Mirror mirror on the wall…what’s with the wrinkles?!

When I thought about it at all (which if truth be told was seldom), I assumed I’d be one of those women who would “age gracefully,” never lying about my years or bemoaning a few laugh lines or gray hairs. I’d be like Georgia O’Keeffe, still striking in her 80s and 90s, the deep creases in her face signaling a life packed with all manner of fascinating experiences. Turquoise-and-silver jewelry figured in this fantasy, such as it was.

But now I’ve reached that age when, even though no longer young, I am still on the young side of old. And I find to my surprise that I’m not willing to put my head down on time’s chopping block quite yet. I’m still attached to the idea of remaining if not exactly youthful, then still recognizably myself—someone familiar in the mirror.

An old friend recently wrote in her blog about how great it felt to say goodbye to highlights and let her hair go gray. I love her Marie Antoinette do, as she calls it. But I’m not ready to follow Colleen’s example.

Like my mother, I began seeing gray hairs in my 20s. At one point Mom dyed her hair, but quit when she turned 40. Maintaining the illusion was too much effort. And she didn’t look any older gray than she did with dark hair, because her face was always youthful and attractive.

But even with that example, I’ve stubbornly continued to color. At every decade birthday, I check in with myself and ask whether it’s time. The answer, invariably, is “Nope! Not yet.” My 60th birthday has come and gone, and still I remain (with the help of my hairdresser) a brunette. Maybe 70?

Meanwhile, things are changing—albeit in slow-mo—below the hairline too, and these alterations are harder to address. Recently, for example, my cousin and a close friend both complained about reaching the tipping point with wrinkles.

Wrinkles? Aren’t wrinkles for women far older than us? “Funny how I keep thinking of us all as somewhere in our 30s or 40s,” my friend Stephanie said. “That’s how I feel in my head, even when my body and my mirror disagree.”

The cognitive dissonance continues all the way down to one’s toes. Some of my friends have stayed thin. Great metabolism. For the rest of us, menopause and/or quitting smoking (in my case the two were conjoined) brought weight gain.

“There are so many things about me to cover up,” a friend sighed when discussing what to wear to an upcoming party, “that a burqa comes to mind.”

My mom once described catching sight of herself in a storefront and sputtering “Who’s that old lady?” before realizing she was face-to-face with her own reflection. No wonder my friend Linda’s mother advised that at a certain point in life, it’s best to avoid mirrors altogether.

The other option, of course, is to learn to love what you see there—wrinkles and all.

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