Age Before Beauty

 

(It's me!)
(It’s me!)

 

Being in my thirties has had its perks. For one, I’m still young enough to rebound from all-nighters and yet old enough to know which ones will be the most worthwhile. Time has equaled experience, and experience has given me enough discernment to choose what stupid shit I want to indulge in…and what I should avoid. My knees still work, I’m in a highly-coveted marketing demographic, and I’m (theoretically) in my sexual peak. Yes, my thirties hasn’t exactly been the horror of a biological clock and identification with Sex and the City like I thought it would be, thank God.

That said, I’ve worn my age like a billboard of hard-living, with the stature of a still-dewy-fresh preteen only with the rugged visage of a Marlboro man. My selfies – of which I am still at an age to take, I think – began to feature the same forehead as a shar pei, and I developed smile lines around my eyes even when in a mood more black than Trent Reznor’s newest pair of pants.

After going under the knife for some curves, I promised my concerned friends that I wouldn’t suddenly go all Heidi Montag on their asses, opting to remedy everything from my cankles to a bad mood with plastic surgery. No, I swore, I wouldn’t be getting more cosmetic procedures, I had simply remedied a longstanding complaint, not injected the sweet elixir to counteract bargain basement low self-esteem.

Needless to say, I’m beginning to slide down a slippery slope of breaking that oath.


I was familiar with Botox as I’d written about it at the ripe young age of 28, back when I was idealistic and believed that I could still be desirable with or without neurotoxic proteins injected into my face. I had some wear and tear after ten years of hard living, to be sure, but my concerns at that time were more over which tattoo to get next, if I should employ a personal trainer, and what to do about my lack of breasts while still attempting to be exuding confidence and sex appeal. After hearing the crunch of my frontalis muscle being penetrated by the 6mm needle and the botulism shot into my little face back then, when I didn’t exactly need it, I’d decided that, while the results were certainly apparent, I didn’t have to continue with the heavily-suggested frequent tune-ups that my overpriced Manhattan dermatologist prescribed.

Fast forward five years, now living on Long Island and consulting with a new, local derm on my sensitive skin. It was in this new office that I met Beth, the RPA-C who was on staff that day.

If there’s one thing I’m a sucker for just as much as bald men, it’s a pretty face. While I’m sure she would be a stunner in any profession, Beth’s proximity to cosmetic dermatology certainly had bolstered her already perky, bright-eyed, plump-lipped smile. I quickly unleashed a verbal torrent of questions that she patiently answered, and somehow or another wound up agreeing to another round of Botox. (Note: “somehow or another” meaning that I complained about my wrinkles and she suggested Botox.)

“Great!” Beth said to my consent. “How much mobility do you want in your face?”

I looked at her, waiting for the visual cue to laugh at her joke. None came. Perhaps because her face was stuck?

“For example, I have a moderate amount of mobility now,” she said, raising her gorgeous forehead a millimeter, furrowing her brows together even less. “I used to have a lot more, but I’ve let some of it wear off because I felt like I looked a little bit frozen.”

I thought for a hot second and decided that I would be comfortable with anything from the facial mobility of a statue to the emotional oscillations of an inanimate object.

“I don’t care,” I replied. “Just make me look like an unaffected fifteen year old.”

“Perfect! We can do that!” she chirped.


One week later I was back in the chair, trying to chat up my blonde Botox goddess to no avail. Crunch, crunch, crunch went the needle into the muscles of my forehead and the tissue around my eyes. She sent me off with an ice pack and instructions not to lean over, exercise, and to call if my eyes “went numb,” as there were drops for that. Also, no aspirin. Also, come back in two weeks, in case my muscles overcompensated, whatever that meant. Also, if I stopped breathing, felt itchy, or passed out.

She did not show me a mirror. She asked me if I was okay.

“We injected a lot,” she said. “But I think there will be minimal bruising. You should be totally fine, but call if you have any questions.”

I stuttered a thank you, smiled, and left in a rush, anxious to check my new face out in the car.

I’d forgotten that not all cosmetic procedures are as evident as coming to in a recovery room with a sudden five inches of increased frontage and a bandage covering new breasts. My face seemed…the same. Only now with a few barely visible needle pricks like microscopic freckles along my brow. I sighed. At least it had been considerably cheaper than my previous, limited excursion.

Within one day, my disappointment had settled much like the tracks of time had settled on my face. What was worse, I battled what felt like an epic tension headache for thirty six hours after my tête-à-tête with the toxin.

“Do you notice any difference?” I asked Bean when we were browsing at Topshop in the city, as I rifled for yet another dose of Tylenol for my headache.

“Nope. But I thought you were cute before,” she said.

I tried to shop the years away and bought a fluffy tulle skirt that made me feel six years old, knowing that I’d never wear it without looking like Willem Dafoe in a tutu.

Maybe I should just accept my age, I thought. Mature with dignity. I mean, look at Hellen Mirren, at Dame Judy Dench…

Certainly I could be in good company as my slowly decaying youth paraded its way across my exterior. At least I’d be young at heart! (Untrue. I have no heart.)

Several nights later, while hanging out with friends, I felt something I can only describe as similar to ice cream headache only without the pain creep along my brow. Nothing terrible, but persistent, I ignored it. As I got ready for bed later that night and turned on the shower, I glanced in the mirror.

My face.

Was.

Frozen.

Also, wrinkleless. Suddenly I was sixteen again. While I couldn’t express it, at least not through my features, I was overjoyed. The Botox, it seemed, had set in. (After a quick Google search, I learned that the injections start to work within two to three days, with their maximum effect taking hold about a week after the appointment, on average.)

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Since then, I still can’t feel my face, but trust me, I feel great. And I can suddenly deadpan, something that had previously alluded me as a skill. Although I default to giggles as quickly as ever, my automatic eyebrow raise has been stopped in its tracks, literally. As with the boob job, I’m thrilled with the results. I’ll maintain this facial paralysis until I’m locked away in a nursing home to rot in front of my game of mahjong…which I’ll be playing with my husband, who will undoubtedly soon be secured as a result of my childlike countenance and teenager tits.

Though I swear, guys, this is it. Duck lips and hair extensions won’t be next. Maybe.

All You Need Is Love

The disclosure of my sexuality was never really a big deal to me growing up. Even though I wasn’t lucky enough to be a child with LGBT-friendly legislation being passed, or shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and The L Word on television, or even total babes like Kristen Stewart and Ellen Page blazing trails with their unabashed, unapologetic declaration of who they are, I never really wrestled with coming out. Perhaps it was the result of already being a haughty weirdo with a chip on her shoulder as a result of hours spent watching Headbangers Ball on MTV and going to the Warped Tour, or from attending invitation-only writers workshops at liberal arts colleges when I was in high-school. Regardless, I pretty easily embraced myself through the ever-mutable kaleidoscope of self-expression as a teenager. When I realized that I liked girls, the result of some summer camp experimentation with fellow hormonal pipsqueaks at French Woods, I told my parents, and my classmates, with little more than a fuck you glance. At those who scoffed, I simply insisted to whatever faculty member would listen that our Quaker high-school needed to organize a LGBT committee for kids to discuss their sexualities as they came of age.

Now as an adult, with one ex-domestic partner and a slew of ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, and andro former play partners, I’m emerging from the cocoon of singledom and into the dating scene in a different environment and with a different outlook entirely.

Somewhere in the mid-nineties, it became a supposed ‘trend’ to call oneself bisexual. From the girls in Hole making out with each other to Britney, Madonna, and Christina (or was it Xtina then?) sucking face in a threeway on MTV, there were legions of girls licking their friend’s tonsils for the approving hoots and hollers of bros and a few comped Long Island Iced Teas.

Years later, these girls are married and popping out kids once the dust of their early twenties has settled. Their crop tops, thongs, and low-rise jeans have been relegated to the back of the closet, much like their weathered bisexual brethren. As an actual bisexual, this leaves me floating without flippers in the deep water of the thirty-something dating pool.

And when I say ‘actual bisexual,’ I’m not being glib or misusing an adverb.

I once had it pointed out to me by a former male roommate that not everyone is attracted to both genders. This baffled me. Much like trying to describe a color blindness to someone who doesn’t suffer from it, I couldn’t comprehend what it would be like to go through life with a limited scope of romantic interests. It’s a subtraction problem I still can’t fully grasp.

Considering I began puberty knowing I was bisexual, claimed my early sexuality as a lesbian, meandered into full-fledged bisexuality in my twenties, and last was in a relationship with a man, I can cite more than one example as to how I truly don’t understand preferences discriminating. I mean, I guess if I were to interpret it, it’s like how I don’t like overly-muscled men or women who wear a lot of makeup. I can appreciate the effort that goes into both, but neither wiggles the needle.

That said, dating, especially using the aid of a website, is further complicated when you can’t simply check one box. Certain popular sites only allow for you to be searching for one gender, while others are basically the online equivalent of a bar with shot specials, anything goes and nothing matters. What about if you’re genuinely split between the two?

The problem I initially faced was knowing that my sexuality was being written off as a trite “all-inclusive,” liberally minded statement on my beliefs by male perusers to my profile. This was fine, as I figured that there were far higher hurdles for them to clear before we had that discussion, like employing proper grammar in their messages and not believing that their band was “really gunna make it thz yr ;)” [sic]

Moreover, I was guilty of the same judgment, ruling out girls (and guys) who, like me, were marked as ‘Bisexual.’ The real label I should have had on my profile was ‘Hypocrite.’

nod

But soon a more thorny, more rattling problem presented itself. I found myself looking at lesbians’ profiles and realizing that I came across as the type of girl who was probably just looking to sow some thirty-year-old oats and experiment a little.

I cringed at the thought that these women, many of whom had well-written, introspective profiles (even if their musical tastes differed from my own) would perceive me as using their hard-fought self-awareness and minority status as a mere stepping stone to some idiot’s self-actualizing enlightenment, much like a post-college trip backpacking across Europe or a Kripalu workshop on transcendental meditation. I found myself fawning over these girls from afar, browsing anonymously and fearing rejection to the point that I wouldn’t reach out.

And this is just in the online dating arena, where single misfits meet one another behind the pixilated velvet curtain. What of my family, coworkers, and acquaintances who have marginalized my same-sex sentiments in favor of the more comfortable mainstream, viewing the B in LGBT as an improper fraction where the straight outweighs the gay?

“That’s their problem,” my close friend Bean would say. “Anybody who loves you already knows the way you are. And anybody else shouldn’t care.”

I suppose that brings me to the pointed tip of the arrow. Straight, gay, or bi, male, female, or trans, when dating goes from casual dinners to an actual connection that demands to be seen as a coupling, that’s a scary thing…for anyone. (Yes, even conservatives and the polyamorous kinksters.) Having a significant other is, well, significant. And perhaps that’s where my trepidation truly lies. It isn’t so much a fear of coming out again with regard to my sexuality, it’s coming out again as somebody who is emotionally ready and stable enough to be in a relationship. And that is something that can be as frightening, undeniable, and hard-won to accept on a personal for me, even more than realizing that my feelings for our high-school soccer captain weren’t simply athletic admiration. I guess when it comes to realizing that one day I will be in a relationship, I mean it in every sense of the expression that I really can’t think straight.

Appy Trails

It’s hard for me not to adopt the stance of “Get off my lawn!” when it comes to modern day youth now that I’m old enough to regularly be asked if I have kids of my own. When it comes to the passage of time, it seems that once one gets over the age of 28, it’s hard not to become a senior citizen yelling at a cloud.

Recently I’ve grappling with the question of whether or not technology has truly led to progress, or if we’ve just created an entire legion of developing citizens who can’t think beyond the next selfie. (Pauses from writing. Takes a selfie. Posts on Tumblr.)

I’m not knocking kids these days, in fact, I praise them for their creativity, curiosity, and general attractiveness in photographs that I incessantly see on social networks. (Who would have thought that taking a photograph of yourself while driving a car could present your pout so perfectly! Or you, fresh bro, flexing topless in the mirror…your tube of Clearsil on your nightstand really unites the composition, nevermind the flash from your iPhone reflecting in the mirror.)

May humanity be progressing at a faster rate than ever, or if there’s simply a generation of self-obsessed narcissists with little ability to think ahead, the conflict and argument is pretty kaleidoscopic. It has gradation. And hashtags.

refresh

For one thing, the dissemination of information has allowed for access to current events and editorials on a grander scale, and at a younger age. Teenagers are opting to live their lives online. Sure, this can be regarded as dangerous, especially when approached from the elder’s perspective of “There are sexual predators out there!” and “The consequences of what you put on the Internet can last a really long time, be careful!” (Hey, look who’s talking.)

But it’s also inspiring to me. Kids are able to explore their identities in a mutable way, with various online communities creating supportive and inspiring platforms and movements. Don’t believe me? Just search “body positivity,” “blackout,” or “trans” on Tumblr. Your mind will be blown, regardless of how old you are. Every moment on the Internet consists of sixty teachable seconds. No longer relegated to microfiche and grandpa’s newspaper clippings, kids can access history as it happens. Better yet, they can choose to be a part of it.

So the ability for younger people to be potentially better informed on a wider swath of topics is encouraging. So is their participation in larger social movements (Arab Spring, Ferguson, and the current situation in Baltimore are the quickest to come to mind) and their general moxie behind the digital veil. They can affect change. They can give voice to issues, and shape the dialog as much as contributing to it. I think this is a very good thing.

netscape

Of course, the lack of self-awareness, dearth of self-censorship, and the absence of acknowledgment of consequences boomerangs my opinion in the other direction. Like, holy shit, seventeen year old girl with the body of a twenty-two year old, don’t post that picture of you wearing nothing more than your manicure up on Tumblr! You there, you on Instagram who should be studying for your SATs, is that…an herbal cigarette?! WHAT IS THAT GLASSWARE ON YOUR FACEBOOK TIMELINE, DISTANT COUSIN UNDER THE AGE OF 25?!

Other than the fears I have for these future beings as they grow and morph and become wholly different people with a trail of cyber skins they’ve shed in their wake, all I have to do is scroll down to the comments section of nearly everything – especially YouTube – to give up all hope and want to go live in a yurt in the desolate woods of New England. I know, I know, “never read the comments.” But it’s like picking a scab. A scab made of text shorthand and vitriol. I can’t help it.

A lot has changed in 40 years but, if we really take a look at it, the most ambitious time of the modern age took place before the advent of the socially networked selfie.

Think about it. Electronics and computers. Before those devices, The Pill. Nuclear power, cable and network TV, rocket launches, air travel, nuclear power. Hell, even Civil Rights, Roe v. Wade, Stonewall.

Between 1945 and 1975 a lot of huge changes took place, largely for the better. The adventure of development, spurned by economic possibilities and post-war security, gripped our nation, and consumerism as well as social exploration, created a ripple effect of inventions and improvements that were seemingly limited by only the imagination. But at some point, the ouroboros began to eat beyond the tip of the tail, and ego was trumped by outright narcissism. It’s hard not to surmise that a thirst for universal advancement was surpassed by the appetite for money. Macro became micro. Star gazing became navel gazing. As venture capitalist Peter Theil said, “We wanted flying cars, we got 140 characters.”

nsa

The instant gratification of our warp-speed digital age is fucking with our heads, literally. While the actual neuroscientific data is limited, one thing is clear: you are, in fact, addicted to your smartphone. From the dopamine hits that screen staring provides, to the lowered activity in white-matter pathways indicated in fractional anisotropy imaging, nearly 10% of Internet users are truly unable to control how affixed to their devices and the Internet they are.

Neurodegenerative disorder specialist and author Susan Greenfield hypothesized that a reduced sense of self leads to the subject clinging to the present moment through external means. She cites the high dopamine and lowered prefrontal cortex activation can be viewed as proof of the erosion of identity, with the confabulation of self as presented online trumping the recognition of actual self.

While I will always default to “correlation does not imply causation,” and her work has been criticized for being flimsy, Greenfield’s claim that that prefrontal cortex activity and the mapping of neural pathways for dopamine can illustrate the way that social media has rewired us to be click-happy selfish junkies is an interesting one. It’s an idea that I wouldn’t be shocked to find out is more truth than pop-psych fiction.

So if the need to get our next fix – and refresh our profile – has surpassed our yearning for a more encompassing revision of our environment beyond our 4.87″ x 2.31″ screens, are we doomed? Who’s to say. This is yet another example of how patience isn’t optional. Whether or not the youth of today even realizes what they’re waiting for is their own selves remains to be seen. Unfortunately, there’s no app for that.