When I was a teenager, my mother used to tell me that my “face was going to freeze like that” catapulting my imagination into scenarios that involved my countenance draped with icicles. It was not apparent to me that she meant that my face would forevermore be cast, mask-like, into my usual perpetual look of boredom and disgust. At least, that’s what I hoped it looked like, and I spent eons in front of a mirror perfecting a façade of feigned loathing.
My goal was to appear to be aloof and unfettered by the opinions or actions of others. Adolescent angst was my mantle during those days. Before the deodorant commercial touted “Never let them see you sweat” I wore my ennui like a cloak.
In many ways my mother’s prediction came true. Not so much the etched-in-eternity face, but the disconnect between how I really felt and the way I acted. Emotionless pretense became my mask, especially at work. As a college graduate in the late 1970’s, I learned that the scourge of a professional woman was to show any emotion. Remember the perfume commercial “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan” in 1978? We could do it all, and “never let you forget you’re a man”. We were bombarded with messages that it’s not okay to be our true selves.
Luckily, aging has taken me into its grip and shown me the truth. I have learned that some of my best moments happened only when I was genuine. Mirror mirror on the wall has become an exercise in authenticity, not a practice of sham detachment. Wrinkles and smile lines tell the story of hard-won lessons. My greying hair speaks of trials and tribulations, successes and achievements. Wouldn’t it be foolish to pretend they didn’t happen and camouflage an exterior that finally manifests my inner self?
My age has given me an out. It has released me from the vise of pretense and the shackles of expectation.
It feels darn good to give my face permission to relax. All these mementoes of a life truly lived belong to me. I earned them and I won’t deny them their rightful parentage on a frozen face.