would gush about how young I look for my age.
And honestly, it should be actually illegal to tell the mother of a young child she looks old. BITCH I HAVEN'T SLEPT IN TWO YEARS.
Of course I knew that what I'd read was both cruel and sexist. I don't care if I'm freaking Methuselah -- why should I have to apologize for aging, which is, may I remind you, the natural process of things. That's what my brain told me. But in my heart, it still stung. I'm not a robot, and I hate this idea that it's somehow weak or unprofessional to be affected by people saying mean things about you. THIS IS HOW HUMANS WORK. We're just not built to be called fat and ugly every day and feel nothing because HEY WE CHOSE TO PUT OURSELVES OUT THERE. You know, for a job. That we do to get paid to eat food and support our families and stuff. Nobody told me when I was a little girl dreaming of becoming a writer that giving the whole Internet a boner was also going to be part of my job description.
So yeah, as much as I wish I was a totally invulnerable feminist warrior who's all "The lines on my face are the roadmap to my inner happiness" or whatever, reading that stuff got in my head. All of a sudden, I started to feel self-conscious about the little crinkly lines around my eyes and mouth, even though I'd previously thought they were kind of nice in the sense that they referenced a lifetime spent smiling. I made a shoddy attempt at Photoshopping out some eye wrinkles in an article photo and got called out by a commenter. I made an appointment to see my schmancy dermatologist and got lasers shot into my face to stimulate collagen. When I confessed to her that I was feeling bad about myself because my wrinkles were currently under debate on the Internet, she asked if I'd ever consider Botox.
I don't judge anybody for doing whatever they want with their own face and body, from minor injectables to a complete plastic surgery overhaul designed to make you resemble a Bratz doll. But for my own self, I'd always found the idea of straight shooting poison into my face pretty unappealing. But now, in my vulnerable state, I was willing to consider it.
Luckily, the derm ultimately concluded that I didn't need injectables (yet). I'm not saying for sure that I'll never get Botox, but I'm glad I didn't make a decision I might have regretted in a moment of Internet-induced insecurity. (For those who do want Botox, my derm says you should start thinking about it when you can see fine lines and wrinkles when your face is completely relaxed. Mine pretty much just pop up when I'm smiling for now.)
Anyway, if I did get Botox, people would probably just start talking about how I can't move my damn face. It's a game you can't really win.
What finally helped me to get over myself and stop obsessing was discussing the situation with a pretty famous (and super smart) person I have an online friendship with, who has had more than her fair share of haters. She said, in part: "The Internet has been telling me I look 40 since I was 25. People loooooove to use 'aging poorly' as a weapon against women even when it's not true."
And you know what? Maybe it is true. Maybe it's not. But either way, "old" is just the same as "fat" in that it's one more word people use almost indiscriminately to tear women down. In my 20s, they called me fat and ugly. Now they call me fat and ugly AND old, because those are the soft spots, the things women are socialized to be most self-conscious about. I've just graduated into a new demographic of sexist crap to get spattered with.
And ultimately, I reject the flawed assumption behind the whole thing, that there's something wrong with being 40, or even just looking 40. I didn't pay a ton of attention in high-school biology, but from what I remember aging is what's supposed to happen. Feeling bad about it is like feeling bad about growing taller, or needing to drink water to live.
So yeah, I am a human woman with my own petty insecurities and I temporarily let them get the best of me. But from now on, I'm going to do my best not to let my the lines on my face be a reason for anyone to silence me or make me feel any less valuable. There's just way too much I have to do to waste time on obsessing over meaningless details like wrinkles. And after all, I'm not getting any younger.