Line Garden

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In between my eyebrows there is the start of what seems to be a dastardly clump of “fine lines.”

It’s all well and good for me to come on here and demand that women love themselves without resorting to drastic measures, when my skin is still relatively supple and I fit into most of my clothes. It’s another thing altogether to be confronted with the indefatigable fact that my fantasies of going undercover as a high school student, sorority sister, or American Idol contestant have been forever dashed against the craggy outline of my aging face. I feel betrayed. I have dutifully slathered myself in sunscreen for as long as I can remember. I don’t smoke, and I haven’t had an alcoholic beverage in over 9 ½ years. And not only am I still dealing with chin breakouts at the age of 41, now I’ve got these crinkly bits on my face. For a split second, I found myself pulling and tugging at the skin on my forehead, wondering just how painful them Botox shots really are.

And then I thought, well, hadn’t I – in a way – EARNED these? Didn’t they represent 41 years of doing and feeling stuff? I came by them honestly. They could represent any number of life events. My first year of sobriety, and having to go through all the holidays, birthdays, weddings, and other such events where drinking was a given. A lump. A mammogram. A biopsy, and then waiting not-very-patiently on the results of said biopsy. Staring down the barrel of the possible end of my marriage. 4 different moves (3 of them sans professional movers). Getting my MFA. My dad’s triple bypass. Worrying about friends and loved ones. Getting frustrated with friends and loved ones. Losing friends and loved ones. Trying not to fly off the handle when friends and loved ones keep doing the things that took the other friends and loved ones out.

Too, they could represent the many, many things that baffle me and cause me to furrow my brow. Tila Tequila. Log Cabin Republicans. People who keep trying to sell me on Ayn Rand. Glee. Fat free potato chips. Julie Taymor. Dubstep. Flip-flops worn outside of the shower/pool/beach. Rick Santorum. “Leaf Peeping.”

In the end, what are wrinkles but proof that we’re not here forever? Some people would find that terrifying. Some people find aging terrifying. I find it annoying, but necessary. I’m 41, and I don’t especially want to pass for 25. I don’t know about you, but 25 wasn’t all that great for me. You can’t go back. Well, you can – emotionally and mentally. I happen to know a thing or two about that, and I’ll tell you: sometimes certain people, places, things, and behaviors need to stay in the past.

And I’m reminded of when I first realized I had to stop drinking. I was 31, and actually quite a bit more haggard than I am now (drinking’ll do that). I would sit in church basements and – sort of – listen, but mainly I was trying to pass as someone who hadn’t been drinking just minutes before I walked in. I know now, of course, that I wasn’t fooling anyone. And yet the women in these basements treated me with such kindness when by rights they should have recoiled from me. And their stories were all over their faces, in every crease and line and wrinkle. I wanted to be, more than anything, an old sober lady. With any luck, I will be.

Fuck the Botox. I’m cultivating my line garden.

Of whales, mermaids and botulism…

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The latest viral essay circulating around Facebook is called: “Would You Rather Be A Whale, Or A Mermaid?” A poster in a fitness club (and the fitness club in question is either in France or here in the States depending on which version you read) allegedly asks this question of its members (and potential members). The essay goes on to enumerate the many good qualities of whales while pointing out that mermaids, you know, don’t actually exist.

And, because it is currently going around Facebook, it’s getting reactions ranging from “OMG so true! Repost if u agree!” to “U fatties just need anuther excuse too stay fat.”

Supposing for a second that this poster actually exists, it’s a pretty stupid marketing strategy, and yet it’s plausible, because self-hatred is big business around here. We live in a society where botulinum in your bacon is cause for widespread panic, but it’s perfectly fine to stick it in a syringe and shoot it into your forehead. Perhaps that’s a simplistic view of things, but I stand by this example. People will do some pretty insane things to themselves to be wrinkle-and-fat-free, because we’re conditioned to view the human body as something that needs to be pounded, pummeled and poisoned into submission.

I go to the gym several times a week, and try to be mindful about what I eat. But the fact of the matter is that I am a woman in my forties with a genetic predisposition to be, well, “hippy.” To be a Size 4 I have to basically starve myself, and that’s not me waxing dramatic, that is a statement of fact based on personal experience. Severe caloric reduction makes me mean and obsessive, and triggers my mania. I am working very hard to rid myself of years of criticism and verbal abuse that I would never in a million years inflict on a loved one, and yet had no problem with dumping on myself. It’s a really tiresome way to live, and allowing myself to be the weight I’m supposed to be is still pretty new territory for me. It’s liberating, and aside from quitting drinking, it’s also probably the healthiest thing I’ve done for myself.

And yet because my abs aren’t flat and defined, because I have a tummy and because my upper arms wiggle a bit when I’m feelin’ particularly gesticulatory, there are those who’d say I’m “unhealthy” and in denial about just how unhealthy I am. In point of fact, my doctor consistently calls me “ridiculously healthy,” and save for a tendency towards anemia, my bloodwork reports really should be framed and hung on my living room wall. They’re that awesome.

But the larger point here is that I still hang onto some shred of belief that we can promote healthiness without resorting to self-harm, self-hate, and body policing. Body policing – we’re all guilty of it to some extent. We do it when we tell someone who’s underweight to “eat a sandwich.” We do it when we snark that someone really shouldn’t be wearing something that we don’t consider flattering. We do it every time we apologize for eating something, or explain to everyone within earshot why we’re NOT eating something. We do it every time we resent someone for the space he or she occupies. And I suppose you could say that I’m doing it right now, by questioning those who go in for the Botox. We do things, wear things, because they make us feel better about ourselves, so where’s the harm? But again I ask WHY we have to be “perfect,” if we’re already healthy?

“Perfect,” like mermaids, doesn’t exist.