Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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The Tightrope

The line. It used to crease the skin between my eyes only when I raised a brow in skepticism. But somewhere between kid one and kid two the fleeting crease settled into permanency, shooting out and up from my left eyebrow. It's maybe half an inch long and, were you to look at me from a couple feet away, you might not notice it. But it's there. I see it. And no amount of foundation can fill the trench that time is slowly digging across my forehead.

I'm not sure how I feel about it. But, like an Olympic gymnast envisioning a solid routine, I want to nail down my approach to aging before I really start to experience it. Problem is, much like birthing a baby, deciding how you're going to deal with aging isn't really something you can wrap your brain around until it happens. You can say you're going for a natural childbirth but until that distinct jag of labor thunderbolts your back and slams into your asshole so hard you think your rectum just hit the floor you don't really know how you'll respond. No shame in screaming for an epidural.

But when the visible effects of aging strike a similar thunderbolt into your forehead is there shame in whispering for Botox?

Mostly I've been a pretty solid subscriber to the art of aging gracefully, whatever that means. I interpret it to mean fighting the physical effects of time with healthy eating, exercise and a positive attitude. Oh, and gallons of Oil of Olay. Easy to say at thirty-six. But that's kind of why I want to gear myself up. So age doesn't sneak up behind me at forty-five and sucker punch kidneys that service an already over-active bladder. If I can accept, appreciate and even admire this first forehead furrow, perhaps I can just as gracefully welcome its friends?

It's going to be hard. Not because I personally have anything against aging. I kind of like it. I like how it seems to be improving my outlook on life, anyway, even if I'm still struggling to accept how it's un-improving my tits. It's going to be difficult because our society is obsessed with looking young. We revere faces so smooth the asses of plump babies look ravaged in comparison. But ladies, your necks and elbows are showing! Nobody's fooled by the taut forehead and flotation device lips. As the great Nora Ephron said, "Our faces are lies and our necks are the truth."

Truth is, while I enjoy looking good, I want to look good for my age and not like someone twenty years younger. While I understand looking and feeling good for your age I don't understand the obsession with preventing attempting to reverse the aging process. Like I said, nobody is fooled and, in many cases, you ruin your face and actually even look older. When I see a woman who's had obvious Botox and filler I assume her to be an older woman trying to look younger when, in a lot of cases, the women are actually in their early thirties.

Take Kim Kardashian, for example. Really look at her instead of being distracted by her ass or suckered by all the make-up contouring going on there. Her face constantly has that frozen, puffy look. Her lips look like she accidentally slammed them in the car door. All fish-facey, stuck in a perpetual pout. It's weird. Jenny McCarthy is slowly starting to morph into a frozen puffy face. Courteney Cox is teetering on the brink. We're losing Brandi Glanville. Lindsay Lohan looks forty, although, to be fair, that could be from the coke.

I want to be clear, I don't begrudge women who choose Botox and fillers to make themselves feel good, I'm pissed at a society that makes them feel like that's the definition of beautiful. I guess I'm kind of hoping that, as this first generation of hardcore Botox users reaches the sunset of their lives and we see just how horrific it is to gaze upon the countenance of a 95-year-old woman who appears to be wearing the mask of a human being (I just unintentionally described Joan Rivers, didn't I) there is a backlash against the bizarre, puffy, frozen faces so many are sporting in the name of beauty and a return to true beauty.

Dare we ever hope society can revere the lines on an older woman's face with the same veneration reserved for The Beautiful People? Probably not. But if I start now, maybe I can retrain my brain? Maybe I can follow in the footsteps of the strong women who fought society's creepy-ass standard of beauty by quietly welcoming wrinkles? If my goal is authenticity in life how can I get there with shit injected into my head? On the flip side, is it hypocritical of me to rage against Botox and other fillers? I dye my hair... I mean, if we're really getting serious about authenticity here. Is there a difference? Do I need to get with the 21st century? Is Botox just an extreme version of make-up? Or have we all lost our damn minds?

That's what I mean by tightrope... I'm not here to ridicule women who choose Botox or a nip or a tuck - far from it. I just want to untangle the emotions that send them under the knife or syringe in the first place so that I can sort out how I feel about the whole thing as I clumsily stumble into my forties.

Where do we draw the line? Where am I going to draw the line? So far, with the exception of the aforementioned hair dye, I'm au naturel. But there've been a few moments of mirror time when I obsessively finger the furrow or eyeball the other faint forehead lines bulging into existence. And I don't want to react that way! And honestly? Most of the Botox brigade aren't really fooling anyone so why join their ranks? Or maybe they are? Maybe the ones who truly do it well are unidentifiable? From my time in the news industry I know a couple news anchors who use it sparingly. They look their age, but they look fantastic. Maybe that's the secret? Don't get carried away? There's the tightrope again...

I guess I don't even want to look at it that way. That first Botox injection is acknowledging to yourself that you hate your wrinkles, right? While I want to look my best I don't want to obsessively try to reverse aging in some endless pursuit of looking younger. That's a game nobody will ever win. We're all aging right this second. I want to look my age and welcome wrinkles as the facial road map to a past filled with living. Why would I want to erase what makes me me? More importantly, what kind of example do I want to set for my daughter? How can I teach her that she is perfect just the way she is if I don't feel that way about myself, wrinkles and all?

Or, at thirty-six, am I totally fully of shit? The minute I fully realize it's not just that it's a bad picture, that the terrible photo of me is what I really look like, will I be in the Botox line with the best of 'em?

Reader Comments (13)

Monica, you're still young enough that you don't personally get the whole aging thing and how it does your head in. I'm now in my 60s. I looked younger than I really was for years, right up to about age 52 -- and then age seemed to hit me with a wallop. I eat organic food, exercise a bit, and haven't had anything "done." But I see Old Man Age eating away at me, bit by bit, month by month, and it's only going to get worse. Chin hairs and wrinkles -- okay. But moles, blemishes and cherry angiomas (don't ask) invading my once-lovely body? My hair getting dry and thinner? People I knew 25 years ago hardly recognising me? Teeth taking more upkeep than ever -- if I want to keep 'em? This is no joke -- and it's precisely why women reach for the Botox. They don't want to look young -- they just want to recapture themselves, I think. They want to look passable in a world where anyone over 45 is often invisible and discounted. It's worse if you've been good-looking. Young people see us the way we look now and think we were born that way. They have no idea of the lives and experiences that lie behind our lined faces. We're not stupid and we don't flinch at X-rated movies! However -- I've found that Nature does a kind little trick as we age. When we look in the mirror in the morning, we don't see the way we look now. We just see "ourselves." Maybe that's so we won't lose all hope! And maybe that's why older people don't always like having their photo taken -- they don't recognise themselves in the picture. This must all sound pretty doom and gloom -- but it doesn't have to be. Those lucky enough to still have all their marbles can still share their thoughts and ideas, work, travel, play, and most importantly, leave their thoughts and memoirs behind for the next generation. In a perfect world, everyone would respect oldies and it wouldn't matter what they looked like. In some countries, it actually is like that. But the truth is, even oldies love looking at fresh young faces. You're a gem, Monica -- love your writing -- you make us think. Keep up the good work!

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCathlene

Hey Monica,
I'm the same age as you and I had my first Botox injections two years ago. I've only had them three times and in the same spot each time - right between my eyes. I am genetically burdened with a perma-frown. Pictures of my grandmother as a baby show her looking miserable as all hell when in fact, she was a perfectly happy little child. Everyone in school growing up thought there was always something wrong because I was always frowning. Two years ago was my breaking point when over the course of the summer, I actually had a friggien TAN LINE between my eyes from where my brows would scrunch. I said that's it, no more, and I did something about it. I LOVE IT! My HUSBAND loves it. Even my mom, who also has the same 'affliction' said she wishes she had the courage to do it. I've let age creep up everywhere else on my face - crows feet galore, sun spots on my forehead etc. I work out three times a week, I eat healthy, I work hard on my marriage and my career and at being a good parent - why shouldn't I do something nice for me? I did it because it made me feel better about myself and I don't think there's any shame in that!

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterb

@b - I don't think there's any shame in that either. That's the tightrope I'm talking about. If my eyelid started to droop over my eyeball (it's starting) I'd totally get it handled in the same way you botoxed your angry line. It's just that the line (pardon the pun) has gotten all blurry and you have 25-year-old's puffing their lips and freezing their foreheads and everyone's faces are starting to get weird in some crazed attempt to look nineteen instead of looking their best for their age.

April 8, 2013 | Registered CommenterMonica

I love this topic. I am the same age as you, and I struggle, too. When I see women who have clearly had work done, I don't think it looks good. I met a woman the other day with not a wrinkle on her face, so I guessed she was in her 50's. Turns out she was a good ten years younger than I'd thought. But still, I look at myself and think well, but this and this and this. I reached the same conclusion you have for now, that I'd rather look a healthy 36 than strive for 25 again. But part of aging (for me) is that I think I look so TIRED. I don't mind the wrinkles, but do mind looking like I need a week of sleep, even when I'm well-rested.

It would be easier to grow older gracefully if there were any examples out there of it. Every celebrity my age seems to have work done. I saw Angelina Jolie a few years ago with the start of wrinkles, and I thought, YES! She is gorgeous and she is going to grow old staying gorgeous and looking her age. Well, next time I saw her, she'd removed those wrinkles. It's depressing. Not that I model myself on celebrities, but everywhere, every website, every magazine, everything, there's no model for attractive women looking older as they grow older.

That said, anytime I truly start to wonder if maybe I would get a little work done, looking at the realself website and seeing the possibilities for horrific repercussions to the simplest of procedures snaps be back to reality.

By the way, I think you are gorgeous.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

It's true that as people age they don't like to have their pictures taken, we like to remember ourselves as we were in our youth. Now in our early sixtys the Mrs and I are starting to look like how we remember our Grand parents looked. MAJOR FRIGHT FACTOR ! As we both have excellent health and minds we never saw this happening and Wham around 60 the bottom fell out. Neither of us ever stressed about the turning of a decade, and what good would it do?
Our new strategy avoid cameras and mirrors!

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterUtah L

No sin in trying it out. As long as you are not taking food from the table and paying your bills. I can't wait for my ship to come in so I can run off and get my cellulite vacuumed. Thigh wraps! Mud soaks! I want it all! It's all for fun and your guy will appreciate whatever you do to look nice and feel better about yourself. Have fun and enjoy yourself no matter what your age. PS. I love getting my hair and brows and pedicure done.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergina

I am 34 and do dysport for my furrow 3 times per year. The permanent makeup cavern is now gone, but since I limit it to just that area, I feel like I still have full use of my face and expressions.

No one (except y'all now) even know I do it. It is awesome and I appreciate not having a gash between my eyebrows anymore. :)

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

I'm 37. While I'm not going to begrudge a woman using tech to make herself feel better, I do have something against this idea that we are all supposed to have baby smooth skin and no wrinkles, blemishes, etc. The issue here is whether you really feel that your confidence is at stake or is it that you're catering to marketing's argument of what we should look like.

It pisses me off: the slathering of makeup, the high heels, the spanx, the botox, the fillers, the plumping and for what? To fit an ideal that is fantasy. Most of the crap we put on our faces to look younger age us quicker. Most of us only need soap and water and sunscreen. Instead we spend a small fortune on makeup full of chemicals that dry us out and age us.

Most importantly, though, I think jumping on that train in our 30's is just too damn young. To me, it feels like giving up. I hate that people think that once you hit 35 you're old. You're not old. FFS you're just starting to be comfortable in your own skin and be your own person. Why not enjoy it for a few years?

But hey. If that's what it'll take to make someone feel better, then so be it. I don't agree with it but I don't think it's a sin.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjeneria

I got botox at 35 after caring for my Mother for the last 12 months of a terminal illness. I can still hear her in my head during that year saying "stop frowning, it'll stay that way." Hardest year of my life and she knew it. I think she just didn't want to see the pain and worry on my face.

After she died, even as my heart started to heal and I began to come alive again, there was that damn line. It looked like a vending machine slot. If you'd put quarters in my furrow, I may have spat out a diet coke. So. I bit the bullet and went to a very understanding dermatologist. The frown line was gone a week later and I'm not kidding when I say it was a huge psychological turning point.

I got it another few times and then stopped. It hasn't ever really come back again and it may not unless I spend a year in that kind of pain and anxiety. The hole that my Mom left will always be there - I just didn't need a hole in my face to reflect it. I don't judge anyone who does anything to their appearance - I think owning our bodies means that we get the choice to freeze, fill, pierce, tattoo, wax, dye or just leave well enough alone and let time do its thing. As long as you're doing whatever you're doing -for you- you're on the right track.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCurlygirl

I'm mostly happy as I am, despite the above rant -- I'm still slim, disgustingly healthy and have a job I enjoy; but I have promised myself that this year I will have my eyelids and eyebags done. It's true, age brings that "tired" look which we don't need. However, talk of celebrities brings me to my pet peeve -- why don't these female movie stars (and some men) just come right out in the open and admit that they have ALL had plastic surgery to some degree? Say what you like about Joan Rivers, at least she's always had the guts and honesty to come clean about that. I've met people who actually believe celebrities have some genetic "plus" that keeps them looking unnaturally young, decade after decade. Sure, they start out nice looking anyway, but the entertainment biz is tough and competitive. No one wants to be relegated to "granny" roles if there's a better option.

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCathlene

i love curly girl; A vending machine slot...spitting out a diet coke. I completely understand how you felt after you had that line fixed. That's the reason we have 'work' done. It's really play and so comforting knowing that you are NOT supposed to have that thing as a distraction between your eyes. My sister used to push me to have a few face and neck moles removed and boy, was I glad I finally did it. All my life my mom would tell me they were 'beauty' marks...but a boyfriend i had told me that they were distracting and had to go. So I had them removed...the final one was in the middle of the front of my neck, like a brown raised jewel. A thing of beauty it was not. Many people thought it was a tick, My grandmother had a matching one so I felt bad having it off...of course she was already off it came. How happy I am not to have to carry these dots around,,,now people are just distracted by the turkey gullet thing, hahah

April 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergina

You raise a question that I think about sometimes as well - where to draw the line when it comes to beauty and aging. Right now, my biggest question is about a scar on my face - it stretches across my forehead, the product of an accident. I could get surgery to lessen the appearance of the scar (and I've already had a surgery to correct a drooping eyelid that was also a result of the accident) but where do I draw the line between necessary corrective surgery and an elective corrective surgery? Stuff like this can easily subsume your life, as evidenced by the Kardashians.

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpostmormongirl

Do you know how much all these things cost? A lot. Just saying.

April 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterE.

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