Sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize the woman who looks back at me.
In my mind, I still look like someone in her late twenties/early thirties. I never looked my age until recently. People were always so surprised to find out my real age because I appeared to be so much younger than I really was.
I had good skin, ready access to hair color, and no need to lie when asked my age. I knew I wasn’t a beautiful woman, but I also knew I had a good smile and a certain well-scrubbed, girl-next-door quality. That’s the kind of corn-fed-maiden I still expect to see when I look in the mirror.
The woman who looks back at me instead is tired. She’s got deep, dark circles under her eyes, which are red-rimmed as though she has cried recently. She’s got my mom’s drooping right eyelid, which only lends to the overall look of exhaustion. Her face is puffy; she has the appearance of someone who has gained a great deal of weight recently. Rosacea gives her a constant flushed look, sort of like the red face that we used to call “Beer Cheeks” in college.
Her skin seems dry, especially around the eyes, where small wrinkles have begun to form. She has acne scars on her chin that are dark enough to show through foundation and powder. Her eyes are still her best feature. They are somewhere between blue and green, almost aqua, and once in a while they still have the old sparkle. It’s hard to see, but it’s there.
I feel sorry for the woman in the mirror. I want to reach through and wrap my arms around her and give her the hug she so desperately needs. I want to tell her it’s okay to cry until she’s done, until all of the sadness and regrets are totally exorcised. I want to tell her I love her because she really looks like she needs to hear that from someone.
Then I want to give her a stern talking-to. “Snap out of it,” I want to tell her. “Get a haircut, touch up your roots, and put on some make-up and jewelry. Take a little pride in your appearance. And for God’s sake, smile once in a while. People used to tell you that your smile was beautiful, remember? So smile, damn it!”
Appearances shouldn’t matter. I should be able to look in the mirror and take pride in each wrinkle and scar and gray hair. I have earned every one of them, after all. Considering some of what I have survived, I am lucky that I don’t look worse. I remember looking up at my sister in the ER after my car accident and whispering, “Is my face . . . okay?” And then feeling a really twisted sense of relief when she assured me that all of that blood was from my head rather than any part of my face.
So, yeah, appearance matters to me. I wish it didn’t. I wish the woman in the mirror looked more like the woman I see in my mind. But the one in the mirror has been through a lot. She’s a survivor, and she looks like one.
Luckily, the one in my mind learned how to apply make-up in beauty school. With some mascara, mineral powder, and a helluva lot of eyeliner — along with a healthy dose of anti-depressants — these two ladies may someday merge into a woman who doesn’t scare me when she smiles back at me.