The first wrinkle that I noticed on my face was the Worry Wrinkle. This wrinkle, a thin vertical line between my eyebrows, is identical to the one my mother owns—I remember running an index finger over hers, worrying about the worry that produced it in a meta-worry that spanned generations. When I first noticed the wrinkle on my own face, however, it didn’t concern me. It was an interesting oddity, like the streak of gray I had running through the hair above my right temple. I was still relatively young at the time, and age was something that happened to other people.
Until it wasn’t.
One day, at about thirty-six, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw that my Worry Wrinkle had deepened. It, along with the dark circles under my eyes, made me realize that pain and experience had stamped my face, leaving their marks like indelible warpaint. Looking at myself like this made me sad, because I had been taught, through countless societal messages, that most sacred of American axioms: Wrinkles Are Ugly.
I didn’t have time to dwell on this axiom, or money to address it. So I accepted my Worry Wrinkle and stopped worrying about it, which has probably kept it from becoming a Worry Trench. Through a combination of good fortune and good choices, I’ve also gotten a lot happier recently, and I smile and laugh more often than I used to. Which means….you guessed it. I’ve got Laugh Wrinkles at the corners of my eyes and mouth. While I admit that I don’t love these wrinkles (because, you know, Wrinkles Are Ugly), I do like them, because they attest to the joy in my life.
Now that I have wrinkles, I study the faces of others to read their experiences, their joys and sorrows. I like to study the faces of actors—mostly men, as the women have all paralyzed their expressions—to see what their wrinkles say about them. Many of them (Greg Kinnear comes to mind) have the Surprise Wrinkles, that series of four to six wrinkles on their foreheads that show they have raised their eyebrows a lot. Oh, and I love to see Laugh Wrinkles on a man—my husband has them, and I think they’re sexy.
These lines—the lines of experience, wisdom, pain, joy—why do we think they are ugly? Why do we want so badly to look like people who were children just ten years ago? I am not claiming to be joyous about the lines on my face—I’ve noticed that they diminish when I weigh less, which makes me happy, and I have bought and used various concoctions meant to reduce the signs of age in my face. I’m sure, as I age, I will use these concoctions with more regularity. And yet. Even if I had the money, I wouldn’t erase my wrinkles with plastic surgery or Botox. My wrinkles are mine—they are like smoke signals to the outside world, telegraphing the days of my experience, my reactions and perceptions. They, like my scars and my stretch marks, are my body’s remembrance.
What if we could approach the changes our bodies undergo the way a baby approaches discovering her toes, or his fingers? Oh my goodness, look at this! I smiled so much that I have lines at the corners of my eyes to prove it. I’ve thought so hard about my life, and the people in it, that I’ve etched those thoughts right onto my face! What a thing of wonder am I, that the things I have felt in my life have shown themselves to me.
Oh, I’m not kidding myself. It is highly unlikely that we will have such a perspective on our aging bodies. But maybe, on a particular day, one or two of us can manage it. I think it’s easier when looking at a friend’s face than when studying my own. Look, I’ll think, she’s got the Laugh Wrinkles! Oh, that makes sense—I know this friend of mine smiles all the time. And look, my other friend, she shares my Worry Wrinkle. Well of course she does, I know what she’s been through, and I’d have worried too.
I’d like to use the way I see the faces of others as a starting point for seeing my own face. When I see the lines in another’s face and think of him or her with affection, maybe, just maybe, the next time I see an ad swearing that I’d be better off looking like I’d just gotten my driver’s license, I’ll think about what my face has gained, rather than what it has lost.