Cross-eyed and with my nose pressed against the mirror, I draw the
nail file along my scalp, searching. It's a technique I picked up
in Grade 4, when the public health nurse used a popsicle stick for
lice checks at my school. After a few seconds, I uncover the first
culprit's spider hole. Nestled amongst the dark blonde strands of
my part line is the Saddam Hussein of grey hairs. Tweezers poised,
I go for the kill.
I devised this defence line when a troop of grey hairs occupied
the top of my head. Now, those silvery soldiers don't last longer
than a fortnight. And contrary to the old wive's tale, grey hairs
don't grow back in twos when you pull them out. They just grow
back, like all the other hair on your body.
I'm only 26, but already I find signs that convince me my body
is getting old. I've got a spider vein on the back of my knee
that could be mistaken for an ink scribble. My bosom is de-perking
and requires extra padding. My bum looks like an elephant's when
I clench my glutes and make the cellulite bulge. A renegade hair
is squatting on my upper lip.
From the neck up, things are changing drastically. The skin on
my face is much drier than it was 10 years ago; twice a day I
goop moisturizing cream on my cheeks, eyes and neck. There is
a rash of big pores along my hairline. Filled with bus exhaust,
pencil lead and cyclist sweat, they're like gaping mouths waiting
to be fed.
But rarely, if ever, do I get a juicy pimple. Sometimes I wish
for one in some private location - like my eyebrow - just so I
could relive the delicious crunch of skin splitting between my
index fingers during those adolescent bursting sessions. Plucking
stubborn grey hairs is almost as satisfying.
Then there are wrinkles that accompany smiles, frowns and concentrated
stares. They aren't permanent yet but paralyse my face with fear.
If I keep squinting into the sunlight, when will those wrinkles
stay? Do women who wear sunglasses get fewer wrinkles? Or
they get more because they are out in the sun? Do I need a mammogram?
OK, I admit it. I am scared of getting old. Of looking 'my age.'
I've come face-to-face with a battle women have wrestled with
since the beginning of time - trying to stay twentysomething forever.
Age denial is the cultural root of a lucrative industry. Cosmetics
companies, estheticians and plastic surgeons validate and cater
to narcissistic and generally female gerontophobia with products
and procedures that feed the fountain of youth.
And I get sucked in - regularly. Every time Clinique has its
bonus gift event, I splurge. Spend $25 and get posh makeup samples
free! Who could resist?
A fistful of dirty Q-tips and more than $25 later, I am the proud
owner of a laughably small tub of moisturizer (and the free goodies).
I step onto the escalator, navy Hudson Bay bag swinging smugly.
Look over here, the bag calls out, this woman cares about her
It wasn't always this way. When I was a kid, cosmetics were colourful,
edible playthings, something my mother told me not to touch. In
fact, I remember the first time I noticed her putting on makeup.
Sitting in the driver's seat, Mom pulled out a compact, peered
in the rear-view mirror and applied a tan-coloured powder to her
nose. The powder smelled oily, like the paint I used in school.
"Why are you doing that?" I asked.
"My nose is shiny," she said.
I examined my own nose in the side mirror. "Mine's shiny,
too," I said. "Can I have some?"
"Yours is a different kind of shiny," she said. "A
good shiny. You'll see what I mean when you're older."
Now I understand. When I wake up, my eyes are puffy. The right
side of my face is a lattice of pillow wrinkles and dried saliva.
And my nose is shiny. Bad shiny.
After gorging on Clinique's buffet, I head to the drugstore. Hunting
for Sun Protection Factor (SPF) cream (to prevent Ultraviolet
B wrinkling while there's still time), I am bombarded with over
60 age-related skin potions. Apparently I'm not the only one afraid
- ashamed - of aging. The beautiful women on the packaging are
And if those 60 or more potions don't revolutionize that sagging
face, drastic measures like chemical peels, face-lifts and Botox
are just a flip of the Yellow Pages away.
This year, my mother will be exactly twice my age. Sometimes
I still watch her apply makeup. Her latest facial challenge is
an age spot on her left cheek, shaped somewhat like Iceland. She
has tried every concealer known to womankind to hide this giant
freckle. Recently, Mom invested $50 in Clinique's "age-defending
serum," guaranteed to annihilate the likes of Iceland.
Yet my mom doesn't feel old. She fell in love and got remarried
two years ago. She just learned how to swim. So why is she embarrassed
about her age spot? And why am I plucking grey hairs? Why can't
women get old? Look old? Why are we ashamed?
We are ashamed because old is not beautiful. It's not perfect.
And, thanks to cosmetics and medical procedures, it's not something
we have to accept.
Already at 26, I struggle to accept my reflection. It is the
irrational, farcical beginning of a lifelong war that women have
been vainly fighting for centuries. However, it's the first battle
I must allow myself to lose.
When I look in the mirror, I know that there are better ways
to spend $25. A bottle of Pinot Noir. That book I've been ogling
for a month. Biodegradable cleaning products. Fair trade coffee.
Lunch with Pa. Girl Guide cookies. For God's sake, I am more than
this farce. I am more than this face.
Elizabeth Fergeson shines