I started noticing changes in my face in my early thirties: small crinkles around my eyes and bags underneath. I had three babies in rapid succession and it showed in my face. The sleepless nights and constant need wore me out. When I’d catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror I’d sometimes stop and look closer. Who was this woman?
Of course, my body wasn’t the same — nor should it be, really — as it was before I had kids, either.
But the changes I’ve noticed in my face as I’ve aged really, really bother me. My eyes and smile have slowly turned that face in the mirror into a woman that didn’t feel like me. Now, in my forties, I look at myself, and I’m unrecognizable. I can get ten hours of sleep and still look exhausted. I’m not too fond of the way my jowls sag and how my crow’s feet (when un-Botoxed, because I do get Botox) stretch down my cheeks. My eyelids have fallen, and my neck? My God, I can’t even talk about my neck.
My aging face has taken a lot of the joy out of some things that used to make me happy; it’s certainly affecting my mental health. I know it may sound vain to some. We all age, if we’re lucky, and of course I knew someday that my hair would turn gray, my eyelids would have creases, and my lips would wrinkle when I talked. But I didn’t think it would make me this sad.
It’s not that I’m embarrassed or ashamed of myself. I certainly don’t hide out in my house or refuse to have my picture taken, although looking at myself on camera can be tricky. I’ve tried not to focus a lot of attention on my face, telling myself to keep walking every time I pass a mirror. The pit of sadness in my stomach won’t dissolve, though.
It’s not like this is the first time I’ve been unhappy with my appearance. I had crooked teeth in elementary school. I got teased because it looked like I was missing a few teeth. My body has been many sizes and shapes. I had horrible acne during my freshman year in college. I went through a stage where I chopped my hair off, even though it wasn’t a flattering look because it made my life easier. I didn’t love how I looked during any of these awkward phases — but it didn’t affect my mental health as it is now.
I’m unsure what the root cause of these feelings is, if there even is a single one. I wonder if my maturing face makes me sad because it makes me look more like my mother, whom I don’t have a great relationship with, or because it’s a reminder of how fast time goes by. I hate feeling energetic and alive and excited to start my day, then feeling like my reflection doesn’t match that. Maybe I’m simply mourning my younger self. Perhaps it’s because I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself.
I want to be that woman: the one who can carry her confidence proudly during every stage of her life. I used to be her, and it makes me sad that I’m not anymore. What’s outside is affecting what’s inside, and I need to do something. I don’t know what that is yet, but whatever it is, I need to figure it out because I refuse to spend the rest of my life feeling this way about my appearance. I love myself too much to treat myself like that.
Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.