It’s 11pm on a Wednesday and I should be getting ready for bed. My two toddlers are finally asleep but I’m sitting here on my phone scrolling through Instagram.
One of my favorite influencers just turned 40 and looks flawless. We are only a few years apart but where she looks bright-eyed and glowing, I look haggard and tired. I ignore that all of her photos and videos have filters, because in that moment all I see is everything I’m not.
Of course this leads me down an even darker path, where I proceed to review photos of myself over the last couple years and how much my face has changed since having kids.
What is this loose skin I suddenly have under my chin? When did that start?
I adore Nora Ephron but her essay “I Feel Bad About My Neck” is ringing all too true. Examining myself in my camera phone, there’s no denying it, I’m getting a little turkey waddle and it’s all I can think about.
I wish I could say this is the first time my aging appearance has given me pause, but thanks to the pandemic and frequent Zoom meetings, I find myself regularly noticing and criticizing the way I look.
I’m also an actor, and putting myself on camera for self-tapes during the pandemic has become the new standard. I’m forced to rewatch my own auditions, selecting the best takes and, of course, judging my appearance along the way— the fine lines and jowls jumping out at me. I’m insecure in ways I haven’t been since I was a teen with a face full of acne and braces.
Since being diagnosed with depression almost twenty years ago, antidepressants have been my lifeline. But there isn’t enough Prozac in the world to get me off this vanity ledge.
Not to mention that before the pandemic I would scan social media a couple times a week while waiting for my morning coffee or at a doctor’s appointment, but now I’m on there daily, as celebrities and acquaintances post their filter-filled updates and all I can see is how bad I look compared to them.
I had much more confidence in myself before the pandemic when I interacted with friends and coworkers in person, my outgoing personality always at the forefront.
I should be grateful and take the time to list all my blessings, glad that I have an amazing family and good health. I overcame breast cancer four years ago when my son was only months old— I’m a warrior!
I should take some deep breaths, a hot shower and get some much needed sleep. But instead, I start Googling skin tightening regimes, at-home facial devices, and any procedure or serum that promises improvements. Instagram and its algorithm are onto me, with my feed featuring all types of skin care accounts and clinics.
I even email a plastic surgeon to get a consultation set up. It’s time for this forties gal to take extreme measures! But when they message me back soon after saying they require a $250 non-refundable deposit and that procedures start at $30k, I finally get a much needed jolt of perspective.
I throw my phone on the other end of the couch and ask myself what’s really going on here. It doesn’t take me long to compile a very convincing list.
I’m stressed that the book I pledged to finish writing this past year is still not done and I’m worried I’m running out of time. I’m stressed that my parents, who I haven’t been able to see often because of Covid-19 and living in another country, are getting older and I’m terrified of the day when they won’t be a phone call away. And I’m still sad that my best friend and favorite person to do everything and nothing with died suddenly a year and a half ago.
She would be the one to slap sense into me without skipping a beat. “Sarah, turkey waddle? Give me a break. Let’s go get coffees and windowshop. My treat.”
So much has happened over these past two years and yet so much hasn’t, and I know I am not the only one struggling mentally right now.
According to the World Health Organization, during the first year of the pandemic the amount of people who suffered worldwide from depression and anxiety increased by 25%, with young people and women among the most affected. And while the WHO reported that things had somewhat improved by the end of 2021, many people are still facing challenges in terms of their mental health.
The next morning I wake up, put on my face serums and lotions, brush my teeth and make a conscious decision not to look in a mirror or think about my appearance for the entire day.
I put the attention on the world around me, trusting that I look fine. I also put my phone deep down in my purse, avoiding any idle scrolling of Instagram. And I can’t believe it, but it actually works.
I wear my same well-worn joggers, my hair unwashed in a messy ponytail, no makeup, and I feel great. Life that day is easier and more fun. I laugh harder with my kids and feel more comfortable in my skin than I have in months. When I receive another follow-up email from the plastic surgeon’s office excited to get me in for the consult, I smile and quickly delete it.
I’m still interested in my appearance and even went in for a facial yesterday, but I left feeling happy with the way I looked (despite the aesthetician’s efforts to upsell me on additional treatments).
I don’t want to be 25, 30 or even 35 again. I’m in my 40’s, have two adorable sons, and overcame breast cancer. Myself at 25 would never have been able to do all that. Looking different than I did a decade ago doesn’t mean I’m less capable or that anything is any less possible.
That being said, every day has the potential to derail my well-intended efforts to maintain a healthier perspective. To combat that, I’ve constructed a list, stored in my notes app of my phone, of things to help me quickly refocus when I get off course and head deep down an “I look like crap” or “my god my parts jiggle more” rabbit hole. Here’s a few of my top go-tos:
Set a timer and don’t check social media for at least three hours. Seriously, get off of it NOW!
Put on your favorite playlist and move your body. (FYI, Paul Simon’s Graceland works wonders for me.)
Put on a podcast and do some laundry, organize or work on a project around the house you’ve been avoiding. (There is something about being productive and keeping your mind busy that really boosts the serotonin!)
Pay three people genuine compliments. You don’t even have to know them, in fact that can be even more fun. I swear seeing or hearing happiness in someone else is a drug unlike any other (the other day I saw an older woman at the fruit stand with the best, warmest smile I had ever seen and I just went up and told her. She just about cried).
Make an extra effort to be kind to the customer service people you encounter that day. Obviously, we should always do this, but when you’re down, sometimes you get muted. When I’m extra kind to the cashier that rings me up at Costco or the barista at my coffee shop, I feel so good. It keeps me present and it makes them happy too!
I wish there was a guarantee that one day I would wake up and automatically embrace the aging process but as aging is linked so closely to the way we look, I just don’t think I can count on that happening.
But I do know the more time I spend really focusing on the people I love and the experiences that make me happy, my concerns over my aging skin and the turkey waddle under my chin, although not totally forgotten, become much less important.
I’m lucky I’m getting older. Sure, it can be irritating when the twenty-five-year-old barista calls me ma’am, but letting it go with a deep breath and a smile helps me stay positive as I learn to love, appreciate, and embrace my years.
The World Health Organization. (2022). COVID-19 pandemic triggers 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. https://www.who.int/news/item/02-03-2022-covid-19-pandemic-triggers-25-increase-in-prevalence-of-anxiety-and-depression-worldwide
Medically reviewed on August 25, 2022
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