Proof of Life

I saw myself smile in the mirror the other day. I noticed how, at 36, there are lots of little lines around my eyes that crop up alongside this contented expression. And in that moment, for whatever reason, I simply saw them as lines carved naturally from time and living. Completely objectively. And I noticed this, because pondering fresh wrinkles without an associated emotion isn’t a thing in our current time. There is always something to be said, whether negative or positive, about wrinkles on a female face, and I’m not immune. Which pushed me into a subjective place. But because of the objective place I had just come from, this new place I landed in was different.

I’ve heard women speak of earning their wrinkles, and more than ever this resonates. Those delicate webs branching down from beneath my eyes are proof of life, proof of joy. Those tiny canyons are the culmination of a million smiles. What a miraculous, beautiful thing - a map of happiness drawn directly onto my face by my living. I have been happy, they tell me. I have emerged from dark tunnels. And then I wonder how we got here. 

What an enormous miss to see aging and its signs as a sort of mounting dread. But a miss that is the norm, a total wash over our culture: beware aging. So, why? What could it mean? What’s behind our fear? There’s the most obvious answer: fear of death. And I do think that’s probably part of it. But what comes to mind primarily is the entirely unsubtle message that women are valued for their accessible desirability. A couple weeks ago, I attended an art opening for two friends of mine, who are sisters and artists - one a painter and one an actor and performance artist - and much of the work was about breaking out of that definition.

When I peer into the mirror and examine the fine lines, I can’t help but think of their works and how it so directly translates onto my face. These lines are so obviously meaningful and lovely, yet somehow an entire (wide-spread) culture has swallowed the lie that women are less beautiful, less relevant, and ultimately less valuable as they age. When it is so clearly the opposite. Youth is a stunning, wonderful time, but I don’t want to go back - I’ve already been there. I want to go somewhere new now, armed with the experiences and knowledge I have gained along the way.

It’s tragic that full acceptance is radical, but we’re wacky humans living in a wacky time, and that just is the case. But it doesn’t have to be. It seems to me that things are moving away from the feeling that there are only a few boxes we can stuff ourselves into and still feel embraced - maybe not understood but at least accepted. I certainly hope that’s the case. But whether it is or not, the most radical thing we can do is just love ourselves - the people we’ve been, the people that we are today, and all of the marks those living moments have left on our bodies. All of our big and small proofs of life.

I find that when I appreciate my body for what she’s brought me through, I notice the value in other things and want to handle them with care, too. People, situations, the earth. The lines on my face can stay. They remind me of all the times I’ve been happy to be here.



Photo by Danie Franco on Unsplash