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Aging Gracefully?

I was at a holiday party this season speaking to a gentleman who was around sixty years old. We were having a great conversation when he asked me, in a flirtatious manner, if I’d come with a husband. I said, yes and pointed across the room to where Sean was standing his back to us. The man said, “The buff one in the gray? Must be nice.” Then, in a conspiratorial manner he added, “So…you married younger huh?” My wine glass nearly shattered under the pressure of the involuntary death grip. Married younger?! Excuse me?! What was he implying? Ok, truthfully Sean is two years younger than me, but this man was implying an age GAP, like I was some crazed cougar shopping for mates in the nursery. I get it, he’s young and handsome, but suddenly, in contrast, I felt I must look…what…old and tired? Yes, this man was still hitting on me, but it was like he was making a play for a contemporary and not the much younger woman I actually was. The whole experience left me feeling dismal.

Before and after from the botox website. Looks pretty good right?

Before and after from the botox website. Looks pretty good right?

I’ve flirted with the idea of botox for years. When I moved from New York to LA my incredibly expressive face, the one that could be read from the top balcony, was suddenly a serious detriment. On camera my expressiveness morphed from enthusiastic to garish. Everything was amplified and not in a good way. One on-camera coach informed me I should get botox immediately “to shut that s*#@ down”. I thought I would have done anything to get my career off the ground but I couldn’t get my head around injecting my twenty-seven year old face with a toxin so it was unable to move. Ten years later, seeing the result of that movement etched into my forehead, it’s starting to look like a pretty good idea. Years of  conversations and  “feelings” have stolen my fresh face and replaced it with one that looks, well, weathered.

Not ready to bite the bullet, I dance the perimeter of the anti-aging world with things like the new skin care line from Rodin + Fields. Rodin + Fields are the dermatologists who created ProActive Solution, a product I could never use (despite the need) because I was allergic to one of the key ingredients. However, when they introduced their new anti-aging line for both fine lines and brightening, I thought maybe some non-invasive reversing could help. I recognize it’s just a bandaid, but at this time I can’t afford (and am too afraid) of the other options.

Jessica Chastain on the cover of said Marie Claire only further encourages my desire for botox. My forehead hasn't looked like that in ten years.

Jessica Chastain on the cover of said Marie Claire only further encourages my desire for botox. My forehead hasn’t looked like that since I was a teenager.

Aleksandra Crapanzano wrote an essay in December 2012’s Marie Claire called Frozen in Time where she poses the question whether botox and anti-aging treatments are becoming not just the norm, but the unspoken expectation for women in our society. She writes about going to a dinner party and looking around the table at the other women. Despite the fact she was probably the youngest by ten years, she realized that without having undergone any injections or surgeries she probably looked the oldest. She asks, “Have the expectations of a certain stratum of society changed? Was it now uncouth of me to show up at dinner with my fine lines? Was it akin to showing up with mud on my boots and a moth hole in my sweater?” Now I may not be hobnobbing with Manhattan’s social elite but, looking around at the other women in Los Angeles, I can honestly say I understand how she feels.

I was recently doing some random flipping on the TV and came across an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Having never seen it before I stopped to see what all the hype’s about. What struck me most – aside from the fact that certain women never grow out of junior high behavior – was their faces.

Is this look attractive? Seriously, I’m getting confused.

What was happening there? It was horrifying. Everything was too tight, too shiny, too exaggerated and frankly, too frozen. I was inspired to tweet something (something I’m making an effort to get on board with) but I couldn’t properly formulate my distaste. What exactly was I thinking? Why did they all look like that? How could they look in the mirror and think they looked good? Were we coming to a place where that was beginning to look normal? In ten years will everyone look like that? God knows I understand the desire to retain a youthful appearance. I’d love to hold onto my jawline and crease free eyes but I couldn’t help thinking I’d rather look like a pile of wrinkles than, to coin a phase, a melted Barbie doll.

It's brave to age naturally like

It’s brave to age naturally like this…

My concern is that we’re getting confused. The more we’re absorbed into the business of youth, the more disoriented we get. Is a lineless, frozen face the future’s new normal? Are we looking at a time when we don’t realize how ridiculous we’ve become? It’s obviously what Suzanne Collins was thinking of when she created the people of the Capital in her wildly successful Hunger Games trilogy. In the books the wealthy and elite are surgically altered, dyed and powdered within an inch of their lives with no sense of how absurd and, in many ways, grotesque they actually appear.

Crapanzano’s article references Timothy Greenfield-Sanders HBO film About Face, which interviews former supermodels about aging. In it Isabella Rossellini expresses her inner conflict with this whole new anti-aging industry. “I’m debating in my head. One day I get up and say, “Hey there’s this new technology, why not use it?” But most of the time I wake up and say, “Is this the new feet binding? Is this the new way to tell women, you are ugly deep down, you should be this and this. Is the main problem misogyny?”

...when people expect you to look like this.

…when people expect you to look like this.

Carmen Dell’Orefice, the still stunning supermodel of the 1950’s, offers a different perspective with a candid and casual “Well, if you had the ceiling falling down in your living room, would you not go and have a repair?” 

I think there’s something to be said for both points of view. Don’t we all want to retain our face’s “natural” state, the face of our youth? My mom used to say she’s often surprised when she looks in the mirror because she doesn’t feel that old. Crapanzano acknowledges that feeling when she expresses the natural process of aging feels anything but natural because so few of us feel our age. She says, “Out of sight of a mirror, I still think I’m 30, tops. For most women over 40, looking in a mirror is an unpleasant collision with reality, a fissure in our denialWe just don’t feel how we look.” Dr. David Colbert, a Manhattan dermatologist known for keeping his patients looking “naturally” young poses a more probing question, “Does it make your life longer when you look 40 when you’re 60? Maybe. Maybe it’s the interpretation of your life that make it feel longer.” And according to Manhattan psychiatrist Dr. Marianne Gillow, her patients are consistently in better moods after botox, as if looking better makes them feel better, or perhaps the inability to frown simply makes people feel less “frowny”.*

You gotta hand it to her. Carmen Dell'Orefice is 82 and obviously doing something right in the anti-aging

You gotta hand it to her. Carmen Dell’Orefice is 82 and obviously doing something right in the battle against aging.

I have to say seeing my face in photographs or a mirror these days has a clear effect on my mood and interpretation of self. I fear turning into one of those women who refuses to be photographed or, like my mother has a habit of ripping (or deleting) herself out of photos. I don’t want to break up with my image, I just want to like it. I don’t think these feeling are uniquely mine or even exclusive to women. There are some amazing before and after pictures of men in Kate Sommerville’s book on skin that would benefit everyone from Sean to my father. Yes, men generally age more attractively. It’s acceptable to see the results of aging on their skin and, in a cruel double standard, their wrinkles often end up improving their looks making them sexy and distinguished, but ultimately, men want to look young and fresh too. Look at poor Kenny Rogers…and he was a cowboy. They’re allowed to be wizened.


Adorable Lindsay vs. post unnecessary plastic surgery Lindsay. So sad.

It’s hard to open a magazine or turn on the TV these days without seeing an onslaught of perfectly smooth faces. Everyone from politicians on the national stage to movie stars on our grocery store news stands are there to show us how we could (should?) look and it’s difficult not to fall pray. I think if you’re going to do it, the key – after finding the right doctor – is to not go overboard (and never touch your lips). Everyone witnessed the destruction of Meg Ryan’s beautiful, quirky, adorable face, because for every Demi Moore there’s a Jocelyn Wildenstein around to freak you out. Crapanzano quotes Harvard-trained plastic surgeon Dr. Haideh Hirmand who says, “People get carried away and think, If a little looks good, a lot will look better and that’s not the case. I’m almost certain you look older if you do too much.” Case in point, previously adorable Lindsay Lohan who looks older than me now.

Ultimately, it’s a slippery slope. What is pretty if we can buy it? I remember when Ashley Simpson had her nose done. At first I was annoyed. Just accept what you look like already. But time passes, you forget about the nose job and all you see is the pretty girl the nose job uncovered. I hate myself for thinking it, but she looks better now, and once you’ve allowed yourself to forget she bought that face, you start thinking it was a pretty good idea. At the end of the day I don’t want to look different, I want to look the same. Life’s aged me and I’d like to recognize myself in the mirror again. I want to be the best version of myself, but not so young it becomes creepy.  The aforementioned Demi Moore looks fantastic but she reminds me a bit of that old Meryl Streep/Goldie Hawn/Bruce Willis movie Death Becomes Her in which two vain competitive women make a pact with the devil (ironically, played by Isabella Rossolini) for eternal life and youth. As things go drastically and comically awry, they realize life isn’t about how you appear but who you are, and as they shatter to pieces at the end of the film, the audience sees the cautionary tale that is the worship of youth and beauty. Death_Becomes_Her_6114448_269

When it comes right down to it -as I said in my post on Birthdays – obviously the key for me is being around to age. I WANT to grow old. But, even with that perspective, I’d prefer the aging part to be a little less obvious. Life is special and sacred but feeling good about yourself is a part of that. Self confidence is akin to self worth and if people start looking at me like I’m expired meat I might start to feel like that. I don’t want to be tightened and pulled within an inch of my life. I always want to look like me, older or no, but if I’m never mistaken for my husband’s sugar mama again, it will be too soon.

I mean really?! Come on!!!

xo leigh

* Aleksandra Crapanzano, Marie Claire December 2012, Frozen in Time

Time To Be A Grown Up

I just returned from Christmas vacation in Toronto with my family and we had an absolutely amazing time. We haven’t been home to Canada in the winter in five years but after having such a lovely time in Oregon last Christmas Sean and I realized there’s something to be said for getting “away” for the holidays. Celebrating in our own home is nice, but the luxury of being able to leave – to go somewhere where we aren’t constantly reminded of things that need to be done or work that should be accomplished, a place where friends are close and family is closer, a space far removed from our “every day” – is a real treat. Our lives have a habit of becoming repetitive, sort of a “same s*^# different day” mentality that a change of scene really shakes up. Turns out it was just what we needed to refill our tanks.

Obviously, being the kind of chummy, togetherness family we are, we filled our days with plenty of family activities encouraged by the season. We walked downtown to see the beautiful Christmas windows decorated for the young and young at heart, we did multiple days of tobogganing (sledding for my south of the border friends) down the snowy white hills in our mismatched ski clothes, we made snow men, angels and igloos on the front lawn and cozied up inside for movies with hot chocolate. Christmas day was thrilling (how can it not be with a little person?) and the spirit of the season filled my childhood home. Two full weeks allowed us to have a real visit with my parents and Loch and his Granny were like peas in a pod. Every morning he’d open the door to my room not to say good morning but to take a shortcut to his beloved Gran. It was both sweet and awesome to be able to roll over and go back to sleep knowing he was happy and I wasn’t in charge.

How great is that snowman? Love my family!

How great is that snowman? Love my family!

Family time aside, what struck me the most about this holiday was how energized I felt being able to go out and socialize as an adult. Not as a family, but as a couple, or even as an individual. We did have a wonderful Christmas Eve with six of my oldest friends, their spouses/partners and children, but even amidst all the chaos it felt as if the priority remained on the adults. The children ran around and did their thing but I think the grown ups were free to enjoy their evening. I’m willing to accept it might have just felt like that to me because my child is almost 5, comfortable in the space and can feed himself, but for the most part  I felt the children, instead of being the focal point they usually are, were able to fall in and let their parents come first. Before everyone went home we even had the energy to do some singing as a group. For me it was the most special Christmas Eve I can remember having. A perfect storm of family, friends and joy for which I was incredibly grateful.

The boys in my life. Good sports every one.

The boys in my life. Good sports every one.

We don’t go out a lot in LA. We sometimes see movies or go to dinner, but between Sean’s insane work schedule, our friend’s busy lives and our baby sitter’s availabilities, we don’t do it that much. I don’t know whether it was the fact that it was the holidays, we had a built-in baby sitter or people were just up for going out, but Sean and I were really social over the break and it was fantastic. We had night of tequila and Mexican food with my Maid of Honor and her new love who, after a decade of living in NYC is finally back in Toronto where I can visit her. We spent an terrific weekend with one of my oldest friends and her family up in ski country where we were outdoorsy all day and spent rosy cheeked nights chatting away while our children played. New Year’s Eve was a riotous evening of old friends, great nibbles and big laughs where even some dancing took place. And finally, and what really solidified this whole thought for me, was a dinner we had with a dear friend of mine from High School and his adorable wife. We connected at a great Italian restaurant, drank a couple bottles of wine and enjoyed four hours of animated, candid conversation. After we’d dropped them off, I turned to Sean and said, “That was an absolutely perfect evening” and it was. Good food, great people, and real grown up interaction. I don’t think any of us noticed the time fly by. There’s a real under appreciation, especially with parents, for taking time to yourselves. I’m not talking about things like spa days, because honestly how many people are actually doing that, but an afternoon or evening here and there that truly belongs to you. Where our conversations shift to subjects other than work or kids. A time where the enjoyment of our peers and ourselves becomes the focus.

The Christmas Eve Gang. Such a wonderful evening.

The Christmas Eve Gang. Such a wonderful evening.

There was a night a couple of months ago when a group of moms from Loch’s preschool were getting together for dinner. I was exhausted and seriously considering bailing, but I pulled it together, slapped some blush on my cheeks and willed myself out the door. What struck me most, almost instantly after I arrived, was how un-tired I felt. I thought I’d stay for one drink and here I was all perky and laughing. What I realized in that moment was only part of me was tired – the mom part – the other part of me – let’s call it the Leigh part – was really excited to be out. That part of me was thrilled to be among her peers and perfectly happy to order a second martini. I try to remind myself of that feeling every time I think I don’t have the energy to rally at the end of the day. Only part of me is whipped. The other part is just bored.

2 days of skiing with our great friends from the cottage. Fun for kids and grown ups!

2 days of skiing with our great friends from the cottage. Fun for kids and grown ups!

I have a close group of friends here in LA. It’s basically three couples with kids and two singles. We used to do a annual dinner out for everyone’s birthday but over time it became increasingly more complicated to organize and we ended up celebrating March birthdays in June or putting two birthday’s together, so we finally let it go. The thing is, now we barely see each other. Sure our dinners only happened five or six times a year but at least they happened. I looked forward to them and now, with all our busy schedules, there’s never any time to see our friends. Without the excuse of the birthday celebration, there never seems to be a reason to make plans.

Some of the New Years crew.

Some of the New Years crew.

If you’re a parent you understand when I say “embrace the adult part of yourself”. It’s the part that still bothers to do your makeup or craves a couple of hours when no one’s asking you for something. A time when you can stop trying to shape a person and just be a person. But I also think it’s important for people without children to embrace that part too. We aren’t just parents or our jobs. We can’t simply fall into routines and forget to get out. Remember when you used to wait for the weekend? When you’d be excited planning your social life? We shouldn’t stop just because we got busy…or tired.

I’m excited for a fundraiser for Loch’s school in May because it’s a dinner dance where I can plan a costume. I’m eagerly awaiting the summer when my BFF and I will go dancing. I’m psyched for a friend’s birthday party that has yet to be planned because he mentioned he wanted it to be a masked ball. It could be next year but I’m already looking forward to it and that’s slightly depressing. These nights out shouldn’t be so few and far between. If I learned anything this Christmas, other than Mt. Sinai is a far better hospital than Sunnybook, it’s that we need to make more of an effort. That seeing our friends is a spirit lifter. That we require more nights of companionship and conversation and we should remind ourselves more than twice a year that we’re more than a collection of schedules, habits and errands. Connecting with others reminds us of ourselves, not just our given roles.

7711653482_561be2350aIf I know anything, it’s that life is short and you never know what cards you’re going to be dealt. I realize life’s not a vacation. That we don’t always have the time, finances or inclination to go out. But this holiday reminded me that I should more of an effort. That the simple action of interacting with my peers made me happier. Time with our kids is wonderful. Commitment to our spouse is essential. Devotion to our job is both lucrative and inevitable. But our friendships, our adult based interactions, are vital to our mental health. We need those connections. We need those evenings or lunches or whatever to remind us of who were are at the root of it all. We deserve to be excited. To have fun. To get dressed up, because time for yourself, for the person inside who wants to be more than what they do or who they take care of, is indispensable. So though it might feel like it’s the last thing on your to do list, I believe our lives are better and more full when we live them, not just exist within them.

Happy New Year! Go call a friend.

xo leigh