aging, make-up, identity, and rage

When I started this post, I thought it was going to be about the hippy chick (me) wearing mainstream make-up.  But the post morphed.

It started like this: Sophie and I were watching youtube speedpaints and I clicked on a vid in the sidebar about how Marilyn Monroe wore her make-up…because, duh, Marilyn.  (Did you know she covered her face in vaseline as a first layer? Yuck.).  Which led, clicky clicky, to watching several of Lisa Eldgridge’s make-up tutorials, and I realized, I’ve never really learned how to do make-up.  I’ve been wearing the stuff for twenty-five years, mostly eye-liner (“I can’t go out, my eyes are naked!”) and I have no idea what I’m doing.  I probably suck at it.  Maybe it was time to learn.

But here’s the thing: I’m 43, my skin was semi-decent until 40, and then BOOM it all collapsed, wrinkled, spotty, crepe-y, bags, dark circles, the horror.  Philosophically, I’m fine with this.  My face shows my story, and I’ve quite liked my story.  But then I look in the mirror, and jesus, under my eyes there has been a mudslide.  Over my eyes, the hoods sit on my eyelashes like plump, uninvited guests.  The brownish spots—are they sun damage or perimenopausal acne footprints, you know what, I don’t care.  It’s just…ugh.  It’s all ugh.  Which is not a good feeling to have about one’s own face.

I love the first chapter of Margurite Duras’s amazing novel, The Lover.  In it she says,  “My aging was very sudden.  I saw it spread over my features one by one, changing the relationships between them, making the eyes larger, the expression sadder, the mouth more final, leaving great creases in the forehead….But instead of being dismayed, I watched this process with the same sort of interest I might have taken in the reading of a book….And I’ve kept it ever since, the new face I had then.  It has been my face.  It’s scored with deep, dry wrinkles, the skin is cracked.  But my face hasn’t collapsed, as some with fine features have done.  It’s kept the same contours, but its substance has been laid waste.  I have a face laid waste.”

Yes, that’s it exactly.  My face is laid waste by my life.

I was awkward and goofy until my mid-twenties when things started to look up, and after so long feeling like the ugly duckling, it was kind of marvelous to feel pretty for a few years.  I peaked in my mid-thirties, right around the time I had Sophie.  Full disclosure: my bio-photo over there on the right?  It’s ten years old now.  In it I’m thirty-three and preggo and happy on the beach, does it get better than that?  In fairness to me, when I started this blog and posted that picture, it was only five years old, and it still felt present-me enough to use.  Now it feels like ancient history (but watch me not taking it down, not yet).  I’m glad I had even that short time of being a girl that could turn heads.  But I’m aware that that era is gone.  At least, for that sort of head turning.

Like Duras says, so much aging can happen in such a short time.

Well, philosophically, I may be fine with it, but inside I’m still twenty, or at least thirty, and I want to wear winged eye-liner, sparkles, red lipstick, and henna my hair—but then, none of that stuff looks the way it did on my thirty year old self, and I think, maybe I should stop.  Maybe I’m embarrassing myself.

Which really, really pisses me off.  For a number of reasons.

1- I’ve been in a bit of a marathon the last few days, branching out from Lisa Eldridge, whom I find delightful, to all sorts of make-up artists and their looks (it’s a bit of a revelation, really), and I find I get really annoyed-verging-to-furious with these gorgeous girls with gorgeous skin, efforting mightily to cover imperceptible flaws and complaining about their loveliness.  I want to shout at them to knock it off.  Of course, my best friend, fifteen years older than I am, tells me that at 43, I’m a baby still, and she wants to yell at me to knock it off already with my complaints about my 43 year old skin.  “You have no idea,” she says.  “Enjoy it while it lasts.”  All right, all right.

2- Along similar lines, however, I get pissed at the vids with tips for “hooded eyes” on gals who don’t have hooded eyes, or on how to apply under eye concealer on “dark circles” that I can’t see, even in HD.  These vids aren’t helping, okay?

3- I feel pissed that, in some ways, I missed my window…I was shy and awkward when I had great skin.  Now I want winged eye-liner and I it doesn’t work on my eyes because the hoods cover it up.  If only I’d had more confidence back then!  If I hadn’t been obsessing over imperceptible flaws and efforting to cover my gorgeousness back when I had a little more of it!

4- Conversely I get seriously pissed at the “make up for after 40” type articles that tell women with “mature skin” not to do this or that, (don’t wear red lip stick!  Don’t wear mini-skirts! Boring beiges are for you!) and it just feels like they’re saying, “Know your place.  You aren’t pretty any more so stop trying to act like it.  Tone it down with more “flattering” neutrals and be glad we aren’t locking you in the closet.”

Basically, it’s a mess in my head, this mix of societal expectations of middle aged women, rebellion against same, plus the realities of middle-aged skin, all conflicting with the desire to express how I really feel (creative, goofy, sexy, playful, shameless!).

On the one hand, there are older women I see who are working so hard to look younger until they end up seeming a bit monstrous, a bit scary (I feel very unkind saying that), but I wonder if I’m not doing that, like when I wear the black eye-liner that I love.  Remember that scene in the wonderful Bette Midler’s “Stella” where she thinks she’s being so awesome at the beach resort but everyone is laughing at her, and her daughter is all ashamed?  Shit, that’s like, my worst nightmare.  Even though it’s terribly judgmental and mean to Bette’s character—I mean, what a bunch of assholes to be putting her down, Stella was totally cool.  A hero with terrible self-esteem.

On the other hand, there are older women I see who are simply killing it wearing exactly what they please, red lipstick and all, and I want to be one of these women when I grow up….

Here, watch this, it will change your whole day, it’s the trailer for the documentary, “Advanced Style”, and it’s only one minute.  Watch!

See what I mean?  (For more from these wonderful folks, see the blog, Advanced Style ).  GAH, these gals are so awesome.  I need some of that moxy, that confidence.  They’re certainly not worried if they will look silly in red lipstick.

“Red lipstick?” my husband says.  “You don’t need red lipstick.”

And bless him because he thinks I look hot in his old sweatshirt, no make-up, and dirty hair.  He even calls my various face-creams “Husband Repellent” because they taste bad when he kisses me.  Daw.

“Maybe this is my mid-life crisis,” I say. “A $5 tube of red lipstick.  If I can’t have winged eye-liner, maybe I should go for red lips.”

“Well,” he concedes.  “At least it’s affordable.”

Overhearing this, Sophie, 10, drew me this picture of when my eyebags become so large, I can use them as prehensile appendages.    bags

Oh, she’s freaking hilarious.

Then yesterday I went into the local natural foods co-op and there were a half dozen women of various ages coming and going, some I knew, some I didn’t, these lovely hippy chicks who don’t wear a bit of make-up on their beautiful, wrinkled faces, wearing tank tops and long hair after fifty (how gauche!) with muscles and verve—and they just looked great.

I’ve wanted to be one of them when I grow up, too, but I love my eye-liner.  Is it clear skin and thick hair that makes that no-make-up look work?  I’ve never had either.

But wait, what do I mean by “work”?  Closer to an ideal of “beauty”?  That isn’t what those Advanced Style women are going for.  They aren’t aiming at a societal (or biological?) ideal, but at what they love, what’s fun.  And the reality is, if I try aiming at the ideal at this point, I’ve already lost.  I’ve got to find another way to feel fabulous or I’m going to walk around feeling ugly, or thinking I need plastic surgery, or going to weird lengths to have a face that isn’t my face at all.

From the other end of the time-line, teen-aged fashion mogul Tavi Gevinson said in this interview that she realized that fashion could be about fun and self-expression and not about being pretty.   I like that.  I like that here is a 15 year old saying some of the same things as the 85 year olds in “Advanced Style.”  It’s not about age!

I think what she means by “pretty” is that beauty ideal.  Tavi goes on to say that she later thought she would like to be pretty (“I entered high school.”) but wondered if that desire was selling-out her feminism.  She doesn’t think so, that people are multi-facted, but I understand her conflict.  How to disattach from the judgement that will inevitably reflect badly on oneself at times (more and more as you get older) in order to have self-expression and self-esteem…but also accept one’s desire to be pretty?  Do you have to give up one for the other?

I’ve had two, older, second wave feminist friends (rock on!) who have staunchly rejected such things as make-up and leg shaving…. but, honestly, both of them were gorgeous with invisible peach-fuzz blond leg hairs, super thick black lashes, and perfect skin.  So I couldn’t help but feel (quite pettily) that their choice wasn’t much of a statement.  And that pissed me off, too, especially when they encouraged me to give up shaving and eye-liner.  We wouldn’t be making the same sacrifice, now would we?  Society does look at you differently the further you are from the ideal, but it would be looking at me more harshly than them.  Or so I thought.  Plus, I wanted to be “pretty,” too.  Ah, the webs we weave.

Not that I think feminists don’t wear make-up in general (1- I’m a feminist and 2-that was just my two friends) or that they shouldn’t. Or should.  Feminism for me is being able to do what you want, gender irrelevant, including wearing make-up and staying home with my kids.  Ahem.  Choice is kind of the point.

Anyway, my compromise between my desire to look like one of those glowing-skin, make-up-free, hippy-chicks, and my desire to be “pretty” has been to be a natural products sort of make-up wearer.  Dr. Haushka and homebrew herbal recipes, you know the drill.  I’d wear a little make-up (eye-liner!) and try to accept the face I’ve got.

But yeah, lately, it’s not feeling like enough.  So, I’ve been experimenting.  The world of mainstream make-up is a vast pile-up  of magic potions and astonishing packaging and price tags, but Lisa Eldridge has gotten me to buy my first high-end make-up at none other than Sephora, the place where all good make-up junkies go after they die, and all bad make-up junkie’s go after they get paid.  It was a store I had never set foot in before (too embarrassed, too overwhelmed, sheesh, there must be five thousand products in there) but that trip is probably it’s own blog post.  Still, why not, right?  The face is just another canvas, make-up is just another paint, and I am just another artist.  Sort of.

Sidebar/ Dear Dr. Haushka, you are an amazing brand (although pricey in this country) and I love your products (Rose Cream is pure heaven) but your marketing and how-to vids annoy the crap out of me and here is why.  You take the most gorgeous, flawless looking women to put your products on—products that are designed to produce a make-up-free look—and yeah, these gals look great wearing your stuff, but so what.  It wasn’t the products that made it happen.  Great genetics is not the same as concealer that actually works.  In fact, these ads and vids make me feel like I have to be a goddess to wear your products in the first place.  And I’m not—at least, not that kind of goddess.  Don’t dangle the impossible in front of me!  I can’t even look at these ads sometimes, they annoy me off so much.  (I’m being petty again.  Sorry.) /end rant.

Bigger picture: aging poorly is really a First World problem isn’t it?  I don’t have to worry about starving or having my city bombed like the woman doctor I met yesterday, visiting the university here from Iraq, who told me not a day went by back at home when a bomb didn’t impact her life, going off where she had just been, or where she was headed, or where her family were, so terrifying.  And here I am, with that extra space in my head left over from not having to worry about bombs, spending a little time wrestling with aging-skin concerns and an afternoon binging on make-up tutorials.  I feel like I should try contributing to world peace, or at least take the kids out to a museum or something. This whole thing feels ridiculously self involved.

On the other hand, every woman I know (an admittedly small sample) feels variations of semi-irrational outrage and vulnerable hopelessness that yes, aging is happening to her, too.  Plus the fact that middle-aged women are portrayed largely as jokes, or as helpless, or as invisible (that is, not portrayed at all), in the world around us.  We all have to come to some strategy—rebellion, submission, denial, [other]—to deal with it.  We all have to find some way to be comfortable in our own changing faces.  (Or not.)

I love the line from the Advanced Style vid, “I never wanted to look young.  I wanted to look good.”

Maybe I need to celebrate my eyebags and eyelid hoods.  Glue rhinestones to them or something.  Like, hell yeah, my face is laid waste and I’m goddamn beautiful.

I enjoyed this make-up tutorial by forty-five year old, pink haired Cecily Kellogg.  Here’s the teaser image from the post:


And I’ll leave you with a picture of my forty-three year old lips (plus my little mole, which I’ve always said proves I’m really a witch), wearing the holy grail of red lipsticks, MAC’s Ruby Woo. I’m still pondering these things.  I’ll let you know if I figure anything out.

ruby woo lips

9 thoughts on “aging, make-up, identity, and rage

  1. CathyB

    If you are feeling marginalized by society and your own aesthetic ideals at your age, you are going to really be miserable twenty years from now. Please be sure to post again when you arrive at your personal resolution with this struggle. Many, many women would like to read your conclusions.

    And your last sentence — where are these red lips?

    1. maya Post author

      Hi Cathy, I know, right?! Hopefully I can figure something out before 20 years have passed. And whoops, the photo didn’t load. Should be some red red lips there now.
      And Hi Jenny! Glad you found something that’s working for you! We all need our strategies…

  2. Jenny

    You are beautiful! Check out I promise I don’t work for them, I found that site/information 4 years ago and it has changed shopping and style and makeup and all of that into something fun and easy. It takes age out of the equation and puts the emphasis where it should be: on women following their own inner sense of what is right for them, and using clothes and makeup to highlight and support who they really are so their individual beauty can shine. A fun and fascinating journey.

  3. anna

    Maya – so interesting to me that you should post this! I’m 58 and after 15 years of Dr Hauschka, and literally thousands of ounds, I have decided to throw in the towel: it ain’t working for me and yes, the models they use are gorgeous in every respect and ALL ARE UNDER 40. Would it kill them to demonstrate their product on older women? And what gets me particularly is that their products for mature skin are priced so much higher than those for younger skin. So I pay a premium for being older! Is the thinking that older women are probably earning more so can be taken for more £££? I don’t like it. So I went out and bought some make-up to give me a lift and brighten my southward falling flesh face! And I love it. Decleor. Don’t judge me for a few chemicals – after all these years, please?!!

  4. Pingback: a hippy chick’s further adventures in MAKE-UP | mayaland

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