I remember when I was in grade school, I asked my grandma, Gingie, what it felt like to get old. She had white hair and a wrinkled face. I don’t recall her ever not having both. She replied, “I don’t feel old.” The answer made no sense. How did she reconcile how she felt with the image she saw in the mirror each day?
I get it now.
I recently went to the dermatologist for my annual skin scan. The doctor found two precancerous spots on my face. She froze them off. That freezing stuff hurts like hell. How could I have birthed two children and yet barely make it through a few moments of pain? For the next few days, which included Christmas Eve, I attended family gatherings with a band aid on my nose. Adults pretended not to notice. A five-year-old niece asked, “What happened to your face?” As I answered, I heard a voice inside my head. You’re too young get skin cancer.
While at the dermatologist, I found the nerve to ask about treatment for the increasingly saggy skin on my jaw line. I struggled to articulate why it mattered to me. I’ve never been very focused on my appearance: I wear little make up, love the humble ponytail, and don’t buy anti-aging creams. “I look older than I feel." She proceeded to review my options. The cheapest costs twice what we paid for the used car we recently purchased.
Since the visit, I’d thought a lot about how I look on the outside and how I feel on the inside. Living in a culture that idolizes youth and celebrates celebrities who seem to defy aging (“How does Jen do it?”), it’s hard to know how to do so gracefully. When and how can I come to peace with looking older than I feel? I wish Gingie was alive to ask.