Who the Heck is That Face in the Mirror?

Unhappy with her sags and frown lines, self-described frugal feminist Joyce Maynard invests (unapologetically) in a pricey beauty treatment

by Joyce Maynard
mirror fake reflection image
Photograph: Illustration: Ben Wiseman

I used to look like myself. I wasn’t beautiful. But I’d grown accustomed to my face. Certain things in life changed—my marriage ended; my children grew up; my parents died. But for all those years, there remained something I could count on with as much certainty as the rising of the sun: the image that looked back at me when I looked in the mirror.

Then, around my 50th birthday, I developed a new habit when looking in the mirror. I put my hands on my cheeks, like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone, applied a little pressure and pushed up. A comforting thing would happen: I’d catch a glimpse of my old face, as if I’d run into a long-lost friend. She’d stay for as long as my hands stayed there, holding everything in place—then disappear again.

In my fifties, I learned that the phrase her face fell isn’t just a metaphor for disappointment. A person’s face does fall, physically, and when that happens, nobody catches it. The changes sneak up on you so gradually, you barely notice, until suddenly you do. You realize the girl you used to be is gone and some matron is going around pretending to be you.

Then, four years ago, shortly before one of my novels came out, my publishers decided to film a promotional video. They hired a makeup artist and a hairstylist to spiff up my look.

When I saw the results on YouTube—those bags under my eyes, those frown lines—I slammed my laptop shut. Two days later, just after my 55th birthday, I made an appointment to discover what injectable facial fillers could do for me.

That first afternoon, a medical professional recommended by a friend inserted a syringe filled with Restylane around my eyes and into my cheeks, my forehead and the naso-labial folds around my mouth. And while she worked, I wept.

It wasn’t the needle that made me cry. It was the memories that those stabbing little pricks dislodged, all the days of my life I carried on my face. Now came the first man who broke my heart, in 1973. The man I married saying to me, in 1989, “I was in love once. I’m not anymore.” The long drive away from the home of a man I’d never see again, the short walk down the corridor to my mother’s hospital room to tell her the tumor was malignant.

After the injections, it took a week for the blotchy purple patches to recede and a few months for the full effect to show. But I saw improvement immediately. That’s how it happened that I—a woman both frugal and feminist—committed to returning for more injections, on a regular six-month schedule.

Now I look in the mirror and see not my 30-year-old or even 45-year-old self but an energetic 59-year-old with plenty of life left in her, regardless of her collagen levels. I don’t buy that line we’ve all heard—how each one of the lines on our faces is “earned.” Did I earnthe knee that bothers me when I hike and the eyesight that can’t easily decipher a menu?

Women are reminded at every turn that our looks are tremendously important. For society to criticize us for doing what we can to feel good about how we look is one more way it puts women down. I’ll decide how to approach my own aging challenges. No guilt for me, thank you, if I do what I can, for as long as I can, to look more like myself again.

JOYCE MAYNARD’s novel After Her has just been published by Morrow. A film version of her novel Labor Day will be released in December.

Next: Making TIme for What Matters

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First published in the October 2013 issue

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