You Look Old, Mama

“Mama, you look old,” says my daughter the other day, lying beside me on the shag rug in front of our fireplace.

“I do?” I ask, shocked and hurt.

“Older than the other moms,” she adds.

I try to hide my reaction. I am unexpectedly upset. But I don’t want her to know that I care, that my appearance matters. Until this moment, I didn’t think it was. I don’t often wear makeup. I wear the same clothes day after day. I'm a work-at-home writer. It's all good, or so I thought.

But more than a reality check, my daughter’s honest observation forces me to confront an ugly hypocrisy – I do care. I don’t want to look old. After all, I’m only 42. That’s not old. Is it?

In the hallway, outside my daughter’s grade two classroom, I watch the other moms for signs of aging. I want to see myself as my daughter does, to understand what she sees. There are moms slumping against the wall looking haggard and there are perky moms still in their workout clothes and pony tails looking ready to run a marathon. Then, there are moms in svelt outfits and perfectly coiffed hair who look ready for a night on the town. I’m not sure I fit into any of those groups, but according to my daughter, I’m with the slumpers. Depressing.

Unable to control myself, I ask my daughter, “What about Victoria’s mom? Do I look older than her?” She’s my age and has kids the same ages and when I look at her, I don’t feel like I look any younger or older. This, I think, will be a good measuring stick.

“Yes, you look way older,” says my daughter.

Ouch.

Until now, I hadn’t thought much about my age and how I look compared to other moms. I’ve had too many more pressing things to worry about. Until now, my politics were firmly anti-botox, anti-vanity and pro-wrinkles.

“You need to learn to love your wrinkles,” I’ve told my own mom countless times. “Embrace your aging. It’s beautiful.”

Now, suddenly, a lifetime of feminist politics crashes down on me and I can see why my mom scoffs at me. No one else thinks wrinkles are beautiful. Who am I to think that I can fight years of cultural influence, decades of propaganda put out there by women’s magazines and the cosmetics industry?

Clearly, I have finally seen the truth: I am getting old. Beauty is slipping away.

I am now at the bathroom mirror looking at my face. I see the deeply-etched crow’s feet around my eyes, the laugh lines around my mouth, the sagging skin. God, I need a facial. I trace my fingers over one line and force myself to think: This one is for the five years of your husband’s unemployment. This one is for the time he said he wanted to leave you. These three are for the many sleepless years of breastfeeding and toilet training. This one is for the constant worry that I won’t have enough income to pay the mounting bills. And this one is for the daily frustration that there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done.

These lines are my life journey. Intellectually, I know that. I want to embrace them, to love them, to see them as signs of wisdom and maturity. But that’s harder now that I am old. Those things were much easier to believe as a young, confident woman.

How do you handle getting old? Do you get comments from your kids about your aging face or body?

 

12 Responses to “You Look Old, Mama”

  1. 42 is not old woman! This is one of those times where you are challenged to search yourself to see if what you really believe is a gentleness and truth that you can extend to yourself. You tell your mother to embrace her age? Yet, this is not ok for you? And there is a difference between getting old and letting yourself slip in terms of self-care. Forget the Botox and go for some Mistura powder, a little mascara, and a hot pair of jeans with clean hair. Bet you'll feel great and look younger. 

  2. Cori, this is beautifully written. I relate to do much if this. I live the vulnerability in this piece. 

  3. Glennen says:

    What a beautiful piece.  Thanks for sharing with such openness.  

  4. Rosemary Plummer says:

    I appreciate the honesty here, Cori.  I remember a similar situation once with my daughtr when she had just come back from a year away, at 18. .  My husband and I had split up and things were not the same in general. She was experincing a letdown and loss of her own…and I couldn't do a lot to help–but to hear I looked old, through her tears..now that was hard.  Today, she encourages me to embrace aging, not to colour my hair–as do my sons.  They have not said I look old ever again.  I have not mentioned that moment, either.   I have a theory and I will have to write about it!
     

  5. Alex says:

    Ah, this is beautiful. I like how you described the events responsible for the lines. I've always thought that wrinkles are about smiling, but you touchingly described the lines earned through serious worry. I'm sure you are beautiful, because of your way in the world, and maybe your daughters comments are about her starting to notice others' appearances, not about your appearance in particular. Holding your head high will  show her beauty is more than skin deep…

  6. Victoria says:

    Cori,
    You crept into my head.  I want to embrace my aging self, but I am not doing a very good job. Looking decent is starting to take a lot of energy.  A lot more energy that it should.  Holly still asks me everyday if I am having another baby.  My baby is almost 4.  Kids are ego crushers.  
    You are beautiful.  And you look way younger than I do.  And I am younger.  Introduce me to your daughter, I'll show her what old really looks like.
     
     
     

  7. melinda says:

    Hi Cori!  This was great, so honest and real.  The title really drew me in and I didn't even realize it was you until I started reading the other comments.  Everyone always thinks I am the grandmother!  In Florida i thought it was because all the moms were working and the grammies (or nannies) were with the kids.  (although nobody ever called me the nanny…hum) but now that we moved, I am still getting the grammie thing so my theroy is wearing thin.  I have recently stopped looking in the mirror, and that was working ok until my daughter  pointed out that I had a  "dark weird hair sticking out of my nose" and could I please do something about it…  It only gets worse I fear!!!  xooxox m.

  8. Anne Marie says:

    HI Cori, I feel like you periodically.  David commented on the "crumples" on my skin when he was only three!  Crumples sound way more adorable than "wrinkles".  Embrace your crumples luvvie – you are absolutely stunning – inside and out!  xxxxxxxxxxxx

  9. Tannis says:

    Oh Cori, you tell that young lady of yours that you are not old! Go get your hair done, buy a new lipstick (that always works for me when I feel old!), and dance your ass off in front of her and say "honey, do I look old to you now!?"
    You look great!

  10. Elena Smith says:

    Love your story. My nickname at home is "gushy-mummy", I have a permafrown on my forehead that looks like I take life way more seriously than I actually do, and I have been asked numberous times if I would dress up more for drop off and pick up so I could look more like the fancy mums. I try to tell myself that I am redefining those images of beautiful women plastered all around us and will never allow my 2 daughters to hear me criticize a single piece of myself. That said, in secret I feel the same deflation as I see the aging process underway and know there is so much more to come.    

  11. Erin says:

    This is what helps me. I believe even the most confident women like Gloria Steinem and Naomi Wolf secretly worry about their looks too.  This story touched a nerve because it's universal.  And our culture is making it harder for women to age naturally.

  12. erin says:

    As you know, I have the same issues, struggle with it. We both feel we don't need to "buy into it", but then feel anxious about aging…it is a struggle for us women now. It's not hard work that seems to be credited, but how good you look at what age. For the record, knowing you, you are an amazingly beautiful woman. It's the light that shines out of you, that lights up a room when you walk in, that will never go away. Some people never have that. You always will.

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