Mirror, Mirror: Giving Up Those Face Patrols

I can’t tell you how to fly over the rainbow, but I do know one way to make yourself miserable as mud. Here’s how: Get a magnifying mirror. Then go on constant face patrol, a form of culturally-induced self-torture. Consult this mirror often. After all, you can’t wear out a mirror. Sherlock your face. Search for wrinkles, sags, spots, bumps, freckles too large to be cute. Look in other mirrors, too—-stores, restaurants, the backs of spoons.


Use your critical eye along with a narrative, a story told to yourself that may run like this:

Gee, I am looking old. I have furrows like a Utah canyon. My chins? Turkey wattles. And when I smile I see crow’s feet, laugh lines, teeth not as white as whatsherface’s—you know that star with teeth so bright white her bodyguards have to wear sunglasses. Even my earlobes have creases. My ear piercing holes droop. There’s a hair poking out of my nose. Hell, even my tongue looks old.

And that’s the face patrol story as told to mirrors all over America: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the oldest of them all? It’s a story that resulted in over 31 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures in 2010. It’s a story that impels people to go to group face filler parties for injections—all together now, the housewives of Botox County—and to visit dermatologists, plastic surgeons, laser technicians, face scrapers, skin burners—all because the story we tell ourselves in front of the mirror makes us unhappy and we want to have a different story, one that will end with—You look simply fabulous, darling.

To Each Her Own Path

Not that I quarrel with people who decide to reconstruct the face or body. I don’t care what people do as long they don’t hurt themselves or spend the kids’ college tuition on butt lifts so they’ll look like Pippa. Their new bottoms are not my business and, anyhow, it’s not the way the majority of us greet age. An Associated Press survey reveals that only 1 in 5 Boomers has had cosmetic procedures done or would even consider it. So eighty percent of us won’t spend the time or money to go into a body shop.

Really, what concerns me are people who, whether or not they choose serious cosmetic enhancements, make themselves unhappy by going on constant face and body patrols, noting every flaw and sign of age, comparing themselves to Photoshopped images of celebrities, making themselves sad they are not 21 anymore. But why manufacture unhappiness? Why choose an avoidable downer?

Orin Zebest/Flickr

So what to do instead?

First—and this is obvious to the point of Duh—give your mirror a bit of benign neglect. Don’t go on constant patrols. Stay in front of a mirror long enough to brush teeth, do hair, put on makeup, check how the shoes look with the outfit—-that’s enough.

Second—realize that growing older is not an elective. Growing older is the core curriculum of life. It’s what we do and we can do it well, have fun and enjoy the pleasures of maturity or we can try to be 21, a game we will lose. (I don’t want to be 21 again. I spent it pregnant, throwing up and being scared of my mother-in-law.) If you think this is Pollyanna advice, know that I speak from positive experience, having left 50 behind in my rear view mirror along with pregnancy fears and teacher conferences.

Third—You may look older and so what? So what if you look older? Better than looking dead. Better than never having been born and missing out on all that is life. My strategy? I let gravity have its way with me, but still, as the years passed, I tried to look my best 50, my best 60 and will go on and settle happily for looking my best 100. And my standard for looking good is this: take enough care of yourself so you don’t scare people at the mall.

Fourth—Avoid peer pressure. Don’t hang around with people who make a lifestyle out of trying to be cosmetically perfect. If you are getting pressure from friends to go under the knife, tell them what they can do with the knife.

Fifth—I regret this as much as you, but daily exercise—even a 30-minute walk—lights up the body, the face, the spirit. It’s as if you swallowed a light bulb.

Sixth—If you want to look vital—not necessarily young, but vital—pay attention to your crowning glory. Condition your hair. People do all they can to be dewy of face and up-to-date in clothes and shoes, but they let their hair go dull—no life, no gleam. So condition after a shampoo. And maybe look into shine products made from Moroccan argan oil. Argan hair products are reviewed on Amazon, less expensive when bought online rather than in a salon. A tiny dab will make you shine no matter your age.

And maybe that’s the story here: there are ways to shine after 50 without all the expensive and uncertain cosmetic procedures, without the constant face patrols. And last, according to my mate, Cranky Pants: Nothing shines up a woman as much as her smile.

Mac Small (Cranky Pants) and Mel

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8 Responses to Mirror, Mirror: Giving Up Those Face Patrols

  1. Sue Chinn says:

    A very lively popular and attractive 80-year-old I know came to me yesterday in dome distress. “oh dear,” she said” I have just had a cateract operation and LOOK–I am wrinkly! Isn’t it terrible! I look awful!!” and on she went, uncomforted by any words –and slave to her mirrored image. I have sent this post off to her (she has become a Silver Surfer, I suspect in order to use internet dating sites!).

    • melwalsh50 says:

      Sue, Contrast your friend to my mom, who, because of being legally blind, had not seen herself clearly in a mirror for decades. Then she too had an operation that cleared up her sight and she too was surprised by the aging she saw on her face. But she was just interested in what happens to a face over time and not depressed by the results. Instead, she and I celebrated the return of her vision by driving through New England in the fall, seeing the maples and looking at the paintings in the museums that were in our celebration path. Was I not lucky to have her as a mentor? I hope your friend comes to realize how blessed she is—first, to still be alive on this little blue planet at 80 and second, for having you as a friend. Best to both of you and thanks for writing. Mel

  2. Beverly Cramer says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. You sure have a lot of good everyday advice, and I hope you keep giving it to all of us so freely. Have a good life.

  3. Sara Case says:

    CP not living up to his name in this photo. You both look great!

  4. Susan Eyre (Wellesley '58) (RAH!) says:

    the timing for this one has me chuckling as I just came home from having my first cataract procedure (left eye, now 20/20!), and when I looked into the mirror (brushing my teeth), said OMG!!! WHERE did ALL of those fine lines on my NECK come from??!!? and WORSE, all
    of those GIGANTIC pores on my CHIN??!? so your sage advice is well taken. thanks Mel!
    PS does the “oil” you recommended weigh down super-fine thinning hair?
    PPS the photo of you and Mac is so sweet I was grinning right back at it…..
    PPSS don’t forget to let us know when you appear in the Huffington Post – Mazeltov!

  5. Margaret says:

    Here’s another tip. Yes, graying hair comesi n dingy and yellowish; every drab woman you see at the market knows that. But there’s a very simple remedy – use purple shampoo and conditioner. There are plenty of them out there: Aveda Blue Malva, Pantene, KMS, a couple of others that I can’t remember. Make a habit of never using any shampoo or conditioner that isn’t purple (purple is the complement of yellow on the color wheel) and you will see instand results: bright silver hair that lifts the face and spirits.

  6. Margaret says:

    I typed too fast… “comes in” and “instant.” Sorry.

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