“It is lovely to meet an old person whose face is deeply lined, a face that has been deeply inhabited, to look in the eyes and find light there.” ~John O’Donohue
When I was in 7th grade, I remember being invited to a pool party for a friend’s birthday and firmly deciding that I would not go because the tan lines from my soccer shorts would make my legs look too ridiculous in a swimsuit.
That’s right. I planned to skip out on a party due to what I felt was an inappropriate level of Pasty White Thigh for a 13 year old.
Where I picked up this idea I can’t say for certain, but I’d venture to guess it was some combination of social pressure, media influence, and witnessing my mother’s rather complicated relationship with her own body and overall appearance.
Not to mention my father’s constant striving toward aesthetic perfection.
In any event, my mom indulged my desire to cover my legs in self-tanner in an attempt to even out the color — something I had watched her do on multiple occasions — and I ultimately made it to the party with a slightly less horrifying leg tan situation.
I look back on this memory and laugh a little bit about the absurdity of it all, but mostly I just feel sad for my younger self, who was somehow convinced that the color of her legs could have serious implications for her overall worth among her peer group.
Because I can still recall how I felt when I found out the birthday party would involve a pool and would require me to wear a swimsuit in front of everyone:
I was devastated and terrified and felt immediately horrible about my body.
Now I’m in my 30s and the messaging is different in some ways, but I’m still being told that there are lots of things wrong with me that need immediate — and often expensive — solutions.
And that I’m running out of time to reverse what is a completely normal process —namely, aging.
You guys! I hate this.
I spent the majority of my teenage years and 20s feeling inadequate on some level, largely because of my physical appearance.
As I approach 35, I’m suddenly supposed to also feel terrible about the fact that I might actually look 35?
And then I’m supposed to spend hundreds of dollars on products that are full of harmful chemicals so that I can magically reverse-age and look like I did when I was 21?
This will never make sense to me.
A big part of my problem with the skin care and cosmetics industry is the fact that they sell to women by convincing us there is something wrong with us for looking a certain way or getting older or having — god forbid — wrinkles.
(Whaaaat? Freckles are now bad somehow?)
And then we buy their products without even investigating what’s in them because we are so desperate to solve these problems that weren’t actually even problems until the beauty industry — and our youth-obsessed society as a whole — created them.
I wrote about the dangerous and toxic ingredients in skin care and personal care products here and here because I truly believe that we should know what we’re putting on our bodies.
Like I said before, informed consent for the win.
But I think we also need to look at the messaging behind the products we’re buying, which often perpetuates the idea that merely by doing what’s natural — aging — we are doing something wrong.
I am absolutely not immune to the desire to look and feel better, and I certainly want to stay as healthy as possible as I age.
But I also feel strongly about our need to collectively embrace ourselves as we grow older and wiser and more experienced, and to celebrate the ways in which our experiences are reflected dynamically on our faces across the decades of our lives.
So, yes, care for your body by eating healthy food and drinking plenty of water and exercising regularly and getting adequate sleep. And care for your skin and your hair, but consider doing so by nourishing them with healthy, natural products rather than slathering them in synthetic chemicals that have often never been tested for safety.
I believe it’s possible to age gracefully and beautifully, and that doing so does not require a whole slew of fancy, overpriced products designed to make you feel badly about yourself.
Products designed to convince you that actually looking your age is somehow a terrible failure on your part. One that needs to be corrected immediately.
The past decade of my life has been one big lesson in learning how to like myself. The process has been slow and gradual and challenging, but totally worthwhile.
My first acupuncture treatment was the initiating step in this journey and it led me down the path of figuring out that I didn’t actually need to fix anything. Instead, I needed to develop a loving, accepting relationship with my body that enabled us to become allies rather than enemies.
I learned that I can still feel beautiful with stretch marks on my hips and cellulite on my thighs and gray hairs on my head and, yes, even wrinkles on my face.
And that none of these things need to be cured or corrected. Or even covered up.
I got into Chinese medicine out of a desire to help people feel great in their bodies. Because I believe that when you feel better in your body, you start to feel differently about your body, and that the impact of this shift can be profound.
And I want to use my own experiences and the knowledge I’ve gained over the past 10 years to teach others how to like themselves and nourish themselves, and how to stay healthy and active as long as possible in this life.
But this isn’t about turning the clock back 3 or 5 or even 8 years. It’s about embracing yourself exactly as you are now, regardless of when that is in your lifetime. And about feeling as awesome as you possibly can at whatever age you are today.
Because I believe that health is about how you feel and not about how you look.
And that if we stop worshipping at the fountain of youth and stop buying (literally) into the cultural paradigm around age, we’ll realize that getting older is pretty interesting and kind of amazing.
And that our time and energy and money might be better spent on about a hundred things other than trying to erase years from our faces with toxic chemicals because the beauty industry is telling us we should.
As actress Amanda Peet said in a recent essay, “Since we’re all going to get wrinkly and die, maybe we’ve got to move in the direction of acceptance about that. It’s like what they teach you in driving school: if your car skids, turn the wheels right into it. It’s counterintuitive, but don’t fight the slide.”
I couldn’t agree more.
If our culture wasn’t so terrified by and concerned about fixing the aging female face, imagine what other avenues of inquiry might open up.
It could be pretty profound.