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aging skin, mid life skin, botox or notThe guilt is tremendous, but it’s the desire that kicks you in your wrinkled knees.

Smooth, pretty skin- like at age 35 or so – just a little more plump please – again. The siren song of the needles is profoundly seductive – even when we can’t really afford it, even if we don’t actually do it – oh, how we want it.

I say to myself, “Self, you should know better.” But no, she still desires, in spite of years of analysis, in spite of pitiless confessionals in ascetic spiritual retreats – she desires. It’s a fairy tale, or a distorted Sleeping Beauty dream. Get pricked, wake up – still over a hundred years old – but look sixteen. It’s just too freaking irresistible. It starts to feel urgent – like an emergency. Inject me NOW.

I’m ashamed – I’m a materialistic un-feminist superficial princess wannabe. How “lame” as we used to say. I’m at least glad the desire is wrenching and painful, as if that’s somehow redeeming. But this is no joke – and I think that’s my point. There is something very sad that this takes up even a tiny slice of my precious brain space. Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), no fifty year old man is pining for the prick (of the needle that is). I could say it isn’t fair, and I think I will say it. It really isn’t fair.

My face, having lived through fifty years, three children, one husband, two continents, multiple degrees, deaths, countless conversations and situations– looks its age. And I don’t like that (she says with a whine)…

A combination of exquisite narcissism and brutal desire can’t fail to intrigue – I am after all a psychoanalyst as well as a spiritual seeker. Freud believed (at least at one point) that women couldn’t help but be more narcissistic than men, because (here it comes) we are lacking the shining tower on the hill (or in Manhattan) – the penis. Everyone hates this explanation of course, and taken at face value it’s not only simplistic, but demeaning.

And while it’s true we don’t have a penis, it’s unclear what this has to do with narcissism. Let’s take it further then – when it comes down to brass tacks, what we all want is a deep, abiding immutable assurance that we are loved. It’s hard to get around the fact that narcissism is about loss, or potential loss. Why are there towers erected all over the world? The towers are visible, permanent (immortal?) totems that proscribe any notion of loss. We will always know, for posterity, who built them. They will never die, will never be forgotten, and the tower becomes, eventually, a beloved landmark on the skyline.

Women are taught early that our phallic power comes in part from actually looking like one these towers. If we are smooth and gleaming – lovely to look at – then we too get to share in reflected male glory. You see where this is going. Fifty years of feminism hasn’t erased our fear of no longer being loved. You only have to open up a women’s magazine – count the skin cream ads- to see this is true. Though this is thankfully changing, our fear of no longer being loved is still tied up in our appearance.

The ineluctable truth is that we lose everything in this life. When you listen to people in psychotherapy, or at a spiritual retreat, the one thing everyone shares is fear of the next inevitable, unpredictable, loss. We pray, in part, to be able to handle the next thing that will hit us, or send prayers to someone who’s been hit. In therapy, people are frightened of changing behaviors; becoming responsible means losing an illusion (that the Prince is coming to wake you, for example).

Botox (or whatever’s in the syringe) conjures up something quite similar, I imagine, to the man looking down at his tower from a helicopter: invincibility, pride, but especially reassurance he’s not yet irrelevant. The heady promise of everlasting (or prolonged) potency is an ambivalent fruit – ripe and seductive – but in the long run, we all have to leave this garden.

Sorry to say, there’s no easy answer to this dilemma. Please do whatever you want, but think about what it means to you, and for you. God knows today our teeth are no longer naturally this white, and we aren’t really blond. It’s just different when it goes beneath the skin. Towers aren’t built inside bodies, after all. Here’s a compromise; take care of your appearance whatever way you want, and build something, anything that is meaningful, but not attached to, or inside of, your body.

Maybe that’s the thinking, spiritual, feminist way of confronting syringe-lust, and our longing for immortality.

 

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