I have always thought of myself as a vain woman. My face and figure being things that mattered to me, things that I pampered and yes, that I used to draw attention to myself. In fact, I have thought of myself as an attractive, even beautiful woman.
But then, I got old.
Actually, I didn’t get old so much as I got sick—and the systemic inflammation and chronic pain of the last three years took its toll on my face.
Today, to look “attractive” or even “beautiful” I have to spend a lot of time at my dressing table. My teeth have darkened as a side effect of medications making my smile less than dazzling, I have dark circles under my eyes causing them to look small and almost beady, and my skin no longer has any luster; it is wrinkled and blotchy, and it sags.
Sounds awful, doesn’t it?
So, when a friend of mine told me she was getting a face lift my initial reaction was envy.
As she described it, she was going to end up with “no bags under her eyes, no excess skin on her eyelids and a beautiful and perfectly natural looking neckline and chin.”
“I want that,” I thought. “Oh my God. I want that.”
I walked into my bathroom, turned on the lights and looked at the face that was peering back at me from the mirror. I mean, really looked. Without judgment, without self-pity for my having been sick, without regrets over how I used to look or to how that face could be “improved.”
What I eventually saw over the several times I stared in the mirror was something entirely different than the saggy, beady-eyed, lusterless face I described above.
What I saw was me. The unadulterated me. The me who has been through a life changing health crisis over the past three years and who today has a face that is mine own.
Just as it is.
I consider cosmetic surgery to be a personal decision and don’t have any judgment one way or the other about whether my friend, or anyone, “should” or “should not” have it.
In fact, about four years ago I had surgery to raise my eyelids. I had gone to the ophthalmologist and he indicated to me that the reason I didn’t have the peripheral vision I should have and the reason I couldn’t see well unless I had every light in the house turned on was because my droopy eyelids were actually obscuring my vision. He gave me a test to show me how much better I could see if I had my eyelids surgically corrected and I was blown away by just how much vision I had lost.
I had the surgery.
Did it make a difference in my appearance? Yes. Did it make me look more “youthful?” Probably. Did I like the results? Definitely. I could see better and I could wear eyeliner again and while the surgery was medically necessary the results also included a cosmetic difference that I didn’t complain about.
I now know, however, after having been struck by my initial reaction of envy over my friend’s pending cosmetic surgery and, after having studied my own face in the mirror that further cosmetic surgery is not for me.
I have decided that I want my face, this exact face that reflects exactly who I am in a myriad of expressions.
I realized that expressions are subtle, that they flicker and are nuanced and that I didn’t want to lose them. They help me express myself to others and make my outsides match my insides. I realized that were I to have my face cosmetically altered I would lose the almost invisible aspect of expression that is writ there. I would lose the face that reflected me and my ever changing, ongoing movement of feelings. The face that spoke the language I wanted my face to speak and that reflected the particular, unique beauty I wanted to see when I looked in the mirror, a kind of beauty that I think would be hard to see if I had my face cosmetically altered.
I celebrate my friend’s decision for herself. She is already a beautiful 70-year-old woman and I am sure she will feel even more beautiful after her surgery. I am now happy to say that I will honestly be able to look at her then and not feel any envy when I tell her that she looks fabulous.
As for me. I have decided that I look fabulous too—with my face exactly as it is.
(This article originally appeared under a different title and in a different form on ElephantJournal.com).