Is My Chubby Face Helping Me Look Younger?

I thought it was my fair complexion that regularly gets me mistaken for a 20-something, but it may be due to what I fondly refer to as my facial saddlebags.
Publish date:
March 8, 2013
aging, weight, fair skin

You wouldn’t know by just looking at me, but my genetics allow me to tan very easily. When my mother first met my father, who had just returned from a vacation in Mexico, she thought he was an exotic man from an exotic island—you know, because Norman Zitner is such an exotic name.

I inherited Dad’s proclivity for getting that golden Thanksgiving-turkey glow, but both of my nappa-complected grandmothers were diagnosed with skin cancer before I moved to Florida at age 15, so I started avoiding the sun as much as possible. By the time I went to college, some makeup brands’ lightest foundation shades were too dark for me.

Now, at 33, I often find that people seem confused when I tell them I’ve been divorced for seven years or that “I Will Survive” was the number-one song on the day I was born. They say, “Wait, how old are you?” I tell them—I don’t see the point in lying about age—and they’re almost always surprised. Recently, someone guessed I was 25; I usually get 28.

I’ve always attributed my enduring ability to pass for a quarter-lifer to the lack of sun damage that comes with a forced fair complexion; lines have barely started debossing my skin, and what little discoloration I have is the result of poorly healed zits.

And isn’t that what makes the most diehard deep-fryer swap her coconut oil for sunscreen? Not the threat of dying from melanoma, but the promise of looking like the picture of Dorian Gray.

But if any physical trait has been as consistent in my early thirties as my paleness, it's the 30 pounds that weren’t there in my twenties. An unequivocal medium in the aughts, I now have a closet full of larges (not to be confused with largess); and with this embonpoint has come a fuller face.

The fullness isn’t all that noticeable when my face is relaxed. I have a relatively long, oval face, so I guess the fat looks evenly distributed, much like it is below my neck. But when I smile, it’s like my cheeks are eating my mouth. (That’s so meta, right? Maybe not—I’m never quite sure when something’s meta.) When I see recent pictures of myself smiling, I hardly recognize myself; I just see fatface. After my family history of diabetes, it’s my biggest motivation to lose the weight I’ve gained (and not because one charmer on OkCupid told me I have “bunny cheeks”).

Not long ago, however, it occurred to me that my facial saddlebags could be just as responsible for my 20-something appearance as my complexion.

Any plastic surgeon worth his weight in adipose tissue will tell you that fat plays a major roll in the youthfulness of a face. Fat loss around the jaw line can expedite jowliness, and no-longer-chubby cheeks can look more cadaverous than elegantly defined.

In fact, some people who experience the facial fat loss that comes naturally with age or weight fluctuation opt for a fat transfer. Their plastic surgeon does a little lipo on a body part that can spare some cells, and after it’s been processed, the harvested fat is injected into the parts of the face that “need” it: cheeks, under-eyes, smile lines, etc.

I can’t help but wonder if the weight that has stood not-so-firmly between me and some of my favorite old jeans is also preventing me from looking the age that I actually am.

Ultimately, it comes down to a preference. Would I rather look thinner or continue looking younger than I am? The question almost seems silly when I consider that my complexion may very well be the main reason I’m unfailingly carded, not to mention that “looking 33” isn’t even remotely an undesirable prospect.

I think I’m going to start making a real effort to lose some weight, not just to get all up in my favorite jeans again, but because my doctor said holding onto extra weight as I get farther into my 30s is just asking for health trouble. I can’t fool glucose and cholesterol with my fresh-facedness.

Do you look your age? Younger? Older? Leave your theories as to why in the comments, and then call me Bunnycheeks on Twitter.